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Jarl Lesley – a prominent person in our time

2015 SHUHA Jarl Lesley Simpson: 'nota big ‘een in my book' - Photos: Kevin osborn

SHETLAND youngest fire festival is breaking with tradition as Bigton resident Lesley Simpson becomes the first ever female guizer jarl to lead the celebrations.

Depicting Aud the Deep-Minded, the 49 year old will proudly stand at the helm of her galley watching over a 400-strong procession of guizers on Friday night as it makes its way through Bigton to the St Ninian’s tombolo beach for the spectacular burning.

The head teacher of the Dunrossness primary school is a little bemused by the media attention of recent weeks.

Far from seeing herself as Viking warrior for gender equality, the mother of three grown-up children points at the strong woman she is representing and whose place in the Norse sagas speaks for itself.

She is “not making history”, she insists, endorsing the evolutionary process the South Mainland Up Helly Aa committee set into motion back in 2009 when it decided that men and women could become guizer jarl.

Simpson has known since October 2010 that her big day would be on Friday 13 March 2015.

“I was conscious of the potential impact this could have, but also how it could just happen depending on how I played it all.

“It is no big ‘een in my book, it is just something that is happening and has been happening to me for a long time – and I am quite happy to go along with it.

“Making history is overstating it – it is a community event, it is great fun, and I am delighted that I have been given this opportunity,” she smiled.

Jarl Lesley with some of her 42-strong squad of ladies and warriors.

And then she praises the benefits the fire festival has brought to the communities of the south mainland since 2010.

“It has developed community cohesion in a really positive and fun way.

“There are many people in Quarff, Cunningsburgh and the other communities that now know each other and talk to each other that perhaps didn’t do so before,” she said.

And as she and her squad of 42 ladies and warriors make their way through the different communities it becomes clear what a splendid and memorable occasion this is.

Commanding a Viking longboat with at least 20 men on board, Aud the Deep-Minded is described as respected, capable, independent and strong-willed.

Aud fled from Scotland after losing her husband and son in battle. She had a ship built in secret in a forest, sailed first to Orkney and then to Faroe bypassing Shetland – “goodness knows why” – before becoming one of the leading settlers in Iceland.

“As soon as I knew I was going to do this, I knew exactly who I was going to represent, and I have kept to the same person since then.

“She was generally a well thought of leader; certainly a prominent person in her time,” Simpson said.