Fireworks exploding over Edinburh Castle in 2002, but Hogmany 2003 turned out to be no more than a damp squib.Of all the traditions Scotland has, the Hogmanay tradition of partying like there’s no tomorrow is one of the most world-famous.
While New Year parties down south are still cause for celebration, it’s generally recognised that there’s nothing quite like a Scottish Hogmanay. And top of the Scottish list, the most high-profile of them all, the party that attracts people not just from all over the country but from all over the world, is Edinburgh.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay party is celebrated the world over as a fantastic event and one well worth the trip.
Unless of course it’s cancelled and you’re left out in the pouring rain with nowhere to go.
Which is, unfortunately for hundreds of thousands of revellers, exactly what happened at Hogmanay 2003, when the event was cancelled only an hour before it was due to kick off.
The reason for the cancellation was Scotland’s unpredictable and fierce weather, which was going hell for leather on the night in question and it was therefore considered that several elements of the event were unsafe for the public – including the danger of people being hit by fireworks blown off course by the wind.
But with so many people in the city, both natives and those who had travelled to be there, left with their plans in tatters, how well did Edinburgh handle the situation?
The first reaction was, perhaps understandably, one of outrage. How could the organisers cancel the event at such short notice and leave its revellers proverbially up the creek?
Lorna Burt, co-founder of Burt Greener Communications, has had plenty of experience with event PR, including the cancelled Live and Loud event in 2002. She says: “I think in these situations the big thing is the health and safety of the crowd. They seem to have dealt with that well in that there were a lot of people there and they were all kept safe. A party is always, as I see it, looking after the issues on the ground as they arise and then thinking about the long-term challenges later. When we had to cancel Live and Loud the first thing we did was to open all the lines of communication, which they couldn’t do because of the short time-scale. So, having kept that in mind, I think they seem to have dealt with it pretty well.”
“I will say that hindsight is a good thing and it’s easy to look back and knock the way it was cancelled,” says Julie McGarvie, partner at 3x1. “But thinking of the size of the event I don’t think that decision would be taken lightly. Crowd control can be a very difficult thing, you only have to look at some football matches to see that, and if something had gone wrong it could have been disastrous. I think it was the right thing to put people’s safety first. They are very experienced at organising that type of event and I think the decision must have been painstakingly taken. They must have taken advice from the police as well.”
Another source within the industry, who declined to be named, said: “I heard one senior police officer say, ‘Better to have people disappointed than in danger.’ I think that’s quite apt. If someone were to have died because of scaffolding or a firework going into the crowd it would have been much worse. I do think there was a lack of communication when it came to the weather forecast, though. I think there may be a confidence issue to deal with for next time. Because people come from a long way away to go to Edinburgh Hogmanay – it’s not a spur-of-the-moment thing.”
With Hogmanay 2003 now behind us, one of the main questions is what can be learned from this year’s cancellation? There seems little doubt that, if lives were in danger, the decision to cancel the festivities was a good one. But why no back-up plan? The consensus seems to be that a fallback option would be wise for future years. Graeme Jack, managing director of Hatch Group, comments: “One of the exercises that could be done in future years is to come up with contingencies. While they won’t be able to provide events on the same scale, they should perhaps put something in place so that some of the people who turn up would have something to go to. That way you wouldn’t have thousands of people going home disappointed.”
McGarvie agrees that more thought should be applied for next year’s event. She remarks: “I think that the city may have to have better contingencies in the future. Some people went away this year and did other things, went to restaurants, people’s flats and such, but I think it would be a good idea to have some contingency plans for the weather in place in time for the next Hogmanay.”
Despite the complaints on the night, however, the consensus seems to be that the cancellation, whether handled well or not, will not have an impact on future Edinburgh Hogmanays. “Overall, I think the cancellation seemed to be handled efficiently,” says Jack. “I think it’s well and good to sit down and think how it could be done better this year but I don’t think the gloss has been taken off the Edinburgh New Year. It may even help to make this year even better after what happened last time.”
Burt agrees, stating: “I think in the long term, if they get the positive message out there about how successful the event has been in past years, there won’t be a risk of people being put off.”
In the short term the cancellation was clearly a blow but, as the industry experts all seem to agree on, there seems no reason why Edinburgh won’t continue to put the “happy” in “happy new year”.