Real Lives: Jim is toast of the town with Burns appointment

Jim Shields, President of the Robert Burns World Federation
Jim Shields, President of the Robert Burns World Federation
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It is an honour most of the world’s most devoted enthusiasts of Scotland’s national bard can only dream of fulfilling.

But becoming the president of the Robert Burns World Federation has become a reality for city man Jim Shields.

The grandfather-of-three is the first man from Edinburgh to take on the role for 28 years – and he is proud to be flying the flag for the Capital.

“My heart grew when the chain of office was placed round my neck,” he says.

Mr Shields, 63, from Liberton, has been a lifelong fan of Robert Burns, ever since he would join in at family parties singing the songs of the bard.

Although he has lived in Edinburgh for more than 30 years, he grew up in Ayrshire – the birthplace of Robert Burns – and would regularly visit the cottage where the poet spent the first nine years of his life.

“My auntie Sal lived opposite the cottage in Alloway, so it’s always felt like Burns is a member of the family,” he says.

“Older relatives would talk about him as though they knew him in fact.

“Burns’ work was always sung or recited at family gatherings, and at school I remember winning first prize three years in a row in a Burns singing competition.”

Mr Shields was made president of the Robert Burns World Federation – a society with more than 800 members across the globe – at a ceremony in Peebles at the weekend.

A keen singer, and former member of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus with which he travelled the world, Mr Shields was moved by the songs of Burns from a young age and insists this fuelled him to take more of an interest in the man himself.

“Burns wrote songs that touch the hearts of everyone, whether you are young or old. They have the power to move people,” he says.

But he only joined the Federation four years ago, through his involvement with the Edinburgh and District Burns Clubs Association, making his rise through the ranks to become president one of the Federation’s fastest.

Mr Shields, a retired branch manager of the former Alliance and Leicester on St Andrew Square, has also held the posts of marketing manager, junior vice-president and senior vice-president, before taking on his latest role, which he will carry out for one year.

The presidency will see him travel to Russia later this year and the US in January where he has been asked to carry out official duties at conventions held by other Burns enthusiasts.

“It is a great privilege but I think at the end of the year as president I will be happy to take a break – I expect it to be very tiring,” he says.

When he is not busy with his Robert Burns-related duties, Mr Shields enjoys spending time with his family, including his children and three grandchildren, Laird, Laila and Connor.