What it means to perform in the Edinburgh Tattoo
Young performers making their debuts or coming back for more share their thoughts on what the Tattoo means to them
First staged in 1950, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an event steeped in traditions. Each year, the massed pipes and drums march over the narrow drawbridge, a lone piper plays high upon Edinburgh Castle’s ramparts and the national anthem is performed by military bands. Yet each annual outing of the Tattoo offers a unique show, with a different cast of troupes invited from countries across the world.
Such is the Edinburgh Tattoo’s global reputation that it sits high on the bucket list of many a dancer, piper or military performer. There’s a special kudos of having ‘done Edinburgh’ (2009 with RAF Pipes and Drums, since you ask) and its gravitas continues attracting new participants to be part of the legacy and to draw previous cast members back to the esplanade.
One returning performer is Elayne Seaton (21), a Highland dancer with Aileen Robertson School of Dancing, who made her Edinburgh Tattoo debut at last year’s East Meets West themed Tattoo. ‘I started Highland dancing at the age of three, after trying ballet and having watched Highland dancing on television. I asked my dance teacher if she “could teach me the dancing with the quilts on!” At eight I began training in Highland with my current teacher and dance director of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Aileen Robertson. She gave me the opportunity to excel in competitive Highland dancing and passed on her love of choreography to me.’
Elayne’s extensive Highland dancing CV includes tattoos in Basel, Berlin, Virginia, Crete and Inverness, and she performed with dancers from all disciplines during the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Add to that, she was one of 20 dancers chosen from Scotland to perform at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo tour to Australia and New Zealand at the start of 2016 and one of eight Edinburgh dancers to appear in the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations at Windsor Castle, and you can appreciate she’s a dancer in high demand.
With an international career under her belt, what makes the Edinburgh Tattoo so special to her? ‘Performing in front of a home crowd makes me so proud to be Scottish. The setting right there on the castle esplanade offers an unrivalled experience for all the performers.’ Each year the Tattoo welcomes Highland dancers from across the globe for a combined routine, with just a matter of days to pull it together. ‘Performing as part of a team alongside dancers from around the world is an amazing experience and the electricity experienced by us after a performance has to be one of the most incredible feelings.’
Making a return to the Edinburgh Tattoo is the Imps Motorcycle Display Team. This daring collective showcases the discipline and precision expectant of a military tattoo, but from a group of performers aged six to 16. The Imps originated in the 1970s from the Hackney Adventure Holiday Project (a charity that provided holidays for underprivileged young people) when one of them found a dysfunctional old motorbike. Today, looking resplendent in bright red jackets and white helmets, the troupe of youngsters perform internationally.
This year will be the first performance at the Edinburgh Tattoo for Imp member Justin Baniulus (12). After seeing the Imps on the internet he was inspired to get involved. Justin has already ridden his motorbike for the crowds at Switzerland’s Basel Tattoo and has wanted to be part of the Edinburgh from the moment he joined the Imps. Cast members at the Tattoo rehearse at Redford Barracks from early August, with the chance to watch other acts running through their routines. Justin is excited to see ‘the Kings Guard from Norway and especially the Jordanians as the team toured Jordan in 2014 at the invitation of HM King Abdullah II’. But what he’s most looking forward to is, ‘performing at Edinburgh Castle as it is so well-known throughout the world; I have heard so many stories from older team members.’
A sentiment no doubt familiar to Connie Roxburgh (10) who is a member of Edinburgh Tattoo stalwarts Erskine Stewart Melville Choir. The Edinburgh school choir first performed as part of the 2013 Tattoo and have been invited back each year since. Connie first starting choir-singing at six years old. ‘I have wanted to perform in The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo for a long time, since our school first started to provide the choir four years ago. I was really nervous about the audition but I was lucky enough to get in.’
Connie already has experience singing to substantial crowds, having performed in the professional London touring production of Joseph with 40 fellow Erskine Stewart Melville singers and is relishing the chance to perform 25 times in front of 8800 people this August. Once smitten, it’s likely that she and her fellow Tattoo debutants will be back in the years ahead.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle, 5–27 Aug, Mon–Fri 9pm, Sat 7.30pm & 10pm, £25–£300.