Tattoo to reach TV audience of more than a billion

IT IS already seen by hundreds of millions of television viewers around the world every year.

Changxing Lotus Dragon Dance Folklore Group performing at Edinburgh Castle. Picture: Julie Bull

But now the annual military spectacle of the Edinburgh Festival is set for its biggest ever global audience as it emerged performers from both China and India would be in its line-up.

Organisers say they are confident more than a billion people will see footage of the event for the first time – five years ahead of schedule.

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The Scotsman revealed plans by the Tattoo’s chief executive, Brigadier David Allfrey, to secure Asian broadcasting deals to extend the reach of the event, which opens this week and has sold out for the past 16 years in a row.

More than 150 Chinese performers, including the military band of the People’s Liberation Army, whose appearance sparked protests at the event a decade ago, have been confirmed in the line-up. They will join a 12-strong troupe of Indian dancers who will be creating a special Bollywood-inspired song and dance sequence drawn from Asian groups across Scotland, including hits from the soundtrack of Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

Brig Allfrey said the line-up for the show, which is 94 per cent sold out, would span four continents and feature more than 1,200 performers, and help “bring the world together”.

This year’s show – the 66th – which will be part of a year-long cultural change between the UK and China, will be staged under the banner of “East Meets West”.

Some of this year’s acts are said to have taken years to secure and it is hoped long-term relationships have been established to secure more Indian and Chinese acts in future.

Making their appearance at the event will be the musicians and dancers of the Changxing Lotus Dragon Folklore Group.

Other debut acts this year include the official ceremonial guard of the United States air force, while the UK’s Royal Air Force will stage a series of dramatic flypasts during the run of the show, which will also honour the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

And Brig Allfrey said the 90-minute show would bring together “traditional allies” and “new friends” at the esplanade this month.

He added: “The BBC broadcast that is filmed each year can get up to 300 million viewers in any given year. However, this year we have particular interest from the NHK network, which broadcasts across Japan, China Central Television from Beijing, and Indian broadcaster Doordarshan.

“We have had some great conversations with all three of them, which are outside the BBC’s usual worldwide licensing arrangement. If they all happen I think we will definitely get more than a billion TV viewers over the next year. I had set a target of 2020 to achieve that but I’m hoping we will hit that a lot earlier than we thought.

“We have other projects going on downstream and my hope is that with the extra television audience there will be an opportunity to open all sorts of doors in the coming years.

“These overseas broadcasters usually take the BBC’s footage that is filmed at the event and come here to film their own documentaries, but also shoot clips of their own performers who are in the show, and tell real human interest stories.”

Meanwhile, Brig Allfrey said he was braced for possible protests against the Chinese military band, after criticism over the previous invitation to the PLA, in 2004, over the country’s human rights record.

He said: “There was a little bit of excitement the last time. There will I’m sure be people who would not wish to see them here.

“These are professional musicians, they are extraordinary. If you want to influence people you have to make friends with them and get them over here. They’ve been an absolute pleasure to work with so far and I’m sure they will take a lot back to China.”