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‘This is different: it’s unique’

Guizer Jarl Neil Robertson is having a blast on his big day. Photo: Shetnews

THIS morning’s dreich start to Up Helly Aa did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the throngs of people lining Commercial Street, writes Genevieve White. From crowds of local school children to visitors from overseas: all were eager to cheer on the Guizer Jarl and his squad on their special day.

Some of the crowd had travelled far to witness Lerwick’s fire festival. Andrew Harger, who had come all the way from his home in Oregon USA, described the festival as “awesome”, adding: “It’s hard to find authentic things nowadays – go to Machu Picchu and you just find cameras everywhere. This is different: it’s unique.”

This year’s Guizer Jarl, Neil Robertson, was dismissive of the drizzle, describing his day as having been “pretty good so far”. In true Viking spirit he seemed quite unfazed by the weather: “You don’t notice the rain when you’re walking through the streets and you see all the people”.

At the civic reception in Lerwick Town Hall, the invited audience waited patiently for Guizer Jarl Neil Robertson to make his grand entrance. As the minutes passed, an audience member wondered aloud if the Jarl might be polishing his helmet. In any case, Robertson was well worth the wait: he looked resplendent in his dark green cloak, billowing beard and gleaming winged helmet.

Convenor Malcolm Bell opened the reception with a speech which paid tribute to this year’s Guizer Jarl’s success at representing the true Shetland male (he went on to define the essential criterion as possessing the ability to spend every minute of the last 15 years in the Galley Shed without feeling any guilt).

Bell welcomed guests from all over the UK and all over the world, saying that Up Helly Aa is a time to see “friendships renewed and new friendships made”.

Guizer Jarl Neil Robertson speaking before assorted dignitaries at Lerwick Town Hall. Photo: Chris Brown

Finally, Bell conferred the freedom of Lerwick on the Guizer Jarl and his squad for the following 24 hours.

Bell admitted that he often felt “apprehensive” about possible damage incurred as a result of granting this freedom, but went on to point out that he felt rather more comfortable about it this year, as any damage done would come out of road engineer Neil Robertson’s budget.

Robertson then went on to give a speech in which he paid tribute to his “fantastic squad” and described the “honour” and “privilege” he felt at being Guizer Jarl:  “It’s great to finally be here. At my age, it’s great to be anywhere.” The 53 year old Jarl spoke about the strain that recent duties and “frantic social nights” had put on his ageing body, before regaling the audience with a series of interesting factoids about the human body and sharing the story behind his Viking name: Olaf Harraldsson.

During post-speech drinks, the Guizer Jarl revealed that the highlight of his big day was yet to come: “I think standing in the galley will be a pretty emotional experience. And I always think the lighting up is really special.”

Genevieve White