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Features / Lerwick Up Helly Aa has strong family links for guizer jarl Stewart Jamieson

Elaine and Stewart Jamieson. Photo: Shetland News

WHEN 2018 guizer jarl Stewart Jamieson leads his squad of 57 hardy Vikings and seven children through Lerwick for the first time on Tuesday morning, he will be keeping a strong family link alive in more than one way.

As guizer jarl back in 1981, the late Harry Jamieson represented Viking leader Thorvald Thoreson. Now, 37 years later, his son Stewart has chosen to do the logical thing and depict his father’s son Thorvald Thorvaldsson, who was based in Papa Stour in the 14th century.

What is clear right from the outset of our interview in the Lerwick galley shed earlier this month is that Stewart had little choice but to embark on a career path that eventually would see him becoming the town’s guizer jarl.

Brought up in a family of enthusiastic Up Helly Aa stalwarts, his father was on the committee before he was born. Harry even sold Up Helly Aa paraphernalia in the early days of the Lerwick department store that continues to bear his name. Following his untimely death two and a half years ago, the shop is now managed by his children Stewart and Caroline.

“Up Helly Aa played a huge importance in dad’s life and it was such an honour for him to become guizer jarl,” he recalls.

Stewart remembers squad members regularly meeting in the family’s garage to work on their suits and rehearse acts.

“From a young age I can mind the squad being at the house. The late John Allan always used to make the paper mâché heads: Bugs Bunny, the Muppets, and Orville…” he recalls.

“And at eight years old we went on a Tuesday and Thursday to cement the torches, that was how I was brought into Up Helly Aa.”

After that he became a fiddle box carrier at the tender age of 13 – the ultimate Up Helly Aa apprenticeship – before being accepted as a full squad member three years later.

It was back in 2004 when Stanley Manson was guizer jarl that Stewart felt the time was right for him to commit more fully to the festival.

“The squad had such a great time when Stanley was jarl. After that I thought the time was right to come on the committee and help run the festival and keep it going and growing,” the 46 year old says.

“When you join the committee, you join to help run the festival, and when you have done that for 13 or 14 years, you finally get the privilege of being the guizer jarl.”

With the festival having always been part of normal family life it is no wonder that his wife Elaine and their two sons Shane and Haydn are equally enthusiastic.

Shane, 26, a civil engineer with Arch Henderson in Southampton, and Haydn, 22, a fifth year engineering student at the University of Strathclyde, have both travelled home to support their father in his duties.

Furthest travelled in the squad will be Richard Carroll, the brother of Stewart’s brother in law Lincoln Carroll who has come all the way from New Zealand. Andrew Angus has returned from Australia, and Stewart’s brother in law Gregor Sutherland has come over from Sweden.

They are all fitted out in a blue suit that has taken inspiration from the Islesburgh eagle, a pre-Norse rock carving that had been found in Northmavine.

It is here at Islesburgh (Egilsborg) that Thorvald, and his 11 sons, drowned after their longship shipwrecked on skerries to the south of the small island of Egilsay, while in pursuit of his daughter who was defying her father’s will of marrying a man of wealth and had fallen in love with Egil, a young man from Islesburgh.

Without giving too much away, Stewart says he was keen to keep the family tradition going and as such the whole outfit has many little connections with his father’s original squad suit.

“My father’s shield had a boss and a leather surface. We have gone with the same boss and leather design but with an eagle,” he gives as an example.

And, in another special honour to his father, Stewart has named his galley Blaze Away after the famous march Harry chose as his rank’s tune back in 1981.

Promote Shetland will again provide live coverage of the day’s events, including the morning parade, Shetland Arts’ Fiery Sessions in the afternoon, and the evening procession and burning, at www.uphellyaa.com 

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