Hogmanay chief Pete Irvine quits post after two decades

Pete Irvine has announced that he is stepping down as the head of Unique Events and the director of Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival.'' Picture: Neil Hanna

Pete Irvine has announced that he is stepping down as the head of Unique Events and the director of Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival.'' Picture: Neil Hanna

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Pete Irvine, the figurehead of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations since their inception more than 20 years ago, is to leave the role.

He is also stepping down as managing director of Unique Events, the long-time producer of the festival, after agreeing to hand control of the company over to two colleagues.

The fireworks display for The Forth Road Bridge festival, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the bridge. Picture: Scott Louden

The fireworks display for The Forth Road Bridge festival, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the bridge. Picture: Scott Louden

The veteran impresario, the creative director of the festivities, said he had spent three years planning the move after deciding he had taken the Hogmanay festival as far as he could.

Mr Irvine, co-founder of Scotland’s first concert promoter, Regular Music, has been one of the most influential figures in the tourism and events industry in Scotland for the last 30 years.

The festival, which has survived two cancellations of the centrepiece street party due to bad weather, is now worth more than £40 million to the country’s economy.

Headliners have included the Pet Shop Boys, Primal Scream, Simple Minds, Madness, Scissor Sisters, Blondie and Calvin Harris.

Mr Irvine’s departure has been confirmed months after it emerged the city council, the main financial backer of the city’s Christmas and Hogmanay festivities, was considering a £500,000 cut to the

£1.3 million budget. Unique joined forces with Fringe promoter Underbelly to bid for the right to produce the events.

Unique is expected to be taken forward by Penny Dougherty, the company’s head of operations and general manager, and its events and communications manager, Alan Thomson, who have worked together on the festival for the last 16 years.

Mr Irvine said he had been considering whether to step aside when a three-year contract for the two events went out to tender in 2012, but decided to remain because he knew unprecedented international attention was going to be on Scotland in 2014 due to the Ryder Cup, the Commonwealth Games and the independence referendum.

He said: “It’s been a complex process, in a way, to ensure that Hogmanay and Unique go on. I plan everything in my life. I am very meticulous. It got to a point three years ago when I thought ‘I am done here. I’ve done all that I want to do and can do’.

“There were other people here who were committed and determined and want to develop it. I made a definite decision to step down, but I felt it was important that it did not harm Hogmanay or undermine it, and that the momentum continued.

“The main reason I wanted to stay with it at that point was that 2014 was coming up and I knew it was going to be a really big year for Scotland. I thought I could be involved in a lot and that it was a special year that we would not see the likes of again.”

Mr Irvine, who plans to keep publishing his Scotland the Best travel guide, revealed he would be staying as an “artistic consultant” with Unique and would continue to look for ground-breaking new projects.

He plans to continue working on the New Year’s Day element of the Hogmanay festival, which sees historic venues host one-off performances.

Mr Irvine said: “My intention and plan with Hogmanay was that it would become so established that it couldn’t stop. I think that is exactly where it is now.

“As always with someone who has been doing something for a long time, you don’t want to change things too much if it works. I’ve perhaps been very reluctant to change the Hogmanay festival very much. The Torchlight Procession really works. What we do on New Year’s Day used to change every year, but we now have a formula that people really like.

“The compulsion was always to make a great event. In all the projects that I’ve done I’ve been difficult because I’ve felt that you should add something else in. It’s much more constrained now. It’s a big budget and a big event, but it’s hard within that framework to be innovative, which is kind of what I do.

“I think it’s exciting to see how Hogmanay will develop. It will be a challenge, as it always is, but there is also opportunity. Hogmanay will not stand still. There will be responsibilities, but there are also possibilities.”

Unique emerged out of Regular Music, the concert promoter launched by Mr Irvine and long-time business partner Barry Wright in the mid-1970s, after it was asked to get involved in Glasgow’s reign as European City of Culture. Mr Wright stepped down from his post as operations director of Unique at the end of 2013. bringing to an end the pair’s long partnership in business together.

Unique launched Edinburgh’s Christmas festival, masterminded a programme of events to coincide with the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, and produced the Live 8 concert staged at Murrayfield Stadium to coincide with the G8 Summit at Gleneagles a decade ago.

More recent events have include the official celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge, the Botanic Lights show in the Royal Botanic Gardens and the outdoor Film in the City screenings in Edinburgh each summer.

Mr Irvine was a key part of the original team, which included representatives of the city council, which instigated the first Hogmanay festival in the winter of 1993 after Unique was asked to stage several events in the Capital to coincide with the 1992 European Summit in Edinburgh.

It grew swiftly to become one of the world’s biggest New Year celebrations.

Mr Irvine said: “Edinburgh was the capital city, thousands of people were turning up at the Tron, but it was getting out of hand. We started the event because there was a convergence of feeling in the city that we should do something.

“The template for the first event is the one that remains in place to this day.”

Mr Irvine drew up the plans for Dundee to mark its reign as UK City of Culture next year, a title it ultimately lost to Hull, where Unique Events had previously staged festivals.

Asked what the future held of him, he said: “I had always updated the book (Scotland the Best) every two years since the very first one. It is a huge time commitment because it involves so much planning, research, travelling and writing. I knew it was going to more or less impossible in 2013 and 2014. I continued to research the book over a much longer period and I’ve just finished the new one, which comes out in April,

“I’ve never really looked back. I’ve lived for the moment and the future. I’m a free spirit, that’s the way I’ve always been. I will definitely look to do some new projects. I won’t want to do anything that has been done before, or things I have done myself before.

“There is nothing in my head at the moment. But it is clear to me that if there are events to be done in future then Unique Events is the company I would want to do them with.”

UNIQUE EVENTS HIGHLIGHTS

• Edinburgh’s Hogmanay: The centrepiece event of the city’s six-week winter festivals season sees more than 75,0000 revellers flock to the city centre every year.

• Opening of the Scottish Parliament: Celebrations to mark the historic occasion in 1999 included the lighting of beacons on Salisbury Crags, a party on Calton Hill, a Royal Mile pageant and concerts in Princes Street Gardens.

• The Big Day: Around a quarter of a million people flocked to outdoor concerts during Glasgow’s reign as European City of Culture in 1990.

• Live 8: With Scotland in the limelight in the run-up to the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005, Annie Lennox, Bob Geldof, Bono, George Clooney, Texas, The Proclaimers and James Brown appeared at the Final Push concert.

• Highland Year of Culture: A year-long £40 million celebration, included the new Outsider Festival in Rothiemurchus Forest.

• Burns and a’ that: The initial years of the festival inspired by the life and legacy of Robert Burns saw Lou Reed and Patti Smith headline gala concerts at Culzean Castle.

• Forth Road Bridge 50th Birthday: A river of fire created by 2014 torchbearers and a spectacular fireworks display were the centrepiece of the anniversary celebrations two years ago.

• Bannockburn Live: A two-day festival was created for the site of the historic battle to mark its 700th anniversary in 2014.

• The Big Concert: The Raploch estate in Stirling hosted this event for the London Olympics, with Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise Orchestra performing before a 7000-strong audience.

• Edinburgh’s Christmas: Unique staged events across the city centre in the early years of the six-week festival.

• Edinburgh Castle Concerts: Regular Music, the forerunner of Unique Events, were the first promoters to stage outdoor concerts on the castle esplanade, with the likes of Rod Stewart and Tom Jones.

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