Fringe promoter wants more Edinburgh events in December

A leading Fringe promoter has revealed he wants to see new events staged across Edinburgh city centre during December - as he announced that more than 200,000 tickets had been snapped up for a new festive attraction on the Royal Mile.
Charlie Wood hopes to bring the Street of Light back again. Picture: ContributedCharlie Wood hopes to bring the Street of Light back again. Picture: Contributed
Charlie Wood hopes to bring the Street of Light back again. Picture: Contributed

Charlie Wood, the man behind the free “Street of Light” event on the High Street, has said he hopes to bring it back in 2016 after disclosing almost all of the 250,000 available tickets have been snapped up.

But the director of Underbelly, the firm which has staged festival-style events in St Andrew Square in the run-up to Christmas in recent years, has suggested new events could arrive in other areas like the Grassmarket and Bristo Square in future.

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He also raised the prospects of other promoters being brought in to run events during the Christmas season, which is already said to be worth almost £200 million to the economy.

Mr Wood has said there was a “big risk” involved in staging an untried event in the middle of the High Street in winter, but said the gamble over the last sound and light installation had paid off dramatically.

He revealed that visitors from 49 different countries had secured the free tickets for Street of Light, which features more than 60,000 lights and was inspired by an event in Valencia.

He is hoping a commercial backer can be found for the return of the 25-day event, sponsored by Virgin Money this year, with plans afoot to create an extra children’s show in 2016.

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Mr Wood’s company, which now has a year-round office in Edinburgh, was charged with overhauling the capital’s festivities when it was brought in two years ago.

But he sparked immediate controversy by suggesting previous attractions were “tacky” and in danger of leaving the city centre “Disney-fied.”

A radical overhaul of Edinburgh’s Christmas line-up - now said to be worth more than £200 million to the city’s economy - saw its New York-style ice rink relocated from Princes Street Gardens to a new arena in St Andrew Square.

The Street of Light event, the first major Christmas attraction to be introduced to the Royal Mile, has involved the construction of a vast structure, up to 19 metres tall, between the City Chambers and the Tron Kirk.

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Mr Wood said: “The Street of Light was a big risk. It was a new thing, the company we have worked on it with any had never done anything in the UK, or anything in northern Europe in the winter. We’ve only lost one performance due to the rain and we survived Storm Desmond.

“I hope it will be back in future years. We’d have to find the funding for it if we did it again. It only happened because we got the sponsorship from Virgin Money. It was a difficult thing to explain and describe. I didn’t really know myself how it was going to look until they started to build it. Selling it to the council, funders and sponsors was a bit of a challenge. But people have loved it - the response on social media has been amazing. We definitely want to do it again.

“The whole genesis for the event when I was up on the Royal Mile on a Tuesday evening and the whole place was dark and deserted. We told businesses in the Old Town that we would bring footfall to the area and 21 are supporting the event this year.”

Underbelly was formed by Mr Wood and long-time collaborator Ed Bartlam, who is currently overseeing the firm’s expansion to Hong Kong, when they opened a Fringe venue in the Cowgate. Underbelly is now one of the biggest promoters at the Fringe and is best-known for its upside-down purple cow venue, which was located in Bristo Square for years before it made way for a major revamp in the summer for a refurbishment.

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Mr Wood added: “We’d definitely want to expand to other areas. The Grassmarket is a great arena and it should be used. But it needs the type of event that’ll suit all the different constituent parts of the site, like local businesses and residents.

“We’d like to look at doing events in other parts of the Old Town. There cold also be potential to use the Bristo Square area once the redevelopment is finished. There should be things happening in all parts of the city, it can’t just be more of the same. It has to be new. But it shouldn’t just be down to us. If events meet the right quality threshold we would make them part of the programme.”