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Issue 87 - The Voice of Scotland

Scotland Magazine Issue 87
June 2016

 

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The Voice of Scotland

Shona McMillan meets Alasdair Hutton, voice of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

"Ladies and Gentleman. Welcome to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo!” With this rousing introduction, for the 25th year, Alasdair Hutton will open the annual spectacle held at Edinburgh Castle. Having been visited by nearly 15 million people and seen by hundreds of millions on TV around the world, the Tattoo has come a long way since its first show in 1950. Nearly a quarter of a million people attend each year, of those nearly 20% are from Scotland, 50% from the rest of the UK and 30% from overseas.

In his 25 years of writing and presenting the Tattoo, Alasdair’s narration has been an integral part of the show’s success. For the past 17 years, performances have been a sell-out, generating over £9 million in box office receipts; research estimates that the Tattoo contributes over £88 million to the Scottish economy. Incredibly, about 70% of Tattoo visitors say that the show has been the sole reason for their trip to Scotland.

Through his skilful delivery, Alasdair’s voice rings out night after night to engage his audience and take them on a cultural journey combining stories, music, song, dance, marching bands and spectacular displays. Alasdair’s voice is perfect for non-English speakers and his presentation, so unmistakably Scottish, has earned him the nickname of ‘The Voice of Scotland.’ Ask Alasdair how many people he has presented to and he smiles in wonderment – what a staggering number that must be! Alasdair has also presented Tattoos in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and America. Speaking to huge crowds across the globe and attending events such as Tartan Day, Alasdair has entertained as a presenter of concerts and is a much sought-after speaker. His many contributions to Scottish cultural organisations include VisitScotland, The Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club and the prestigious Robert Burns Guild of Speakers.

A public figure, yet a shy and private man, not many know much about Alasdair’s fascinating journey to become the Voice of Scotland. His story has been shaped by his experiences in Scotland and abroad as a broadcaster, journalist, volunteer soldier, parachutist, member of the Queen’s Bodyguard, elected politician in Europe, Councillor in the Scottish Borders, gifted writer, and even a singer on the award winning music album People and Songs of the Sea. A successful writer, he also hopes to have his next children’s book published in autumn 2016, adding to his prize-winning adventures of The Tattoo Fox.

So, how does Alasdair’s story begin? Born in London to Scottish parents, at just three months old he nearly did not survive. He was sleeping in a basket under the stairs when a Nazi bomb demolished their house. After that, Alasdair grew up in Galloway and then in Dollar, Clackmannanshire. He loved the hills and even won a prize for the wild flowers he collected on his boyhood rambles.

After his father died, his mother took the family to Brisbane. A year of schooling later, at 15 years old Alasdair walked into a local radio station, asked for a job and was appointed as a trainee technician. Alasdair’s mother got a job starting up the wardrobe department of the new Australian television service in Melbourne, then soon after Alasdair landed a job as a newspaper reporter. After seven years the family returned to Scotland. Now 21, Alasdair became a journalist in Aberdeen, then an announcer for the BBC in Glasgow, followed by three years in Northern Ireland before returning to BBC Scotland. He also joined the Territorial Army’s Scottish Battalion of the Parachute Regiment and served over the next 22 years with great pride. Ten years then followed in the Central Volunteer Headquarters, plus three more as Honorary Colonel of the Lothian and Borders ACF Battalion.

Having made his first political speech at the age of 11, one night Alasdair heard that there were to be elections for the European Parliament. With no experience of standing in any election, he became the first Member to be directly elected to the European Parliament when the South of Scotland produced the first result in the first election. His elder son Tom was born a year before the election and his second son Nick followed four years later.

But the tide that swept Alasdair into the Parliament swept him out ten years later. While looking for another job, out of the blue in 1992 the new producer of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Major Michael Parker, asked him to be the narrator. Now, for the greatest show on earth, the strands of broadcasting and soldiering came together in a wholly unexpected way. Like politics, he had no experience of presenting a big live show, but he threw himself in, mastering each new challenge and very much enjoying the experience for 25 years.

To start at the top with such a prestigious show of international standing was a tremendous beginning to Alasdair’s new career and other tattoos followed. The more he did the better he got, until he became the script writer and narrator of choice for tattoos large and small in Britain and abroad, from Australia to the United States of America. It helped too that he spoke the military language and had a quarter of a century of army service behind him. In addition, Alasdair was asked to write and narrate many videos, audio guides and concerts; he relished, for example, the standing ovation the audience gave a concert he presented at New York’s Lincoln Centre.

Of course, there is a lot more to tell. What time Alasdair has left he devotes to various literary and voluntary groups including St John Scotland, The Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club (he has been the Chairman since 2013), the Borders Talking Newspaper and his church in Kelso, at which he has been an Elder for over 30 years. In addition, he recently helped to pass on his media expertise in a skills training programme for young people. Living a full, fun and exciting life at 76, Alasdair has no plans to slow down yet.