“When you got in the park, once Davie and Jim got out of the galley, and I’m the only one standing in there, the lonesome figure … I shed a few tears at that point” – the recollection of this year’s Guizer Jarl Stephen Mouat, clearly still somewhere near the pinnacle of an emotional roller-coaster ride when speaking to The Shetland Times on Wednesday evening as he geared up for attending the Lerwick hops.
Last year’s jarl Roy Leask had told him that he’d be sure to have a fantastic night but that there was no way he could prepare him for what he was about to experience – sage advice, said Stephen: “The night was absolutely fantastic – the weather and everything seemed to be in my favour. Nobody can prepare you for what you’re going to go through but it was certainly beyond anything I thought it could be like. The thanks and congratulations of everybody has just been phenomenal.”
The 52-year-old, originally from Unst, first became involved way back in 1973 when he started guizing with the hostel squad, before he became a member of the committee in 1994. This year’s 57-strong squad included his brothers Graham and Peter, as well as his 18-year-old son Michael – who came back from university to take part in the festival.
Among his highlights on the night itself were being cheered by more than 900 guizers as he marched up the ranks prior to the procession getting underway, while Stephen was also impressed with the standard of costumes from the other squads and pleased to hear that events throughout the night in the dozen halls dotted around Lerwick had been an unqualified success.
“From a committee viewpoint, I knew that the halls are always lively, but I had very positive feedback from the halls that the standard of squads seemed a lot higher than previous years, everyone had made an effort to have good acts and good suits. I want to congratulate all the hosts and hostesses for the fantastic efforts for all the squads coming and going – it’s a tremendous amount of work they put in and [without them] Up-Helly-A’ wouldn’t be the same.”
After leaving their final hall of the night at 8am on Wednesday, the squad descended on the Lerwick Hotel for breakfast before Stephen and his wife Morag headed home for “a bit of a chinwag”. They managed to squeeze in a couple of hours’ kip before having to be up again for the traditional visit of the torch boys and ex-jarls to deliver his bill head and name tag. “I’m now an ex-jarl, technically,” he said.
His year at the helm isn’t over just yet, however, with the first official engagement next month at the Overtonlea care centre in Levenwick for a Burns supper, followed by a squad weekend in his native Unst for a supper dance and a care home visit in March. There is also likely to be a trip to Edinburgh for the jarl and his men in the second half of the year, but in the meantime Stephen is looking forward to winding down for a couple of days before getting back to the day job with Irvine Contractors.