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Issue 82 - The Greatest Show on Earth Goes Global

Scotland Magazine Issue 82
August 2015

 

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The Greatest Show on Earth Goes Global

Roddy Martine talks to Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo producer Brigadier David Allfrey MBE about his plans for Australia and New Zealand

Year on year, night after night over August, the crowds assemble on the stands overlooking the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. Consistently, tickets sell out months in advance. Having begun as a small parade during the first Edinburgh International Festival of Arts and Music of 1946 and then officially elevated to the castle in 1950, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo through television broadcasting, now reaches a global audience of between 100 and 300 million.

“At Edinburgh Castle, we get audiences of 8,800 per night for 25 nights,” says the producer Brigadier David Allfrey.

“220,000 is the equivalent of selling out the O2 Arena in London over 12 nights. There are not that many rock stars who can do that!”

This year's REMT theme is East Meets West and to this end, Brigadier Allfrey, who took over the production in 2000, has amassed a dazzling cast of 1,200 from five continents. With musicians from the British Army, USA, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand, Shetland Fiddlers, Bollywood dancers from India and Lotus Dragon dancers from China, the critics are ecstatic.

As a consistently commercial success and invaluable boost for Scottish tourism, the REMT has few equals, but there is so much more to it than that. “It gives us an appetite for conversation between countries and governments around the world. It forges friendships and more importantly, it links up values and standards and evokes emotion on an extraordinary scale.”

That is why he is so determined to take his masterpiece on tour, perhaps to the Gulf Region and to China in 2020?

Having triumphed in Sydney in 2005 and again in 2010, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo will be performing in Melbourne, Auckland and Wellington in February 2016. On the day of our meeting at the end of May, the Brigadier was visibly ecstatic to inform me that with ticket sales having just been launched, the Australian show had sold 70,000 in two days while the New Zealand performance, 50,000 in one day.

“You have to be ahead of the game,” he admits. “It’s amazing how the world has changed and we now live in a digital universe. That said, one of our strongest assets is that much of what we do remains the same. Our basic format is to deliver the most amazing pipe bands, and sound, and light against the backdrop of a centuries old brooding castle.”

On his most recent visit to New Zealand, he had met Sir Richard Taylor of the Weta Workshop, and talked of
Lord of the Rings film maker Sir Peter Jackson. “Both men absolutely breathtaking and cast long shadows,” he says. “There are tremendous lessons in showmanship to be learned from them.”

To commemorate the World War One centenary at the Te Papa National War Memorial in Wellington, Taylor and Jackson have collaborated on an interactive exhibition entitled
Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War which illustrates the triumphs and tragedies of that traumatic eight month campaign as seen through the eyes and words of the ordinary New Zealanders who took part. The impact of the superb Gallipoli website alone (www. gallipoli.tepapa.gov.nz) is extraordinarily powerful and moving.

“When I met up with Richard he was spraying a 25ft tall gorilla!” says the Brigadier. “The figures in the Gallipoli exhibition are two and a half normal human size and extraordinarily life-like. Once you've seen them, you can't ever forget them.”

And it is obvious that this is exactly the impact the Brigadier wants to achieve himself. “It’s a really big challenge for us to take the Tattoo to the other side of the world, a huge project,” he muses. “But the Australian and New Zealand governments have been wonderful and we've had tremendous support from Red Events and the New Zealand Festival. I'm very confident about it.”

One thing is certain. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has never been known to disappoint its audiences.