THE long-time leader of a Gaelic choir has told of his delight after being recognised with a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. 

Kenneth Thomson, from Kelvinside, has spent nearly 40 years of his life conducting the Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association (GGMA) after first taking up the hobby by accident – and he hasn’t looked back since. 

The former chief executive of Yorkhill’s NHS Trust was asked by a dad of a friend of his girlfriend – and later wife – Valerie at the age of 18 to cover on his native Campbeltown’s choir for just six weeks, only for Mr Thomson to fall in love with the language. 

But the 71-year-old has admitted the award is tinged with sadness as he is unable to share it with Valerie, who lost her life when she was struck by a lorry on Kelvinbridge 11 years ago. 

Glasgow Times: Kenneth and his wife Valerie, who passed away 11 years ago Kenneth and his wife Valerie, who passed away 11 years ago

The father-of-two and grandfather-of-four said: “I only felt sorry that my wife was killed in an accident a few years ago and she wasn’t here to share it with me.

“But I know she would have been really proud.” 

He added: “I am feeling quite delighted and it was such a nice surprise to get the email.

“The choir has been a big part of my life. I joined when I was 18 and now I am 71, having taken over as conductor in 1983. 

“It was actually kind of by accident that I became involved in the choir. 

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“I was originally from Campbeltown and my then girlfriend, and later wife, and I were visiting a friend of hers, whose father happened to be president of the local choir.

“He mentioned they were short of singers and asked me to come along just for six weeks. I didn’t know any Gaelic at the time but I went along and six weeks turned out to be 50 odd years.

“My wife was a native Gaelic speaker but I learned in a crash course at Glasgow University." 

As well as spending 32 years in the health service, Mr Thomson has received widespread recognition for his dedication to Gaelic singing. 

As a solo singer in the 1970s, he won the Silver Pendant at the East Kilbride Mod and then went on to win the Gold Medal in Stornoway. 

He later spent time as the conductor of East Kilbride Gaelic Choir and has recorded several albums. 

Glasgow Times:

In addition to conducting and singing, he has been a prolific arranger of Gaelic songs for choral singing, initially for the GGMA and latterly for other choirs, quartets and duos.

Mr Thomson has also organised many events in the past to raise money for health-related projects, and was previously inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame. 

“It’s been a big part of my life,” he said. “The past year plus has been frustrating but we are hoping to begin again soon.”