Tavish Scott: Viking invasion does Shetland proud

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A TELEVISION breakfast show was coming off air. A telegenic male anchor was closing the show from New York’s famous Times Square. It was a typical Monday, with an enormous bustle of office workers and tourists.

Plus one other group – some 38 marauding Vikings from Shetland complete with axes, helmets and shields.

The VH1 producer took one look at this invasion and pointed the cameraman in our direction. That was the shot he wanted to close the show. Not just five seconds, but a minute of television with cheering and roaring into the camera lens.

VH1 apparently loved it. As did the PR people taking the Vikings around the Big Apple. A media and promotional moment to die for, seemed the gist of their happy analysis.

Lerwick’s Up Helly A’ Viking squad had been invited to parade in the annual Tartan Day celebrations down New York’s 6th Avenue. The American Scottish Foundation does sterling work on business, cultural and tourism links across the Atlantic, and the objective of this visit was to sell Shetland, promote salmon in an important east coast American market, and develop tourism links.

Across three days, the jarl squad walked about Manhattan with Shetland visitor DVDs to hand out and badges for children.

The Vikings talked all day, every day. Not one of them missed the opportunity to sell his homeland, with cheerfulness and considerable ambassadorial skill.

The Tartan Parade fits in among many others. Scotland was Saturday. The Greeks took over Central Park on Sunday. I attended Brick Presbyterian Church’s Tartan Week service following the parade. The church has an enduring relationship with Scotland and the Church of Scotland, including the Canongate Kirk – near the Scottish Parliament – in Edinburgh.

Over coffee, I met countless Scots revelling in their connections to the old country. Many asked about independence. Some thought it was a good idea, others considered the notion bonkers. So, nothing new to report there.

The church then hosted a performance of The Kist. This is a celebration of all things Scots brought to life in poetry, singing and prose. It is produced by Fiona Kennedy with a wonderfully talented group of performers. There was much of historical importance, but also a wry and genuinely funny poke at Scottish sensitivities.

The Kist deserves a wider airing and the cast told me afterwards that a Scottish tour is planned And so it should be, but the international work and reach is hugely important.

I was asked repeatedly why Scotland does not have a presence at the many Highland Games across North America. That’s one for the leadership of VisitScotland to mull over as it reviews this year’s Scotland Week.

The Vikings departed for home having certainly put Shetland on the map.