Pete Irvine steps down from Edinburgh's Hogmanay

Creator of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is retiring from programming the festival. The List's publisher Robin Hodge takes a look at his time in the role

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Pete Irvine steps back

credit: Lloyd Smith

In February, it was announced that Unique Events' Pete Irvine is stepping down from his role as Director of Edinburgh's Hogmanay. Pete has had a tremendous impact on Scottish culture in general and on how Hogmanay is celebrated.

It was Pete who back in 1992 realised that Scotland’s traditional focus on celebrating New Year offered a great opportunity to position Edinburgh and Scotland prominently on the world stage in the build up to the millennium in 1999. This visionary thinking led to a seven year plan which transformed a rather grubby drunken gathering around the Tron Kirk into a four or five day festival of street theatre, torchlit processions, contemporary Scottish culture and a huge street party where thousands gathered to see in the new year.

He won the backing of Edinburgh City Council and drawing on many years experience as a leading rock promoter (he had helped launch Glasgow’s Year as European City of Culture in 1990 and the Big Day, the vast free festival across the city that summer), Pete programmed a series of events, activities and performers designed to appeal to all ages and building towards a climax in 1999. He had to change many ingrained attitudes, persuading the galleries, venues, shops, bars, restaurants and cafes to abandon their habit of closing the city down on the 1st and 2nd of January – persuading them instead to open up and help stage special events.

The success of the street party was such that numbers escalated to a level that became dangerous. This forced the organisers to cordon off the city centre and issue wrist band passes to control numbers. But, as with the challenges of winter storms which disrupted two years’ events, the new arrangements were carefully planned and successfully introduced.

Pete made sure that the Hogmanay festival experience was always much more than the New Year’s Eve street party although he ensured the bands and the fireworks were always impressive. The Torchlit Procession, which now attracts tens of thousands of people of all ages, was invented by him and inspired by the Viking heritage celebrated at Up Helly Aa in Shetland. But it was the range of other events and performers Pete brought to Edinburgh that has really given Hogmanay its inspiring creative edge. Street theatre troupes from Spain, France and the Far East blew our minds with dizzying acrobatics and emerging artists from around the country came to our doorstep in Scot:Lands.

Pete will be continuing to work with the Hogmanay team as a consultant but the main responsibilities will pass to Penny Dougherty and Al Thomson. In recent years, Unique Events has linked up with Underbelly to programme a combined festival over Christmas and Hogmanay and this partnership is set to continue.

Robin Hodge has been The List's Publisher since 1985.

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