John to fulfil lifelong ambition to be Jarl when he takes over baton

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John Hunter will be fulfilling a life­long ambition when he becomes Guizer Jarl on Tuesday.

Mr Hunter, 37, is originally from Whiteness but has lived in Lerwick for around 14 years.

Being a part of Up-Helly-A’ is clearly something he relishes, having never missed a festival since he first took part in 1986 as a young fiddle box carrier.

Two years later he formed a squad – number 43 – with some friends, and hasn’t looked back since, working as a torch boy over the years and being elected to the committee in 1996.

He said being Jarl is something he has wanted to do “from a young age”, and that he has fond memories of Up-Helly-A’ from childhood.

He said: “I can remember stand­ing with my grandfather when I was a young boy, looking at the galley.”

Having been involved in Roy Leask’s Jarl’s squad three years ago he said he knew it could sometimes be “a bit of a circus”, but the experience hasn’t put him off and he is clearly thoroughly looking forward to being Jarl.

For each jarl, the preparations begin years before the actual event, and while it has meant a lot of effort, so far everything seems to have gone according to plan: “It’s been a long time coming, it’s been five years of work, but our suits are all prepared and I’m really pleased with how everything has come out.”

Although he couldn’t give out any specifics about the suits, he said he was “very pleased” with how they look: “I had a good idea of what I wanted – there was a painting we used as inspiration to design it – and they’ve come close to that.”

He said the squad had put a lot of work into researching and designing the theme and the suits, which he said are “rustic” and “different”.

“They’re not radical, but more authentic,” he said.

He will be joined by a 65 strong squad of guizers, the youngest of which is Zander Manson, age 3½. His brother Robert will also be joining him, while his father Ronald is one of the squad musicians, playing bass guitar.

While he is a renowned musician himself, unfortunately Mr Hunter didn’t think he’d find the time to play piano on the day.

Keeping the guizers in line will be squad leaders Angus Grains and Ryan Leith, who will help co-ordinate the men throughout the day.

Mr Hunter said he was “really looking forward” to the event and especially visiting members of the community at the town’s old folk’s homes, care homes and schools.

He said: “They just love it, and whatever you think of it it’s a real community event.”

Tuesday’s events only mark the beginning of his work, with official engagements throughout the year to attend, including leading a proces­sion at the Tall Ships when they arrive in July.

He said: “It’s the sheer scale of it – it is a lot of work, it’s become so big. But you just get one chance so you have to make the most of it.”

Meanwhile, the final squad meeting of guizers took place on Tuesday.

This year will see 959 guizers in 47 squads take part, 875 of whom will carry torches. The total this year is only marginally less than the number of participants last year.

Committee secretary Neil Rob­ert­son said there had been a “great turnout” at the meeting and that members had “dug deep” to donate towards extending the junior galley shed, raising a total of £922.

Mr Robertson said this was the highest amount that had been raised at a mass meeting and the committee would like to express their sincere thanks to all guizers who donated.


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