Exclusive:Edinburgh's Hogmanay: Torchlight procession returns and street party capacity increased under plans to expand new year festival
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Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival is to be expanded into a four-day event and revive its famous torchlight procession for its 30th anniversary, organisers have revealed.
The fire parade curtain-raiser, which dates back to the earliest incarnations of the event, will make a comeback in a new route that will take revellers around Edinburgh Castle this year.
Unique Events and Assembly, the two companies producing the Hogmanay festival on behalf of the city council, have also revealed an expansion of the street party to increase its capacity from 30,000 to 40,000 this year.
Both East Princes Street Gardens and Waverley Bridge will be re-introduced to the official street party arena for the first time since the 2019 event.
Although the fireworks finale of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival has been shelved, a “midnight moment” display will once again be the centrepiece of the city’s new year festivities, which will also feature a 10,000-capacity Concert in the Gardens.
A new Night Afore Disco Party event, which was introduced last year and headlined by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, will be returning to Princes Street Gardens the night after the torchlight procession.
A First Footin’ culture trail on New Year's Day will also be expanded to ensure more free performances in historic buildings, cafes, pubs and venues across the city centre.
Acts appearing across the are expected to be confirmed in the next few weeks. However, tickets are on sale from today for both the torchlight procession and the street party.
At least £50,000 is expected to be raised from ticket sales for both the torchlight procession and the street party for the Hogmanay festival’s new charity partner Social Bite, which was created in Edinburgh in 2012 to tackle homelessness across Scotland.
The coming festival is the second in a row staged by a new consortium formed by Assembly and Unique, with the latter company having produced the event between 1993 and 2017, when the council brought in rival firm Underbelly.
A new three-year Hogmanay contract, worth more than £810,000 a year, is due to run until the 2024/25 event, while the consortium will also be producing this year’s Christmas festival, which is no longer funded by the council.
The fire parade, which was unable to be staged due to funding problems last year, will be going ahead for the first time in four years. This year's festival will be the first to run across four days since the 2010/11 edition and will be the first time the torchlight procession has been staged on December 29 since 2009/10.
Organisers expect the move to boost the tourism sector over the new year period, as well as help raise the global profile of the Hogmanay celebrations by securing early publicity.
Street theatre acts, fire dancers, pipe bands and performers from one of Shetland’s annual fire festivals will perform in the Meadows before around 20,000 participants head off towards the Old Town. The new route will go to Castle Terrace, via Middle Meadow Walk, George IV Bridge and Johnston Terrace.
In an exclusive interview, Unique-Assembly director Al Thomson told The Scotsman: “The big challenge for us this year was to bring the torchlight procession back. We have had so many international visitors who are looking to book events and confirm dates who have been asking us whether it was happening or not.
"It’s a really important part of the Hogmanay experience that people want to take part in. We've always positioned the event as the start of new year celebrations around the world – it gives Edinburgh a head start on the big spectacles elsewhere.
"There's always huge international media interest around the event. There’s nowhere else that has an event with 20,000 people heading through the streets in the run-up to the new year.
"This is the first year since 2009/10 that we will have done the torchlight procession on December 29. We used to do a Night Afore event on George Street, but that had to fall by the wayside when we no longer had the funding for it.
"We are doing the torchlight on December 29 as we are bringing back the Night Afore Disco Party, which will fill the December 30 slot.
"It will have a similar theme and vibe as last year, when we sold 3,500 tickets out of the 4,000 capacity we had in the gardens.”
Although the Scottish Government and its agency EventScotland are both funding the Hogmanay festival, it is hoped the partnership with Social Bite will attract additional sponsors for the torchlight procession.
Mr Thomson added: “We've been working with Social Bite since the first Sleep in the Park event in 2017, including producing their Festival of Kindness events at Christmas.
"It feels very important for a big social component to be part of the event, which will raise money across the festival to help people directly in Edinburgh and across Scotland.”
Josh Littlejohn, co-founder of Social Bite, said: “Every Christmas, Social Bite opens our doors to provide meals and gifts to homeless and vulnerable people and we’re always blown away by the support of the public over the festive period.
"This partnership builds on this work at this time of year and I can’t wait to see 20,000 people carrying a torch to kick off Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations and at the same time shine a light on homelessness – raising funds and awareness for the most vulnerable people in Edinburgh and beyond.”
Council culture convener Val Walker said: “The torchlight procession element of the Hogmanay programme was always extremely popular with residents and visitors alike. I’m sure it will be again this December.
“I’m also really pleased to see the partnership work between the organisers and Social Bite in order to raise vital funds and awareness for their excellent work supporting vulnerable people in Edinburgh and more widely across the country.
“Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and our wider winter festivals are cornerstones of our cultural calendar. They’re internationally recognised as being some of the best around. I’m confident that this year’s edition will once again be a success.”
Tickets are set to go on sale from 10am on Friday.