Forget coffee mornings or knitting circles, this 72-year-old woman braves ninety mile-an-hour gales, helicopter rides through lightning storms and bawdy banter from co-workers as Britain’s oldest oil rig worker.
Great–grandmother Pat Thomson, known as “Auntie Pat” or “The Queen” by her rig workers, packed up her job as a primary school teacher and joined a BP rig in 1984.
The fully-qualified materials engineer has now spent the last 30 years in far-flung locations including the Falkland Islands and Gabon and in the early days had to share accommodation, toilets and even the showers with men.
Mother–of–three Pat, of Matlock, said: “I decided to quit teaching as I wanted to go on an adventure, and I have always loved science. It was very scary, especially being the only female on a rig full of men.
“I had to share a cabin with four men, and use the same communal showers and toilets as them.”
But Pat was no shrinking violet when it came to sharing a cabin with men.
She said: “My first day on the rig – I arrived in the afternoon when most of the men were asleep after doing a 12–hour night shift.
“The last thing these guys expected was to see a woman arrive on the rig and that was certainly made clear when a man walked past me naked on the way to the showers.”
Pat, who earns £700–a–day, said that to survive offshore she had to make herself ‘one of the boys’.
She said: “I had to adapt myself to working like a man. I didn’t wear low cut tops or lots of make-up. I tried not to complain and I got my hands dirty, I didn’t want to be seen as some little woman who needed special treatment.”
But not all rig workers shared his enthusiasm for working alongside a lady.
Pat said: “They were quite bitter and nasty about women being offshore, ruining their men–only club. Apparently I should have been back at home looking after kids, or working as a stewardess.”
Sexist men were not the only challenges for 5ft 3 Pat, and she revealed her constant battle with the natural elements.
Pat said: “Getting off helicopters onto the deck in 90 mile-an-hour winds was horrible as I am only little and I would get blown around the place.
“There have been some particularly hairy moments, such as flying through a lightening storm and on another flight back to Aberdeen many years ago, the pilot calmly informed us that one of the engines had failed and we were relying on just one.”
Pat also had to contend with the dangers of the rigs themselves such as a potentially fatal hydrogen sulphide gas leak in the Irish sea.
She said: “It would be common to hear the gas alarm going off when working in the Irish sea as we were drilling alongside a live gas platform. When I realized I wasn’t going to die, the first thing that came to mind was ‘oh my god I look like such a state, I need to change and put on make–up before we get back to Aberdeen.’”
Pat’s partner, 79–year–old Robert Wood, said: “You don’t meet many women who can say they have worked offshore. I am very proud of her.”
To view a video of Pat talking about her experiences, click on the link above.