The Nursing Times
Mar 16 1994

Tartan Flair

Tricia Reid talks to her childhood hero about his transition from pop star to nurse

Given the choice, which would you rather do tomorrow morning: struggle out of bed for an early shift or wake when you like in a Beverly Hills hotel and go for a dip in the pool? Derek Longmuir would choose the former.
The one - time Bay City Roller, who had thousands of screaming teenage girls tugging at his tartan flares 20 years ago, is now a staff nurse at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and has never been happier.
"I' ve come to a stage in my life where I am very contented", he says. "I don't know if that's a mid - life thing or not, but I'm very happy happy in what I do".
At its height, the scale of 'roller mania' rivalled that of the adoration shown to the Beatles in the 1960s. In Scotland, there was barely a prepubescent girl to be found ( me included ) who did not possess at least one of the band's records. roller mania was de rigueur. But it was over quickly as it started.
For Derek, his carrer as a musician ended in Japan 1982 when, after a brief foray into a Roller revival, he decided to call it a day. Far from missing the high life he is glad to be back to his Edinburgh roots.
"I belong here, my family is here. People say Edinburgh is a beautiful city, but when anyone comes to see me I show them the " real" Edinburgh as well. When I was doing my district nursing placement my eyes were opened to how some people have to live every day in Edingurgh", he says. "You can empathise with poverty, but few can imagine living life every day in those circumstances. There's more to life than riding around in big limousines".
With time in his hands, and the money still rolling in from royalties and investments made in the early days, there was no real pressure to earn a crust. When some friends who were doing voluntary work with the red cross suggested he join them , the seeds of a nursing career were sown. Some encouragement from a red cross nursing officer pointed him in the right direction.
"She was the sister in casualty at St. John's hospital and she asked if I would like to come in to the department to get more experience", he explains. "I went in a couple of nights a week and ended up staying six years. When staff suggested I go and do the proper training I wasn't sure. I felt I was too old. But when I made some inquiries I found that the colleges welcomed mature students with open arms. I found being a mature student was an advantage. A lot of patients will open up to people nearer their own age. Being older you have dealt with bereavement , for example. Life experience helps you cope with the things life throws at you".
If making the decision to forge ahead was easy, getting the qualifications simply to be eligible for training was more of a problem. Derek had spent some time working in portugal with the red cross and had picked up the language, so passing an 0-level in portuguese was straightforward. He also passed a higher (equivalent to an A-level ) in anatomy, physiology and health, a qualification he never dreamt of achieving.
"I left school when I was 15 and all I was interested in was music. At that time you could leave school on the friday and start work on the monday and, because of my background, which is working class, it was always impressed upon you that the best kind of job to get was a trade rather than stay on and get any academic qualification. I left school with nothing and was glad to get out".
Contact with community nurses when he was caring for his terminally ill father helped him make up his mind to become a nurse.
"I had a lot of contact with district nurses and macmillan nurses and was really impressed by how professional and supportive they were to the whole family", he said. "Through my contact with them I was more convinced I should do it professionally".
Derek went to Lothian College Of Nursing in 1989 and now works in a medical unit, dealing mainly with cardiac patients . His former music industry colleagues find his radical career change hard to fathom.
"People in the music business don't understand why I am doing this. They think I have gone absolutely mad", he says. "I was also worried I would end up in a group of 18-19-year-olds and I would stick out like a sore thumb. But our set had quite a lot of mature students. I had to work hard , not coming from an academic background. And I can tell you, taking your nursing finals is a lot more nerve - racking than going on stage in front of 10 000 people".
For someone who lived life so fast at such a young age he welcomes the return to normality and the chance to work with real people doing a real job. he is proud of his achievement in nursing and is critical of the public's poor perception of the profession.
"When we see nurses portrayed they are always making a bed or fiddling with a drip stand - it all panders to that carry on film stuff. Nursing is a very dynamic profession . You can go through a whole range of emotions in one day. The pay is rubbish, but the job satisfaction at the end of the day is great - just to feel part of a team is great. I now have a structure to my life. I went through years where I didn't know where I would be going next".
With 10 month in the ward now behind him, Derek is locked in the learning process and enjoying it all. He is aware of the uncertainty surrounding nursing today and, like many of his colleagues , is unlikely to think of moving jobs for some time.
"The hospital is going over to trust status in April and everyone is concerned. everyone is sticking where they are, afraid to move. Perhaps in the future I will go into some sort of specialty. But I'm still learning where I am. when you stop learning , or when you feel things are becoming routine, then is the time to move . As long as I can become a competent practitioneri will be happy", he says.
He recalls his time at the heart of the music business where life is full of pretensions and show-offs. Seeing people his own age seriously ill has reminded him how short life really is and made him realise that the most important thing in people's life is their health.
"Your health is the bottom line and I don't worry about being recognised any more", he says. "People say to me: What do you do if someone recognises you ? Do you get embarrassed ? The last thing on someone's mind when he or she is sick is who the hell you are or who you used to be. The person is relying on you to make him or her better".
He still has his drums set up in the garage but adamantly rules out a comeback, even though his brother Alan and former colleagues Eric and Woody still have a healthy following playing old roller numbers.
The fun went out of it for Derek when the accountants and lawyers moved in and the rollers became big business. "The money we generated was frightening , but we were not aware how much. Lawyers would come in 20 minutes before we were due on stage in front of 20 000 people and say 'sign this'. we were so hyped up we signed anything", he recalls. "We have been made very comfortable for the rest of our lives which is good, coming from our backgrounds. But big business people lined their pockets. There are some vile characters in the music business. I don't know how they sleep at night".
The music business can be though if you are vulnerable, says derek, and he is happy to have emerged unscathed.
The screaming girls have gone and Derek is glad to be able to walk the streets unmolested. His colleagues in the ward have got over the novelty factor of having a star in their midst. But there are some funny tales to tell. While he was on a student placement the sister, who was in her thirties, never once referred to Derek's past.
"But when I went to see her for my nine-week assessment she said: 'I've got to tell you this - I was one of your biggest fans'. To have your boss say that was really weird. She had kept quiet all the time. I think she just had to get it off her chest".