Underbelly brought in to help run Edinburgh festivities

Underbelly will assist with the Hogmanay festivities. Picture: Charlie Wood/ Underbelly
Underbelly will assist with the Hogmanay festivities. Picture: Charlie Wood/ Underbelly
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ONE of the biggest promoters on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is to be brought in to help run the capital’s lucrative Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations.

• Fringe promoter Underbelly set to help overhaul Edinburgh’s festive season

Picture: Ian Georgeson

Picture: Ian Georgeson

• Promoter will join forces with Unique Events in joint bid for next three years

London-based outfit Underbelly, which has established itself as one of the key players at the Fringe since being formed in 2001, is set to produce the festive celebrations with Edinburgh firm Unique Events, the long-time Hogmanay organisers, for at least the next three years.

Councillors are expected to rubber-stamp a bid from the two outfits next week after a new joint tender for the events, worth more than £33 million to the economy, was put up for grabs.

A joint statement from the companies - who will have the option of a further two-year extension - said they would be joining forces to stage “the largest winter season Edinburgh has ever seen.”

In particular, the Christmas events in the city are set for a radical overhaul after a “totally reimagined” programme was promised.

Both firms have agreed to shoulder the financial burden if the £1.29 million budget put into the events by the city council over-runs.

However Pete Irvine, director of Unique Events, said there would be “much more financial stability” over the two events because the funding was confirmed for the next three years.

He added: “Sometimes it’s been very late in the day until we’ve known what funding we would have for Hogmanay. This will allow us to plan ahead properly knowing that the funding is in place.”

Unique has been the producer of the Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh for each of the last 20 years they have been staged and was also involved in the Christmas celebrations after an ice rink was launched in the late 1990s.

However the events were run separately in recent years, with Durham firm She’s Gott It having the contract for the Christmas events. A rival Fringe, firm Gilded Balloon, run by veteran figure Karen Koren, initially ran the ice rank but ran into financial problems with the city council.

Underbelly started operating on the Fringe in venues in the Cowgate in 2001, but later expanded to run a huge operation in the Bristo Square area, including its famous upside-down purple cow venue, which may now be deployed over the festive season in Edinburgh.

Unique will remain in overall charge of the Hogmanay celebrations while Underbelly will lead efforts to overhaul the Christmas programme.

Director Charlie Wood told The Scotsman: “People will notice a massive difference in Edinburgh at Christmas.

“I think things had become a bit tired in recent years and are definitely in need of a refresh. It had a bit of a 1970s-feel to it and we want to bring it right up to date.

“It will look a lot different and although we can’t reveal any of our plans just now I can say that there will definitely still be an ice rink.

“We are very passionate about Edinburgh, it’s where Underbelly grew up and we’re really looking forward to it. We truly believe that, with Unique Events, we can make Edinburgh’s combined winter season the envy of the world.”

Mr Irvine added that there was now an opportunity to “create a new world-class event centred around the entire festive season.”

He said: “We had a lot of approaches from companies to partner with, but we know Underbelly very well from what they do during the Fringe and we share the same vision and ambitions.

“I think people like things to change as long as they change for the better. The Christmas events, which we were involved with before, have been largely the same for some time, but things have moved on elsewhere in the UK a lot in the last few years.”

The city council said 37 notes of interest had been received for the new contract, with just two joint bids being taken forward to the final stage. T in the Park organisers DF Concerts were thought to have been among those expressing an interest.

Steve Cardownie, the council’s festivals and events champion, said: “We wanted to ensure that both elements continue to go from strength to strength and remain fresh and exciting every year while, at the same time, transferring the financial risk away from the council.

”We are confident that we can work with the preferred consortium to maintain and improve upon Edinburgh’s global reputation as a pre-eminent festival city and leading winter destination.”