GUIZER Jarl Mark Evans and his squad have spent the last seven years meticulously plotting the details of this year’s Up Helly Aa, writes Genevieve White.
In Evans’ Lerwick home the phone rings so frequently that he has to switch it off for our interview, and his “to do” list seems to grow longer by the minute.
Yet this down to earth, modest Jarl is adamant that this Tuesday is “not an ego trip” for him.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the families who are in the squad and it’s about the community pulling together – that’s what makes the day what it is.”
Evans’ 69 strong squad (consisting of 54 men and 15 children) is a real family affair, with relatives from as far afield as Australia and Denmark travelling to Shetland for the special day.
Evans’ daughter Lauren has been granted special leave from her Aberdeen based nursing course and his sons, Liam and Scott, will be leading the ranks.
Family members from near and far have played their part in the preparations too. His sister–in-law Valerie designed a stunning collection sheet, while his father-in-law has spent hours making a new Guizer Jarl shield.
“I’m totally left handed,” says Evans. “There was no way I was going to be able to spend an entire day carrying a heavy shield in my right hand. It took my father-in-law eleven hours to cut the raven design out and place it on the new left handed shield.”
For Evans, this Up Helly Aa will also be a day to remember departed friends and family members, and he will start the day with a visit to lay flowers on his mother’s grave.
“My Mum would’ve been proud”, he says. “She was a great Up Helly Aa stalwart.”
Evans, who works as a field material coordinator at Sullom Voe, has chosen Solmund Sigurson of Tonsberg as his Viking alias.
His identification with this Viking is linked to family and place. Sigurson was in Yell twice and also travelled to Wales, both places which have connections with the Evans family.
The squad’s costumes are a source of delight for Evans. He says he is “particularly proud” of the shields.
“All the designs on the shield come from the galley. The shields are basically all the same, but there are slight variations in each one. I think the red and gold colours will look really good in the torchlight.
“There’s so much detail in the costumes: the belts are all hand stamped and the design of the whole suit is inspired by decorative pieces found in Tonsberg.
“The smallest Viking suit ever made has been designed for eight month old Calder, the squad’s youngest member!”
Evans has made a new hat and suit to accommodate his smaller head and slim build, which future Jarls of a similar size and shape will be able to wear.
Evans has been a fan of Up Helly Aa for as long as he can remember, and has vivid memories of his dad’s squad going out as Trumpton firemen when he was five years old. He can also recall one year when he was not able to be in Shetland for the special day.
“I kept phoning Linda to see how things were going. I called her in the morning, and she said it was a fine, sunny day. I called again after the morning procession and she said ‘It all went really well – you would have loved the costumes’.
“I kept calling home throughout the day, getting more and more frustrated at the thought of what I was missing. Then to top it all I called Linda the next morning at 10am only to be told she was still out at the hall!”
Evans has been with the same squad for 36 years, and has fond memories of the fun they have had together. Highlights include the year they dressed as 1980s exercise guru Mad Lizzie: a theme which required them to wear shiny green leotards.
“The leotards were one size fits all”, Evans recalls. “Mine was a tight fit, but on some of the men it was more like tracing paper!”
He also remembers the year his squad were The Launderette Toy Boys after the Levi jeans commercial. Their act consisted of taking off their clothes and throwing them into a washing machine.
“The first hall was pretty hard going,” he admits. “But we really got into it as the night went on”.
Asked what Evans is most looking forward to about this year’s Up Helly Aa, he replies: “Visiting the schools. I just dote on bairns.”
He is equally definite about his plans post Up Helly Aa. “I’m shaving this beard off. It got caught in the car door the other day and I’m getting fed up with it.”
However, the beard will reappear later this year, as it will be needed for Jarl appearances in Måløy and New York.