Axe falls on Highland Military Tattoo

Highland MilitaryTattoo at Fort George, near Inverness, in 2016. ''Pic: Paul Campbell/Contributed.
Highland MilitaryTattoo at Fort George, near Inverness, in 2016. ''Pic: Paul Campbell/Contributed.
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The Highland Military Tattoo has been axed after racking up repeated losses.

Organisers today (Tuesday) said attendances had failed to reach targets and the “risky financial situation” made it unsustainable.

The annual event at the 18th century Fort George fortress, near Ardersier, Highland, was launched to support the Armed Forces and their charities.

But the mix of traditional and more contemporary acts, including, massed pipes and drums, highland dancing, competitions, vignettes, flypasts and a spectacular fireworks display, failed to draw big enough crowds.

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Event director Major General Seymour Monro said: “We’ve done four years and we’ve lost, and it’s on our shoulders. And we can’t go on, particularly with the MoD about to raise its prices.

“It’s partly due to the general climate of austerity – but more businesses could have supported us.

READ MORE: Why was Fort George built?

The tattoo board said despite tremendous praise for this year’s Fort George festivities, its members were unanimous in concluding that “another year of low attendance rates, the likelihood of increased costs for Ministry of Defence (MoD) support and the tattoo’s risky financial situation make it unsustainable.”

The event attracted 6,174 visitors this year, which was 843 more than last year but well short of the 8,000 target, and “in spite of increased marketing efforts and expenditure”, according to the organisers.

Major General Monro said: “I don’t think we can market it better than we have. We had the best publicity and marketing we could buy last year. It reached something like 7.5 million people.

“Six thousand is probably what we’re going to get and that’s not enough to pay for a tattoo. We’d have to raise as much from sponsorship as we would get from ticket sales.

“We’re all very frustrated because it was a great show. We just haven’t managed to get enough bums on seats and raise enough sponsorship – and the costs are going up.”

He declined to reveal the extent of losses but confirmed it was more in 2017 than in each of the previous three years, despite public grants and business donations.

“We’re all enormously grateful to the many performers – especially the younger ones – who have produced really professional shows,” said Major General Monro. “And praise too for all our excellent contractors without whom the tattoos would not have happened and huge thanks to our generous supporters.

“We are sure that the Highlands and Moray should have an annual tattoo and that Fort George is the best He said “a white knight who’s quite well loaded” would be needed to rescue the event.

The commercial arm of the MoD has increased scrutiny of the military resources required for such events.

Inverness councillor Carolyn Caddick, a retired Army major and honorary colonel of 1st Battalion Highlanders Army Cadet Force, said: “The Highland Military Tattoo has been a great event and very popular with locals and visitors alike.

“Maj Gen Monro and the huge team of volunteers who have made this happen should be congratulated on a really professional production.

“Unfortunately, without the necessary level of support from commercial sponsors and public bodies, the tattoo is not commercially viable going forward, which is very sad.”

Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, added: “I’ve been to each tattoo, this is a real blow,” he said. “It’s really frustrating that it hasn’t worked. Seymour and his team could not have done more to make a success of it.”

A spokesman for the MoD said: “All three armed services have proudly supported the Highland Military Tattoo for several years. Had the organisers not decided to cancel the event, we would have continued to do so.”