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In The Spotlight > In The Spotlight > In the Spotlight: Robin Wills

In the Spotlight: Robin Wills

Robin Wills (1960-69)
Robin Wills (1960-69)

Tell us about what you do now. Has your time at the School influenced your life today? 

I have been retired now for six years after a career mostly in the oil and gas industries. I obtained a University Apprenticeship with BP which sponsored me through my course of Chemical Engineering at Birmingham University.

In 1980 I decided to work abroad and spent six years working for Aramco in Saudi Arabia. Apart from the new gas gathering network, I developed the Khuff Gas system which kept the lights on as oil rates declined.

I came back to the UK in 1986 and joined a large design contractor in Reading and stayed in this sector until retirement, working on a variety of projects across the world. By the early 1990s I was leading teams of engineers and was responsible for the entire process design. During this time I travelled extensively both for short meetings and for longer periods, the longest being two years in Denmark with shorter periods in Japan, Malaysia and Colombia.

In 1997 I moved to another contractor in Leatherhead but continued the same work, mostly offshore projects, one for Newfoundland, and one for BP in Azerbaijan which lasted for six years. This latter we took from very basic data to develop a process on an offshore platform, pipeline ashore and land terminal with compression into the pipeline to Turkey and the European gas system.

I moved again in 2005, this time to Camberley. After three years, with regular travel to Kuwait for oil and gas projects there I moved back to Leatherhead, this time working as an independent consultant. The main work was a replacement FPSO (Floating Production and Storage Offshore) vessel for BP to install west of the Shetlands. This was a career highlight as by moving one pipe I saved 10MW of compression power and by positioning the main oil/gas separators along the length of the vessel it produced specification oil; the previous vessel produced oil with 25% water content which meant that, effectively, every fourth shuttle tanker movement taking the oil ashore was purely carrying water.

In 2010 I moved for three years to work for a conceptual study company in central London working mainly on smaller projects. After that I moved back to Leatherhead to finish up working on Phases 2 and 3 of the Azerbaijan gas project and another North Sea platform.

To sum up going to BMS widened my horizons, allowed me to go to university and have a fulfilling career and a variety of different interests and hobbies.

Tell us about your time at BMS. Do you have any special memories you would like to share? 

In September 1960 I came to BMS as a boarder aged nine into J2A with Charlie Wilson. BMS was recommended by a friend of my father’s after my mother died. It took a while to settle in but I did after an initial difficult period. I was fairly musical and joined St Paul’s church choir under Fred Rawlins and sang with the Musical Society choir, compulsory for many and about 250 strong! My first concert in February 1961 was a Bach St Matthew Passion with the Boyd Neel Orchestra (a pre-WW2 version of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) and Ian Partridge as the Evangelist. I had never been to a concert before and I was spellbound throughout. I have Fred to thank for my continuing love of and involvement in music.

I was not particularly sporty at school although I did a lot of swimming training, later adding some sailing at Grafham Water. I was also active in the Scouts with one memorable expedition in 1966 to Norway with Ted Howarth and Dave Wardle. The Scouts also got me into climbing and canoeing, neither of which I continued after BMS.

Who was someone from your time at BMS who had an impact on you and why? 

I have mentioned my first concert and Fred Rawlins, a very fine musician, and Malcom James as my main influences for career and outside interests. P J King, of course, as he was my first Housemaster who showed much sympathy to a little lad who had just lost his parents.

Boarding then was very spartan; only one coal fire in the main common room, a gas fire in the two studies and nothing else – central heating came in the mid-1960s. The house was run by the Monitors and all boys did various duties on a rota, cleaning changing rooms, laying tables and washing up, among other jobs.

But there were many other small acts of kindness or help from masters despite the somewhat barbaric nature of the system back in the 1960’s. It is all a far cry from where BMS is now and much better for it. And it was almost all masters then as there was only one lady on the staff, Miss Kingston, taking J2B and the Cub pack.

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

These days, apart from my involvement with the OBM Club, I have also been on the Foundation Board and organise the OBMs who sing or play in the annual Classical Showcase concert. The summer is mostly spent sailing and, after 30 years on the south coast, the last five seasons have been up on the west coast of Scotland where I have sailed since the late 1970s. It is mostly cruising now, but I have done a couple of Fastnet Races, several Cowes Weeks, and many West Highland Weeks. In the past I have sailed to the west coast of Sweden, southern Ireland, north and south Brittany and chartered in New Zealand and British Columbia.

In the winter I sing with two choirs, and I am very keen on opera so attend  performances throughout the year.

This year I have taken on the editorship of my yacht club’s annual Journal so have an 88 or 96 page full colour magazine to produce from member's logs, articles and photographs in the next two months.

I have skied since I was 30 and until the Covid restrictions came in I went away each year; in earlier years that was for two weeks but these days it is only one.

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

Advice to my younger self is difficult; possibly take more chances and try new things. And not to worry about all the warnings that the next ice age was about to appear!

Are there any other thoughts you would like to share with the OBM and BMS community?

I would advise students to take advantage of all that BMS offers and try new activities. You will not take to all of them but you may end up with one or two that you can enjoy for the rest of your life. It is also important to keep your eye on the bigger political and economic picture and make your career or job moves accordingly.

The other advice is that you may not get the qualifications that you think are necessary for a particular career but that may not stop you progressing, either through a different route or even a different career. I ended up with a 3rd Class Honours degree but still became a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and led large design teams on projects requiring significant capital investment; after a few years from graduation it is what you have done in the time since and not your degree that counts.

Finally there are many aspects to the OBM Club and I would urge all OBMs to get involved in at least one of them; it can be a superb way of keeping old friendships alive and making new ones. When I was at BMS it was a direct grant school, meaning that if you passed your 11+ exam you were able to attend. Many of my fellow pupils have, in later years, remarked that it gave them a good start in life and they achieved far more than they had dared to hope. You can also put back something by leaving a legacy or making a regular donation to BMS.

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