The top job is a big honour, says third generation Jarl Rae Simpson

Rae Simpson relaxing at home with his wife Leeza and children Avie and Finlay. Click on image to enlarge.
Rae Simpson relaxing at home with his wife Leeza and children Avie and Finlay. Click on image to enlarge.

With both a grandfather and his father as ex-Jarls, on Tuesday Ler­wick Up-Helly-A’s leading guizer Rae Simpson will be the first third generation man of the moment, something he described this week as a “big honour”.

Mr Simpson, 37, is originally from Lerwick but lives in Sandwick with his wife Leeza and children Finlay, 10, and Avie, seven.

A fireman at Sumburgh airport, he got his first taste of festival action when he visited the galley shed with his great grandfather, Magnie Sinc­lair, and said being involved in the tradition was something the family had been doing “ever fae I can mind, ever since I was a bairn”.

“My great granddad used to work on the galley and I would always go up to the galley shed with him, and when I was old enough to go on my own I would go.” His grandfather Thomas Simpson was Jarl in 1968, as was his father Mitnie in 1987.

He said: “It’s obviously a big honour to be Jarl, knowing that dad and granddad before me have done it.”

This will be his third year as a member of the Jarl squad. Mr Simp­son first took part in the festival at the age of 10 in James Burgess’ Jarl squad in 1983 and was also a member of his father’s squad in 1987.

His first time in a regular squad came when he took part as a fiddle­box carrier in 1985, the year of the second Shetland Hamefarin.

He then joined the committee in 1995 and had been due to be Jarl in 2011, but his duties were brought forward a year when a committee member died, meaning the year he is Jarl will be another Hamefarin year, 25 years on.

The first of his preparations began around four years ago, with the designing of the squad’s suits. Samples began to arrive two years ago and since then the squad have been busy making the additions to their regalia.

He said: “We got heavily into making the helmets and shields a year and a half ago and have worked on that most of the time.”

Naturally he wouldn’t give any specific details of the suits away, save the intriguing comment that they will be “traditional, but with extra bling”.

The preparations have gone smoothly, however, and all that is left is to wait for seven suits to arrive and have their owners try them on for size.

Accompanying Rae is squad lead­er Michael Boxwell and, although he insists they won’t put out any flames on the night, col­leagues from the fire crew at Sumburgh Michael Reid, Billy Johnson, Stewart Jamieson and George Farquhar.

Originally from Hoswick, George will be travelling home from Inver­ness, where he is now based as Highlands and Islands Airports chief fire officer.

While his first official duty came back in February when he and wife Leeza judged the Miss and Master Valentine competition at Isleburgh youth club, he is looking forward
to the duties that come with the role. First though, there are the celebrations.

Rae will be keeping the family tradition alive with the inclusion in the squad of his dad and his son Finlay. A passion for all things Viking has definitely been passed on to his son, who is beyond excited to be part of the big day.

Rae said: “He used to get in trouble at the nursery because all he would draw was galleys. I suppose that’s how I was too.”

While they can’t be included in the squad, Rae has roped sister Tanya, wife Leeza and his mother into the preparations. The youngest member of the squad of 60 is five-year-old Nathan Grains from Vidlin.

While he is looking forward to the big day, Rae said it hasn’t really hit him yet: “A couple of weeks ago I said to one of the boys that it felt like was still a while away, and it still doesn’t feel like it’s coming, probably because I’m that busy.”


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