Plans revealed for major shake-up of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay party

Hogmanay celebrations on Princes Street. Picture; Ian Georgeson
Hogmanay celebrations on Princes Street. Picture; Ian Georgeson

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay party is to be turned into a six-hour street carnival after new organisers called in one of the key figures involved in the spectacular ceremonies at the London Olympics.

Street performers, dancers, acrobats and fire-eaters will be introduced to the event for the first time under a major shake-up ordered by new organisers of the world-famous celebrations.

A major revamp is planned for Hogmanay.

A major revamp is planned for Hogmanay.

The party to be extended by an extra two hours, while the midnight fireworks display will run for nine minutes, rather than five, in a bid to step up competition with rival displays in the likes of Sydney, Hong Kong and New York.

Ticketholders will be urged to arrive in the event arena as early as 7pm to watch entertainers on podium stages, on balconies and even in windows.

READ MORE: Early evening fireworks for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay

Still Game star Sanjeev Kohli has been lined up as an official “Hogmanay Host”, who will appear on a series of giant screens throughout the arena to help welcome revellers to the city.

A series of surprise “communal moments” are also planned to unite the 60,0000 revellers on Princes Street, which a new team of sound, light, audio-visual and production designers is working on to create spectacular new effects.

The revamp has been unveiled by Underbelly, the long-time Fringe promoters who have won a three-year contract to take over the celebrations from long-time producers Unique Events.

Underbelly has drafted in the head of ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympics to help advise on a complete “reboot” of the street party aimed at “creating distance” between Edinburgh and its overseas competitors.”

The company unveiled Martin Green, who is currently overseeing Hull’s UK City of Culture programme and masterminded the Tour de France’s visit to Yorkshire, as their executive producer for the next three years.

Mr Green, who has also previously masterminded the London Eye fireworks, said he found the offer to work on Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations “irresistible” after years of attending the Fringe.

Underbelly, which already runs the hugely-popular Pride parade in London, has vowed that Edinburgh’s festivities will be “recreated, refreshed and re-energised” in their 25th year.

Underbelly director Ed Bartlam said: “We obviously have huge experience of running big live events, but for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay we wanted to bring in someone who has got some great ideas and contacts.

“We are putting together a proper creative team to recreate, refresh and re-energise the street party. Martin’s background is big outdoor events. He was essentially the guy who commissioned Danny Boyle to do the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.

“It really is a big reboot of the street party. Along with Martin, we have thought long and hard about how to make the event a genuine party and a real show for the entire street, not just for the people who are next to one of the stages. “There will be a programme on the stages we are putting up from 9pm, but the big change is we’re going to animate the entire street with entertainment from 7pm to make the whole thing like a proper carnival experience. There will be things happening wherever you are.

READ MORE: Arts interview: The duo behind Underbelly talk about their plans for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay

“The whole idea is to create a proper communal show, directed by a proper director, with a proper creative team.

“The party host will be followed around by an outside broadcast crew and shown on giant screens on Princes Street, which will also be used to show footage from the various stages.

“It’s going to be a cross between a carnival, a show and an opening ceremony. It’s about creating a big outdoor visual feast of entertainment. Other cities are putting on fireworks but nowhere else is doing anything like this.”

Mr Green said: “Ed and Charlie reached out to me when they were going through the bidding process. I’m now helping to bring the creative team together for the event and providing an outside set of eyes to push the event in a direction that that they want to go with.

“The chance to be anywhere near a project around Hogmanay and Scotland was irresistible. This is one of the greatest events in the world.

“There is always a danger with an event when a new team comes in. I was at the event last year and I feel it has lots of inherent potential that can be brought out for the better of it. In common with a lot of new year events, it tends to surround the fireworks display at midnight.

“There is a fabulous set of people there from Edinburgh, Scotland and around the world. The thing Ed and Charlie have been really passionate about it is making the whole night more of an experience from the moment the gates open.

“There is a great venue in Princes Street, possibly the greatest setting for a new year celebration that the world has. The job at hand is to make it an event over several hours, give it real texture and make everyone who goes come away having had the time of their lives.

“It’s going to be much more exciting experience for the people who go because they won’t know what is going to happen next or where it’s going to come from. We’re going to look at the site and go: ‘what can we do here or there?’

“People who have been before will find all the elements that they enjoy about the celebrations, but there will be many more surprise and I think the excitement levels will go up with the way we use the space and bringing people together by playing more with the sound system and the giant screens.

“The whole ethos is to use everything that is there and bring more out of it and make it, as it should be, the world’s greatest street party.”

A host of changes in the city’s three-day Hogmanay festival, which has been worth more than £40 million to the economy, are aimed at ensuring a whole new series of images of Edinburgh send out around the world from the forthcoming festivities.

Underbelly has also pledged that different elements will be introduced to the festivities each year to ensure Edinburgh has “fresh appeal” as a new year destination.

The open-air carnival will begin shortly after the fireworks display of the first ever “Bairns Afore” concert in West Princes Street Gardens.

The hour-long 6000-capacity event is being specially created and programmed for families.

However there will be just two main stages of live entertainment in the main arena, on Waverley Bridge and at the east end of Princes Street, with DJs due to appear on Castle Street.

Another major change will see the open-air ceilidh, which was staged in the heart of the Royal Mile in recent years, relocated to West Princes Street Gardens, to allow the crowds to watch the midnight fireworks.

The traditional fireworks display from Calton Hill will be dropped in favour of an extended display above the castle, although crowds will still be allowed to gather on the landmark, which is outside the official party arena.

The Scot:Lands “festival within a festival,” which has been staged in venues across the Old Town in the last few years has been scrapped completely.

However a new short story by leading crime writer Val McDermid will unfold via a series of light projections on buildings and landmarks throughout the city centre.

The Message From The Skies project, which has been commissioned with the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Edinburgh City of Literature trust, will light up the heart of the capital every night from 1 January until Burns Night. A special app is being created which will allow McDermid’s story to be translated into different languages.

Underbelly director Charlie Wood said: “Hogmanay is a moment when Edinburgh can sell itself to the whole world. It is an amazing event, but it has to stay fresh. Part of that is about creating new images. A picture sells a thousand words.

“One of the big things Edinburgh has in its armour is a history of Hogmanay being a three-day festival. There are not many other cities around the world that extend their new year celebrations beyond one day.

“We wanted to extend the duration of the fireworks to help Edinburgh compete with other international cities around the world in terms of its ultimate celebration of the new year.

“With the new Bairns Afore event in Princes Street, which will have a six-minute display, the length of the fireworks displays in Edinburgh on Hogmanay will be nearly three times as much as last year.

“People will still be able to go up Calton Hill to watch the fireworks as they have been in previous years, although the area is outside of our remit.”

Major shakeup launched for torch parade

A major shake-up has been announced for the torchlight parade which has opened the city’s Hogmanay festival since its inception.

Princes Street, The Mound and Calton Hill have all been dropped from the event in favour a route down the Royal Mile, which will allow all 20,000 participants to gather in Holyrood Park.

The curtain-raiser to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations being completely overhauled to help launch an official “Year of Young People” with a river of fire.

The 20-strong parade will come down the Royal Mile and snake past both the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Scottish Parliament and Salisbury Crags before a spectacular finale in the park.

A group of young people will form into the shape of a word which will be chosen after a nationwide campaign, fronted by singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt, to ask young people what makes them most proud about Scotland.

A helicopter is expected to be deployed to capture overhead images of the parade and the message from the young torch-bearers.

Underbelly director Ed Bartlam said: “Ultimately we will have the young people of Scotland giving their message to the world - a big new iconic image from Edinburgh and Scotland.

One of the problems with finishing the event on Calton Hill in previous years is that not everyone has been able to get up there for the finale.

This will allow us to get everyone who has taken part in the torchlight area into a nice big open area for the finale”

Paul Bush, VisitScotland’s director of events, said: “One of the annual highlights of Edinburgh’s event calendar and one which enhances Scotland’s reputation as the perfect stage for events, this year’s Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations will herald the start of Scotland’s 2018 Year of Young People and showcase a variety of brand new elements designed to appeal to a range of audiences.

“We are delighted to be supporting Underbelly with their exciting and ambitious plans for Edinburgh’s 25th Hogmanay celebrations.

There are many places in the world to spend the new year, but few can match the uniquely authentic cultural experience which Scotland offers to thousands of visitors and locals alike each year.”