New Christmas boss says city celebrations ‘tacky’

The helter skelter won't be there this year. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The helter skelter won't be there this year. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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The man who puts a giant purple cow in the centre of Edinburgh has branded the Christmas celebrations on Princes Street “tacky”.

Underbelly director Charlie Wood has just taken over the reigns of Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay programme – and has wasted no time sparking controversy.

This year's market stalls will be changing. Picture: Ian Georgeson

This year's market stalls will be changing. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Claiming his event gets back to a more traditional feel and has more for children – his swipe at previous years’ offerings claims it was becoming a noisy “Disney-fied” affair.

He said: “I do believe Christmas in Edinburgh was going down a more tacky route.”

Past festivals were run by Durham based She’s Gott It!, run by respected PR veteran Nickie Gott.

Ms Gott was unavailable for comment last night but a spokeswoman for her company was quick to dismiss Mr Wood’s claims.

She said their events were “never on the tacky side” and said the council’s decision to give the contract to Underbelly meant “as far as we’re concerned, they’ve lost the best part of Christmas”.

The move to offer a more gentle, grown-up and traditional Edinburgh Christmas is the brainchild of London-based Underbelly and Edinburgh firm Unique Events, which were jointly awarded a long-term contract for both the Christmas and Hogmanay festivals earlier this year.

The Star Flyer – a hair-raising attraction that will spin passengers almost 60 metres above St Andrew Square – will be the only genuine ride on offer other than a towering Big Wheel – specially shipped over from Australia – and a carousel when the festival starts next Friday.

Under their vision, stalls, bouncy castles and noisy fairground rides are out. While a Christmas tree maze, a train and a Santa’s Grotto in East Princes Street Gardens are in – amid fears the festival was becoming too “adult”. Mr Wood said: “Christmas is about mystery and adventure and we wanted to capture more of those old-fashioned 
traditions with attractions like the Christmas maze.

“There is more for children this year. It is not a Disney-fied American version of Christmas or a funfair experience.”

Those behind this year’s market offerings have also been accused of snubbing German traders who have been offering up their continental fare for more than a decade.

But newly-appointed markets chief David Kohlert, who has organised Christmas displays at Hyde Park for the past four years, said the number of German-style stalls was growing from about 35 in 2012 to 70 this year. Echoing Mr Wood, he said the markets would be co-ordinated and more “authentic”, with fir trees and angel decorations used to create a theme unlike previous years.

The new look for the programme has won endorsement already.

Festivals and events champion Councillor Steve Cardownie said he believed the event “had become a bit predictable” in the past. He said: “I think it was getting a bit tired – now these guys are raising the bar higher.”

Edinburgh University graduate and television presenter Sofie Allsopp, who has hosted Christmas specials with sister and real estate guru Kirstie, anticipates a more Victorian affair will strike a chord with residents.“Sometimes Christmas is slightly overcome with the Disney thing,” she said. “It is nice to take it back to the Christmas of Victorian times.”

What’s in

• Big Wheel: A 42-metre-high Ferris wheel with enclosed heated pods. Nine-minute ride costs £8 for adults.

• Christmas tree maze: A children’s maze (pictured above) with an elves’ workshop at the centre. Entry £4.

• Star Flyer: A 360-degree ride that spins passengers almost 60m off the ground. £7.50.

• Speigeltent: Giant tent in St Andrew Square showing circus-style show Limbo and children’s productions.

• Scottish food and drink market: Specialised stalls selling Scottish produce.

What’s out

• Helter Skelter: A tower spiral with slide for children.

• German market: Long-running collection of German trade stalls replaced by wider “European” markets.

• Old Edinburgh wheel: The former wheel had open-topped rather than enclosed pods.

• Funfair rides: such as giant bouncy castle and chair swings.