Edinburgh's Hogmanay: Organisers vow to expand event for 30th anniversary after comeback sell-out

The new organisers of Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival have vowed to rebuild and expand the city’s celebrations in future after selling out the main events in advance after a three-year hiatus.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor opened Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival with a headline gig in Princes Street Gardens.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor opened Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival with a headline gig in Princes Street Gardens.

An increased capacity for the main street party, the return of the torchlight procession curtain-raiser and the creation of new events are expected to be targeted for the festival’s 30th anniversary next year.

More public funding and new sponsorship deals are to be sought to help “scale up” the festival.

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The city council has awarded a new £4 million contract expected to run for up to five years to a consortium formed by Unique Events, the Edinburgh-based company which creaed the festival, and long-time Fringe promoters Assembly.All 30,000 tickets for the street party were snapped up several weeks ago while the 10,000 capacity open-air Hogmanay concert in Princes Street Gardens featuring the Pet Shop Boys was declared a sell-out after Christmas.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor opened Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival with a headline gig in Princes Street Gardens.

However events missing from this year’s programme included the traditional torchlight procession curtain-raiser and the New Year’s Day “Loony Dook” in South Queensferry.

Unique director Alan Thomson said: “The demand for tickets was a complete unknown this year.

"Shifting 40,000 tickets for anything is a challenge, but to do that in winter, after a three-year absence, is an amazing achievement and is a great platform for rebuilding our audiences over the next four or five years.

"This was always going to be a recovery year. The audience reaction has been hugely positive. The natural progression has to be for us to look at how to increase the numbers. I don’t think that’s about going back to full-scale next year. I think there has to be a sensible next step."

Clare Grogan's Altered Images performed in Princes Street Gardens in the opening event of Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival.

Mr Thomson said there had been a notable increase in the proportion of people buying tickets from across the UK, with a reduced presence of overseas ticket-buyers.

He said: "The challenge is to make sure we bring those international visitors back.

“Getting the event back on, selling it out and beaming images around the world is going to make people think: ‘I want to go there and do that.’

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“Getting the Pet Shop Boys has brought us back to a festival-headliner level. With the light show under the castle and the fireworks, it will be one of the best new year events anywhere in the world.”

Clare Grogan's Altered Images performed in Princes Street Gardens in the opening event of Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival.

Other events in the city’s three-day festival include two other gardens gigs on other side of Hogmanay, headlined by Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Tide Lines, an afternoon of free New Year’s Day gigs at 13 venues across the city centre and free “Sprogmanay” events at the National Museum of Scotland and Assembly’s Roxy venue.

Mr Thomson added: “The creative ambitions for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay can only go one way - to get bigger, expand and create new events, as we always want to do. We obviously want to bring the festival back to the scale it has been in previous years.

“There are always the core attractions, like the concert and the street party, to bring people here.

“A majority of our local audience may have been there and done them. Any new events we can create that engages with those audiences, especially free events, are where we want to expand. But they require funding.

Clare Grogan's Altered Images performed in Princes Street Gardens in the opening event of Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival.

"The biggest challenges this year have been securing funding and commercial sponsors. You need to engage with people 12 months in advance, not three or four months.

“We’re very keen to bring the torchlight procession back. Lots of people have an emotional attachment to it.

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“I don’t think there was anyone more upset that us that we weren’t able to do it this year as it has been core to the programme for nearly 30 years. But it is a £200,000 event. It’s not just about 10,000 torch-bearers, there are also 40,000 or 50,000 spectators who need to be kept safe.”

The street party capacity is roughly half the size it was pre-pandemic, with the arena “condensed” to take out Waverley Bridge, Hanover Street, Rose Street, and the east end of Princes Street.

Unique director Penny Dougherty added: “We definitely want to look at scaling things up in some way next year. That doesn’t necessarily mean we will have a bigger street party arena. It may be that we will use other venues, there may be other events or we may bring Waverley Bridge back into the arena again.

“This year will be very much about having a new, refreshed street party, what works and what doesn’t, and what we take forward for next year. I don’t necessarily think that’s about just going back to what we had before, but we know people still want to come to Edinburgh for Hogmanay. It’s about putting on the best overall event.”

Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations are returning for the first time since 2019. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Assembly founder William Burdett-Coutts said: "The whole thing has been at such speed this year. We really only started work on both Christmas and Hogmanay in September. These are enormous events that normally take a year’s worth of planning.

“We need to review how this year has gone and think about how we can improve it. There are obviously elements we would like to bring back and probably new things we would like to introduce. We definitely need to try to raise the funding to bring the torchlight procession back.”

However Cliff Hague, chair of the Cockburn Association, the heritage watchdog which previously called for the new year celebrations to be scaled back, said: "While welcoming the success of this year's Edinburgh Hogmanay and steps that have been taken to address our concerns, any plans for future years need to respect Edinburgh's residents, open spaces and the environment.

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"There needs to be proper engagement with those citizens living in the areas being appropriated for the event, and an independent professional assessment of the capacity of the city centre to accommodate intensive events like this. The city's net zero targets need to be recognised. It's time to think beyond growth, growth, growth."

Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations are returning this year for the first time since 2019.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor opened Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival with a headline gig in Princes Street Gardens.
Clare Grogan's Altered Images performed in Princes Street Gardens in the opening event of Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival.

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