NB: This article was written in 2018, and details have changed.
On a chilly Saturday morning in November, Kaylee and Emma Stevenson have just done what they do most Saturday mornings: the five-kilometre Park Run on Bressay, the island of 360 residents across the water from Shetland’s capital, Lerwick. As always, they’ve travelled across on the ferry with their dogs, and running partners: Hugo, Kaylee’s large and fluffy Akita, and Nell, one of Emma’s two boxers (the other, Keira, isn’t such a fan of running). “Hugo comes everywhere with me,” says Kaylee, with her post-run coffee and bacon roll outside Bressay’s little cafe, in the former school. “He’s basically like a human, but quite a lazy one.”
“She’s a crazy dog lady,” points out Emma.
“So are you, though!”
Kaylee and Emma make each other laugh a lot, which makes them tricky interviewees when we later sit down in the cafe at Mareel, Lerwick’s arts and culture centre. It’s been that way since they met at the age of 12 at Lerwick’s Anderson High School, and instantly hit it off. “We were those girls,” says Kaylee, raising an eyebrow. Back then, they both ran in the cross-country team at the local athletics club. Kaylee might have been quicker then, but Emma reckons she’s got the edge now. “I don’t even care,” says Kaylee… “Okay, I care a little. I’ve got the big fat dog, though…”
While people sometimes mistake them for sisters, especially now that they share a surname, they’re actually sisters-in-law, after Emma married Kaylee’s brother Gordon, an air traffic controller, earlier this year. If they are perhaps soul sisters, they share unselfconscious musical tastes. When Kaylee got tickets for the Abba tribute concert that’s happening tonight at Mareel, most of her friends “were too cool for it. But I could rely on Emma.”
Still, while they struggle to keep straight faces on a Saturday, and frequently commentate on each others’ performance during our interview, they both have very serious day jobs in Shetland’s emergency services. Emma works as a specialist paramedic, while Kaylee works as a senior maritime operations officer at the Shetland Coastguard, which means she’s often the first port of call in an emergency. Both have recently appeared on Island Medics, the BBC programme about Shetland’s health and rescue services. The first episode shows Kaylee helping to coordinate the night-time rescue of a teenage boy trapped on a cliff; the fourth episode sees Emma escort a heart attack patient from Lerwick’s Gilbert Bain hospital to the airport at Sumburgh.