Brian Ferguson: Bannockburn Live attendance risk

IT MAY just have been the ungodly hour, but Pete Irvine was tetchy. It is over a year since Irvine, one of Scotland’s leading event gurus, was charged with rescuing official celebrations for the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn from the mire.

Bannockburn Live wil mark 700 years since the battle. Picture: Greg Macvean

But facing the media at Stirling Castle for the first time about the event, one of the most heavily subsidised in the second Year of Homecoming, he grew increasingly irritated as the questions mounted up.

Let’s be honest about it: before his firm was brought in, the long-awaited celebrations were in an almighty 

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Clan chieftains – who had warned about the need to prepare well in advance for this year’s Homecoming centrepiece after the debacle that was The Gathering in 2009 – were on the warpath after discovering Stirling Council had withdrawn from any involvement.

The National Trust for Scotland was expressing concerns about being left to carry the financial burden from an event that looked to me as if it was being forced upon the charity, which runs the Bannockburn visitor attraction.

And there were warnings of a collective failure to promote the celebrations properly to the key overseas market.

It would suit the event’s paymasters at the Scottish Government and VisitScotland, and other key funders like Creative Scotland, if this tortured history could be whitewashed away.

By the end of January only 1,000 tickets had been sold for Bannockburn Live, which was actually launched last summer with a capacity of 45,000 – a fact that cannot be swept easily under the carpet. It was then that VisitScotland took over responsibility from a noticeably relieved NTS.

As far as Irvine is concerned, anything written or said before then has merely been unhelpful speculation.

He seemed dumbfounded at suggestions the event was at risk of being politicised, or linked to the independence referendum.

He says ticket sales are no better than he would have expected by now – even though all elements of Bannockburn Live are the same as the ones which have been heavily promoted worldwide since last June.

Irvine also believes Bannockburn Live is a “cheap ticket” compared to existing festivals and long-running events like the Royal Highland Show.

But how many of those are benefiting from special attention from the national tourism body and the government, public backing to the tune of £650,000 and the use of a national landmark for publicity reasons?