Tartan Day role makes Sir Billy dance a wee jig

After a blustery end to the week, the sun shone for the 21st New York City Tartan Day Parade on Sixth Avenue yesterday, which was led by none other than the Big Yin himself.
Billy Connolly leads the Tartan Day Parade with his wife, Pamela Stephenson. Picture: Benjamin Chateauvert/PABilly Connolly leads the Tartan Day Parade with his wife, Pamela Stephenson. Picture: Benjamin Chateauvert/PA
Billy Connolly leads the Tartan Day Parade with his wife, Pamela Stephenson. Picture: Benjamin Chateauvert/PA

The day itself has a certain shape by now. It starts with the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan, billed as a pan-denominational Christian blessing organised by the St Andrew’s Society of NY, followed by the Pipes and Drums on the Fountain Terrace at Bryant Park. This year’s parade was led by Sir Billy Connolly who performed the role of Grand Marshal in front of around 30,000 spectators.

The 76-year-old, who has lived in the US since 2011, accepted the invitation to take part despite announcing in December that he was retiring from touring.

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Speaking ahead of the event, he said: “I’m thrilled to be this year’s Grand Marshal of the New York City Tartan Day Parade.

“I can’t wait to hear all those bagpipes echoing off the skyscrapers and to see Sixth Avenue awash with thousands of swaying kilts. It made me dance a wee jig in my heart. It’s going to be brilliant.”

Connolly was dressed head to toe in the MacLean of Duart tartan – the weathered version – in an outfit created for him by Howie Nicholsby of 21st Century Kilts. Connolly wears the MacLean as this was his mother’s maiden name. Nicholsby said of his Grand Marshal’s costume. “If there was ever to be a King of Scotland, this is what I hope he would wear.”

Previous Grand Marshals include Sir Sean Connery, Alan Cumming, Sam Heughan and Brian Cox, while KT Tunstall became the first woman to lead the parade last year.

Connolly’s wife, Pamela Stephenson, also had a role to play in the Tartan Day celebrations. She judged the dog competition, including the little known Scottish breed of Dandie Dinmonts before the parade.

Many performers travel from Scotland to be a part of the parade and the assortment of events which lead up to it, and there are Canadian and American pipe bands here too.

Scottish politicians were scarcer than in previous years with only two, Linda Fabiani the Deputy Presiding Officer of The Scottish Parliament and MSP for Orkney, Liam McArthur, making the trip.

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They took their place in the parade, where all you need do is book a place, bring a banner and wave at the spectators. The politicians also held a round of meetings both here and in Toronto before heading home to Scotland.

Others marching represented their families, clans and a few Scottish universities. Scottish music filled the street outside Radio City, as police kept watch over the crowds behind the crush barriers while the NYPD band played in the parade.

The Scotland Shop, known for dressing Scottish rugby legend Doddie Weir in style, set up a pop up shop. Founder Anna White said: “We already have a good customer base out in the US, with about 35 per cent of our business being exported there. So we know we have lots of customers there already and that they love our stuff.”

VisitScotland were in the city to promote tourism in Scotland, holding a series of breakfast and cocktail meetings in a very stylish downtown co-working space to get their message across.

A group of 30 dancers from the Performing Arts Studio Scotland based at Edinburgh College Granton Campus have been performing and holding classes in New York all week and took part in the parade.

On Friday night the pre-parade ceilidh got the weekend off to a fine start at the Altman Building in Chelsea in Lower Manhattan.

The annual Dressed To Kilt fashion show was also held on Friday featuring rugby playing brothers Thom and Max Evans.

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