One of the best known characters in the Scottish agricultural show scene is stepping down as secretary of Perth Show after 18 years.
Neil Forbes, who has administered the two-day agricultural showcase in Perth since 2004, retired from the post with Perthshire Agricultural Society (PAS) at this week’s AGM.
Following a spell of ill health, Neil (76) from Auchterarder believes the time is right to hand over the reins after becoming the show’s longest-serving secretary.
“I have loved every minute of it,” he said. “I’ve seen the annual event through its highs and lows and built up a wealth of happy, stressful, emotional and hilarious memories.”
Neil’s lifelong association with Perth Show began when he was a small boy but his earliest memory was as a seven-year-old helping out a family friend by leading their prize-winning Clydesdale round the show ground in the Grand Parade.
“The excitement of doing that was just amazing,” he recalled. “Then as a teenager I helped stockmen at a local farm halter train the calves for shows.
“Perth Show has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.”
The son of a farm manager, Neil opted to go into the veterinary pharmaceutical industry which saw him work within the agricultural community throughout Scotland.
In 1990, Neil was asked to join the board of PAS and moved from director to Junior Vice Chairman in 1999 having embraced many different roles - from gate duty to stewarding - during the annual Show.
“I was keen to do every job and learn all about the running of the Show as I moved through to become Chairman in 2001,” he said.
Sadly, for Neil and the farming community, 2001 brought devastating Foot and Mouth to the country and, while Perth Show went ahead, it had to do so without any cattle.
He said: “There was an understandably gloomy air in the industry that year - farmers were really suffering - and Perth Show helped to bring people together and support one another through tough times.”
When Neil retired from his job in 2003, the opportunity to apply for the job as Perth Show secretary came up and he was in post for the 2004 event.
“I intended to do five years in post,” he laughed. “What happened?”
During his 18 years as secretary, Neil has been at the helm through some testing times.
“We had a few challenges over the years,” he said.”We had to decant to Scone Palace for two years in 2000/2001 while our usual site at the South Inch underwent flood prevention work.
“Then we were flooded out in 2002, more Foot and Mouth in 2007 and reduced to one day because of torrential rain in 2012. And one year it was so hot that we had to bring electric fans into the tented barns to keep the cattle cool.”
Neil added: “I remember 2007 was particularly challenging as we had over a hundred Charolais cattle on site when Foot and Mouth broke on the Friday night.
“We had to cancel all other cloven hoofed animals for the Saturday and clear all the cattle with the local vets so that we could get them home. There was no sleep that Friday night!”
As he retires, however, Neil looks back with affection on overcoming the challenges, riding the highs and enjoying the many and strong friendships built up over the years.
Neil’s appointment as Vice President of PAS last year ensures his association with the showcase event will continue.
“I’m looking forward to Perth Show 2023 and taking time to lean on the fence and watch the stock judging in the show ring instead of being too busy to enjoy the event,” he said. “As secretary, you never get time to draw a breath on show days.”
Commending Neil for his lengthy tenure as secretary, PAS President David Armstrong said he had “steered the ship” with a steady hand for many years and would be missed.
“Neil has been a stalwart member of the team and can look back with pride on his years of service to Perthshire Agricultural Society and - in particular - to Perth Show,” said David.
“Neil is the face that everyone associates with our showcase agricultural event and I know he will continue to support the entire team from the sidelines as we move into a new era for the organisation.”