I remember as a young boy standing with my father on the tarmac at Edinburgh Airport in Scotland and knowing in an instant that when I grew up I wanted to play a part in aircraft landing and taking off.
When, at 12 years old, I changed my first clutch, on a 1968 Hillman Hunter car, I took my first real steps into a world that would see me become an airfield operator, but more than that, to follow in the footsteps of my father, Ronnie Hamilton, and his father and grandfather before him. Each family has its own tradition. For the Hamiltons - my family - it’s working for bp, and I was keen to continue it.
My great-grandfather, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Hamilton, was perhaps one of bp’s earliest employees. Although I’m not sure of the exact dates, I know he was manager of Broxburn Oil Company’s Dunnet shale mine in West Lothian, about 12 miles west of Edinburgh, producing oil for street lights. The mine was later bought by bp and, over four generations and through five members of the family, the Hamiltons have been linked with the organization, either directly or indirectly.
In 1921, my grandfather, David Hamilton, joined bp as a mechanical engineer, a job which took him away from Scotland to the oilfields of what was then known as Persia . While there, he met and married his wife, my grandmother, Rena, before returning to the UK together. He retired in 1959 with 38 years’ service, overlapping with his son, my father, Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Alexander Hamilton, who began work as a mechanic in 1939.
Both Ronnie and his sister, Dorothy, began their careers at BP’s Middleton Hall motor repair centre in Broxburn, West Lothian. Ronnie was a mechanic, before later becoming a tanker driver at Grangemouth refinery and then a senior airfield operator at Edinburgh Airport, while Dorothy was a draftsperson, making technical drawings. Their passion for BP and for their jobs was evident to me from a young age and even in 1981 our family’s contribution to the organization was being recognized. An article appeared in BP Oil magazine, featuring Ronnie’s work with Air BP and mentioning both Sandy and myself, and noting that, as a family, we had already clocked up more than 100 years of service.
It was during my father Ronnie’s time at Edinburgh Airport that he brought me in and began sharing his passion for his work. He used to ring me to come down to the airport if there was a special aircraft coming in. I knew a lot in advance of beginning my apprenticeship because he took the time to show me around and to teach me. I will always be grateful for that.
Aged 15, I began my apprenticeship as a mechanic at Middleton Hall in 1979, but in 1985, bp sold its interests in the business. Despite this turn of events, I was determined that it wasn’t to be the end of my time with bp - it just isn’t the family way! I was inspired by the way my father, aunt and grandfather had spoken of bp and the community it provided and knew I'd be back one day.
Even when I wasn’t directly employed by bp, somehow my path crossed with it. After qualifying as an airfield operator at Edinburgh Airport in 1992, I was working for another company but driving Air bp tankers, and was assigned my own set of pliers. My father, who had retired the day I began working at the airport, asked me what number pliers I had been issued with. “2729,” I told him. You’re never going to believe this,” he replied, “but those were my pliers!” What are the chances?
Later, in 1999, I was responsible for refuelling Concorde with bp fuel before it flew with the Red Arrows to celebrate the opening of the Scottish Parliament. But, it was in 2011 that I finally achieved my goal to rejoin ‘the family business’, when I took a job as a general aviation technical advisor with bp.
Although technology has changed enormously from my great-grandfather’s time, the team mentality is the same and was part of what drew me back. I’m still working in that role and I would say that, regardless of the era, the people, the dedication and the company attitude towards all its employees hasn’t changed.
While my father might have always told me that a job with bp is a job for life. For my family, a job with bp is a part of the family legacy.