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Fire Festival 2013 / Vikings go Tartan in New York

2013 Lerwick Up Helly Aa guizer jarl Stephen Grant as he leads his squad of Vikings through Lerwick - Photo: Peeriepics.co.uk

Have things gone back to normal for this year’s Lerwick guizer jarl since Up Helly Aa day? With invitations to events all over Shetland and a trip to New York in the offing, not hardly…Olivia Abbott reports.

Up Helly Aa day might be a dim and distant memory now for most of us (possibly even more so for those who threw themselves into the night’s revelries with the greatest gusto), but for Stephen Grant it was an unforgettable night – and there’s still plenty going on for this year’s guizer jarl.

Next month he and about 30 members of his squad are heading to America to take part in the Tartan Day parade in New York, a typically US over-the-top-style celebration of everything Scottish.

With the Americans being notoriously keen on their Celtic heritage – Sean Connery has been over for the parade and Alex Salmond went last year – it’s a great way for the jarl squad to act as ambassadors for Shetland.

The idea for taking the squad to New York came to Grant a few years ago when watching the parade on TV.

He contacted Tavish Scott, and the Shetland MSP came back with a very positive response from the people in charge, so on 6 April, Gamle Eriksson and his men will be found marching down Sixth Avenue in central New York in their full Viking regalia.

“I suggested that we could go over with the jarl squad to see how that went for Shetland and to promote ourselves over there, because Americans are so keen on Scottish history and the Norse side of things,” Grant said.

“Visit Scotland were very positive about it, because next year is Homecoming Year, and they thought it would be a great idea if we went to showcase Shetland and encourage people to come over in 2014.”

They might be acting in the interests of a higher authority, but Stevie and his squad are funding the trip entirely themselves – they’re talking to Shetland Aquaculture about working together to promote the islands’ salmon at the Tartan Day event, but apart from that they’re paying their own way.

That’s not to say they haven’t been getting support from local organisations.

“Shetland Travelscope have been helping us out with organising our flights and itinerary, getting us the best deals and giving us some guidance on what we should be doing.

“And we’ve got a good deal from NorthLink for the ferry journeys.”

There’s been plenty of help and support from across the Atlantic too.

“We have a lady in America helping organise our accommodation and we have contacts over there who’ve invited us to a ceilidh on the Friday evening. A couple of the boys are even going to do the 10k run on the Saturday morning before the parade!”

The squad are also hoping to use their Viking credentials to team up with New York company Viking Financial in a bit of co-promotion.

“Maybe they’d like to have a photograph taken with us, and give us a tour or a trip in return.”

But before flying halfway round the world, Grant has some equally important dates coming up closer to home.

“I’ve got invitations to go to a few squad dances, and the whole squad and partners have been invited to an event at the Sandwick Social Club in March.

“We go down with our suits on, so that’s a big night.”

The guizer jarl’s time in the spotlight is not over by a long chalk, it seems.

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