SCOTLAND’S biggest Hogmanay celebrations were declared a huge sell-out success as tens of thousands of revellers thronged the streets of the capital.
Around 75,000 people were said to have descended on and around Princes Street in Edinburgh for a four-hour party beamed to more than a billion people around the world.
Organisers said events across the capital’s three-day festival had sold out in advance, with the final few dozen tickets for the street party and “Concert in the Gardens” being snapped up by early evening. Ticket touts were even seen mingling with the crowds as last-minute revellers queued for tickets on the Royal Mile.
Huge crowds flocked to five different stages within the capital’s street party arena, with chart-toppers Lily Allen and Soul II Soul, and three of Scotland’s leading indie bands, Twin Atlantic, The Twilight Sad and Young Fathers all performing. Four different fireworks displays, including a five-minute display at midnight, were blasted off from Calton Hill, Princes Street Gardens and Edinburgh Castle from 9pm.
Police chiefs in the capital have insisted the street party was a “spectacular and safe event” - despite severe crushing and crowd sways in part of the vast open-air arena.
Serious congestion problems were reported at the top of The Mound, where Australian DJ Tom Loud was performing his hit Hot Dub Time Machine show.
Around 200 revellers started to scale the spiked fence next to the Scottish National Gallery shortly after 10pm to escape the crush, while Loud had to appeal for calm among the crowd during his set.
There were further chaotic scenes around 11.30pm when around 200 revellers clambered over crush barriers as they tried to get into a “safe area” at the top of The Mound.
The area in front of New College, beside the Hot Dub Time Machine stage, had been opened up around 11.30 by police. At one point officers could be seen pleading with revellers to head back down The Mound.
Mark Bowe, 51, from Utrecht, told The Scotsman: “I was pretty scary, there was a lot of chaos and I had to get out of there.
“There was far top many people in a space of that size and I feel lucky to have got out of there. There were a lot of stewards when you came in the gates, but not many when you were in there.”
Gerben Kollard, 28, also from the Netherlands, said: “There are a whole group of us and we just had to get out because of all the crushing. We were being pushed up right against the fence.”
At one point around half an hour before the bells, Loud told the crowd: “If you’re in a tight spot and packed in give the people around you a cuddle, don’t push them.”
In the run-up to the bells, organisers Unique Events issued a number of safety messages pleading revellers to remain calm.
The official Edinburgh’s Hogmanay twitter feed, which was inundated with warnings and protests from worried revellers, stated: “If you’re in a busy area please stay calm and move slowly down The Mound to a quieter area. Police and stewards are there for your safety.
“Please respect others’ space and stay calm and safe. Thanks, we appreciate it.”
One of those to tweet the Hogmanay organisers, Kathryn Harrison said: “Crowd control none existent. Been crushed against railings with people jumping over to save themselves.”
But speaking after the street party had wound up, the event’s police “gold commander” insisted it had gone well.
Chief superintendent Mark Williams said: “Edinburgh has once again set the standard for a spectacular start to the New Year. It’s been a fantastic night and the vast majority of people have enjoyed themselves responsibly.
“There were only three arrests at the street party and those were for minor public order offences such a breach of the peace.
“I am very pleased that the festival passed off smoothly with no major issues.”
A spokeswoman for Unique Events said today: “The event was a great success, however we acknowledge that The Mound area was very busy as a large number of people made their way to see Hot Dub Time Machine and that some people may have found the size of the crowd uncomfortable.
“Police and stewards were on hand throughout the evening monitoring the event and where necessary to open safety barriers, which are placed throughout the arena for exactly this purpose, to relieve congestion.”
Meanwhile organisers have defended a decision to axe Stirling’s Hogmanay party with just over two hours to go before the bells due to freak wind conditions.
Celtic bands The Waterboys and Skerrvore had been due to take the stage at the castle esplanade for the open-air celebration, but gusts of up to 100 miles per hour led to the cancellation.
A joint decision was taken between senior police officers, Stirling Council and the private firm which runs the event on behalf of the local authority.
Zisys Events, the private firm which runs the event on behalf of the council, said it “deeply regretted” having to cancel the concert and fireworks display. Full refunds will be offered to ticket-holders.
It added: “The esplanade, while a totally stunning venue, is on a very high and open site and is exposed to extremes of weather.
“Gusts of over 100mph were recorded, which exceeded the safe limits for the stage.
“The site became unsafe for the public and the decision was made to cancel the event before the gates officially opened. We sincerely apologise for any disappointment and inconvenience caused.”
A statement from Stirling Council said: “The concert site was experiencing exceptionally high and unforecast gusts of wind which were causing structural damage to the stage and blowing over portaloos, fencing and other equipment.
“Obviously this is the last thing we would want but the safety of our audience, the crew and the performers is paramount and could not be guaranteed with the exceptionally strong gusts of wind.”
Chief inspector Paul Rollo said: “The joint decision to cancel the street party was only taken after lengthy discussion and deliberation with the organisers.
“We prioritise the safety of people attending an event and with the poor weather conditions right now with winds far stronger than expected, unfortunately this could not be assured.”
Elsewhere in Scotland, huge outdoor parties and fireworks displays were staged over the bells in Aberdeen and Inverness. The 1980s favourites The Human League headlined the festivities in Stonehaven, ahead of its famous fireball throwing parade, while hundreds flocked to Biggar’s annual Hogmanay bonfire.
Although Glasgow’s official celebrations were curtailed early, as in previous years, at 9pm, George Square hosted nine hours of family-friendly entertainment.
Organisers in the capital said visitors from 70 countries were in the city for the festivities, which have attracted more than three million people since the first official celebrations were staged in 1993.
They revealed more than 50,000 people had taken to the city’s streets for the torchlight procession curtain-raiser on Tuesday night, with all 1000 places snapped up for today’s Loony Dook into the Firth of Forth at South Queensferry, and 10,000 people expected at the sell-out “Scot:Lands” festival being staged at 10 secret venues in the Old Town this afternoon.
Pete Irvine, artistic director of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival, said: “The international appeal of the event is stronger than ever - it gets greater every year.
“The main reason for that it is that we’ve established Edinburgh as the centre of the world at Hogmanay - we really are THE New Year destination.
“When we say we are the only place with a New Year festival it’s because we are. Other cities have come to Scotland to ask us about what they can with their own celebrations, but they are only putting on fireworks displays. In a lot of these cities there is nothing else on.”
London staged its first ever ticketed fireworks display last night, with a 100,000 crowd limit set and a £10 admission charge controversially introduced.
The Metropolitan Police had even urged ticketless revellers to steer clear of central London, with a massive security operation in place to held control the crowds heading for the banks of the Thames.
Mr Irvine added: “All you have in London is a fireworks display lasting 10 minutes. What you have to remember is that we now have four displays at 9pm, 10pm, 11pm and midnight. Each year we make them better - they are proper displays.”
Donald Wilson, Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, told The Scotsman: “The atmosphere in the city really is extraordinary. It is the thing that Edinburgh is really famous for at Hogmanay, with absolutely everybody on the streets having such a good time.
“I’ve been told we have record numbers of people in the city across the board, with events either sold out or fully-subscribed, and that ticket sales have been quite substantially up on last year.
“The incredible thing is around 65 per cent of the Hogmanay audience comes from outside Scotland.
“I’ve had so many people from around the world come up to me to tell me what a good time they’re having and thanking me - as if it was me that had done it all. But it was really good to see and hear what a great time people have been having.”
Speaking before performing in front of more than 10,000 people at the Waverley Stage over the bells, Sam McTrusty, frontman of Glasgow indie band Twin Atlantic, said: “We instantly said ‘yes’ to this gig. We usually weigh up the pros and cons to everything you do, but this was a no-brainer.
“It’s a world-renowned party, we love good parties, we love Edinburgh and love playing our music to people and having a good time. We’ve also brought all our friends, girlfriends and wives through with us from Glasgow for the party.
“We do know we’re a bit of an add-on to the main event, which is all about the human race surviving another year!”
Vast crowds had descended on the Royal Mile and Princes Street by early afternoon, lapping up the unusually mild weather, with temperatures soaring as high as 10 degrees.
Andrew Nichols, a 30-year-old teacher from Melbourne, Australia, said: “I’ve literally come to Edinburgh for the one night for this.
“I came up on the overnight bus from London and plan to stay up partying all night before getting the train back in the morning.
“I’ve ended up here after I Googled ‘the best New Year’s Eve parties’ and Edinburgh came up. When I looked into it a bit more I really liked the sound of going to a street party with a ceilidh dance.”
Nicole Chan, 21, from Hong Kong, said: “This is my first ever time in Scotland and Edinburgh has been such a beautiful city to visit at this time of year.
“There are 43 of us here on a tour of Britain over the Christmas holidays. Everyone knows that Edinburgh has such a huge New Year’s Eve celebration which brings everyone together from all over the world. That’s why we wanted to come.”
Tim Jacioch, 46, a physician’s assistant from Minneapolis, said: “I’ve been wanting to come to this event for 15 years and I’m so pleased I finally made it here for a week’s holiday.
“It’s my first ever time in Scotland and the views of the city have just been awesome. Everybody has been so lovely and friendly and the weather has been much better than I thought it would be. I was expecting it to rain every day.”
Witchaya Towongpaichayout, 29, from Taiwan, who is studying computer science at Nottingham University, said: “I’ve been to Scotland so many times, it’s like a second home to me.
“I’ve been to London for Hogmanay, but it was nothing like this. There’s just so much to do in Edinburgh, with all the music and ceilidh dancing. Everybody is here to have good fun.”