Welcome back world: Drawing a crowd for the 70th anniversary year

The Lord Provost Frank Ross on the opening weekend of Edinburgh's August Festivals 2017.

Speaking at the Usher Hall at the launch of Edinburgh’s inaugural International Festival, the Lord Provost of the time, Sir John Falconer, made a prophetic speech. He said that “History will dictate if the year 1947 has been a focal point in the history of our city." 

Little did Lord Provost Falconer know that this event would grow into the biggest arts festival in the world, gaining Edinburgh an envious reputation as the World’s Festival City.

It is now a tradition to stage the first concert of the summer Festivals at the Usher Hall, as was the case in 1947. Under Bruno Walter, the Vienna Philharmonic performed for an audience so packed people were standing in the aisles. Now, here we are, continuing to make history with a summer of record-breaking and sought after festivals 70 years on and I am looking forward to taking a seat this Saturday night for The 2017 Opening Concert.

This weekend also heralds the start of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Fringe, as well as two days of free celebrations in St Andrew Square. Sponsored by Standard Life, the International Festival’s BLOOM will signal the start of Edinburgh’s August celebrations.

I recently became the Vice Patron of the Tattoo, and it isn’t a role a take lightly. The Festival has grown into one of Scotland’s most important events and exports, with 100 million TV viewers tuning in to feel part of it.  What many local people don’t realise is that the first Tattoo, ‘Something About a Soldier’, actually took place at the Ross Bandstand in West Princes Street Gardens. It is especially apt, then, that in this milestone year for the festivals, plans are well underway to redevelop this fantastic venue. If you haven’t seen the winning architectural concept, revealed this week, I urge you to take a look at the beautiful designs here.

This year’s theme for the Tattoo is ‘A Splash of Tartan’ and I’ll be wearing my kilt to the opening event. Usually the Lord Provost takes the salute at the first Tattoo, but I will be extending that honour to a rather special guest – Prince Albert II of Monaco. It will be a real honour to welcome His Serene Highness to Edinburgh, and it is testament to the draw of the Tattoo and the 70-year success of Edinburgh’s Festivals that we receive such valued support from overseas VIPs.

While conflict may continue in other parts of the world, for the month of August in Edinburgh we see all cultures, nationalities, faiths and religions celebrate the ‘flowering of the human spirit’ and the joys of the arts. I will be joining a service at St Giles this Sunday in recognition of the multi-faith nature of our festivals, and to celebrate how Edinburgh’s festivals promote peace. You can watch the Service on BBC One during Songs of Praise.

They may be 70 years old, but I see no signs of the Festivals slowing down. What a focal point in the history of Edinburgh the year 1947 turned out to be.


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