WITH Lerwick hosting its flagship Up Helly Aa in late January, it is now time for its neighbour across the water to get into the fire festival spirit.
Friday’s Bressay Up Helly Aa sees Gary Thomson morph into Geir Thorsson, a 17 year old warrior who received the crown after his father, King Leif, was killed during a voyage.
Thomson now lives in Lerwick after being raised in Bressay, but he is still part of the island’s community.
The butcher picked Thorsson as his Guizer Jarl character as a result of some similarities between himself and the warrior.
“Everybody says that I look kind of young, and since he was a young guy, I picked him,” he said.
“His name is quite like my name, so it fitted perfectly.”
Thomson left Bressay at 17 to study music at Perth College, but like many, he eventually returned home.
By leading the jarl squad, he will follow in the footsteps of some of his family, who are largely based in Bressay.
“One of my uncles was the jarl in 1991,” Thomson said.
“His two children, my cousins, were jarl in 1996 and 1998. Another cousin from my family’s other side was jarl in 2004.”
The 27 year old’s moment in the spotlight has come sooner than expected, however.
“I joined the Up Helly Aa committee in Bressay about five years ago, but because of unforeseen circumstances, I’ve moved up this year.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but it’s more excitement than anything else.”
Thomson has picked 11 men, one princess and a young boy, all from either Bressay or Lerwick, to feature in his squad.
They are wearing red kirtles alongside black furry boots and black sheepskins.
The squad are carrying spears, but Thomson has an axe.
The Guizer Jarl and his girlfriend designed the raven inspired shields before Lerwick graphic company Art Machine completed the final version.
Local artist Dirk Robertson, who is known for creating colourful work for local musicians, concocted an eye-catching head for the bill.
While the neighbouring Lerwick Up Helly Aa saw thousands of people attend multiple venues, the Bressay fire festival only features the one hall. And it seems that’s just the way Thomson likes it.
“Everybody is in there together, in the one place, just having a good time.”
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