Put your shirt on it being a belter of a birthday bash

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TWO celebratory events are coming up in the Canongate. One in the Kirk itself, the other in a shop across the road that sells sweatshirts and T-shirts to tourists and locals alike, writes John Gibson.

Shopkeeper owner Ali Mitchell can’t resist a harmless quip. “I’ve no wish to steal any of Zara and Mike’s thunder, so I’ve switched the venue for my milestone celebration from here to the New Town.

“The occasion is my 50th birthday party and the 16th anniversary of my venture here, Fantastic Scotland, on the Royal Mile.

“People thought it rather risky for me to open with this sort of product almost directly opposite the Kirk on historic Edinburgh’s prime thoroughfare. It’s not as though I’ve had the church’s blessing.

“The minister’s never crossed the road to pop into the shop, as far as I know. Mind you, I wouldn’t recognise him if I saw him in the street. Is he a T-shirt man or a dog collar man?”

Ali was born and bred in Juniper Green and schooled in the local primary and at Firrhill Secondary. He had spent a lot of his early teenage years with relatives in America.

“I’d summer in America, working in retail for pocket money, and here I had a job in the skiing specialist Blues in Weymss Place at the West End,” he says.

“I started my own business in 1987 with a screen printers in Musselburgh’s Fisherrow. I must have been reasonably good at it because I cornered contracts to do the official merchandise for the Edinburgh Festival and the Fringe and kept my contacts in the skiing industry.

“I moved into retail in 1994 selling my own range and design of sweatshirts and T-shirts.

“Besides, I was supplying Jenners and Historic Scotland because, I like to think, it was all original and tasteful product. Nothing garish.”

Ali met his Musselburgh-born wife Sam at a party in London. Married 20 years next month, they have sons aged 16 and 19. They live in Trinity.

“Outside of the shop, which is pretty well all-consuming in that everything is designed and produced and printed in house, my main interest is football, coaching youngsters of four to 17 years old two nights a week,” he says.

“Saturdays and Sundays I’m on the touchline, watching them in competitive matches and when Sam says it’s an obsession I can’t offer an argument.”

Ali has booked May Paton’s Fingers Piano Bar in Frederick Street for the birthday party.

He says: “Obviously they’ve got keyboards in the club and the guests will include my father Tommy and my brother Stuart. They’re much-respected professional pianists.”

A fantastic night out? You can put your shirt on it.