A WORLD-RENOWED harpist returned to the North-East today (August 14) to perform a specially-composed piece near the only working diesel electric locomotive his father designed.

Professor David Watkins gave the emotional recital next to the 1933-built locomotive at the Tanfield Railway, near Stanley, County Durham, before taking a short footplate ride.

When he chose to follow a career in music, the harpist faced fierce opposition from his father Donald, a leading engineer at Armstrong Whitworth in Scotswood, Newcastle.

Prof Watkin’s father was one of the leading lights in the 1930s when Armstrong Whitworth led the world in the production of some of the world’s first successful diesel railway locomotives.

His skills were learnt during years working in Switzerland for Brown Boveri, where he became a personal friend of the Brown family, before being headhunted by the Scotswood firm.

Mr Watkins rose through the ranks to become a senior designer and manager and wanted David to follow in his footsteps.

Prof Watkins said: “One night, I overheard a conversation my father was having with his brother. ‘What do I do? David wants to be a harpist – I thought harpists were ladies in long dresses.’”

Despite his father’s pessimism, David went on to win a scholarship to study the harp in Paris shortly after winning a national competition.

Pro Watkins, who has enjoyed an illustrious career with the world’s leading orchestras, said: ““Today has been a unique and emotionally moving experience for me to have been given the opportunity of playing alongside the oldest working locomotive my father designed.”

Tanfield Railway trustee, Derek Smith, said: “It’s fascinating to meet David and to learn about his father’s involvement in the construction of these locomotives.The work done by Donald and his team in the 1930s is an almost forgotten part of our railway history, but a vitally important part."