It was the perfect entrance for a Guizer Jarl. As Stevie Grant opened the door to The Shetland Times newsroom this week, his phone began to ring. And what ringtone would such a man choose at this time of year? What else, but The Up-Helly-Aa Song?
For this year’s jarl, next Tuesday will be the fulfilment of a lifetime’s love of the festival. “Right fae when my mother first started taking me to see the processions as a young boy” he said, “I just loved Up-Helly-A’, never thinking that I’d ever get on the committee, let alone be the Guizer Jarl. I still just canna actually believe it.
“I started going out when I was 14 as a fiddle box carrier. I went out in what was called the ‘Sound squad’ for the first year and then the second year I went out in the squad that I’m now in.”
The year 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of Stevie’s squad, and for this year’s festival they will be joined by members from all over the world, with five coming from Australia, one from Malaysia and one from Norway, as well as another four from the mainland.
The 70 Vikings, made up of 59 men and 11 boys, also includes numerous members of Stevie’s family: sons, brother, father-in-law, nephews and great nephews.
The preparations for this year’s festival have of course been ongoing for a long time. The first stages of planning the Jarl’s Squad’s suits began in 2009.
“That was when I was just getting drawings together to present to the squad” Stevie said, “so I could give them an idea of where I was wanting to go.
“What the squad boys did was they took that and enhanced my ideas. They said ‘we could do this’ and ‘we could do that’. I just gave them a basic starting point and they’ve made it 100 per cent better than what I first came with.
“I appreciate all the help that I’ve had fae the boys through the year. They’ve put a phenomenal amount of work into the suit.
“I’m just absolutely blown away by what they’ve produced. I am biased, but I’d say it’s probably one of the best suits I’ve seen. But I suppose every jarl will say that.”
While he was understandably reluctant to give any details away about the suit, Stevie – a master on the Sullom tugs – did admit that it “probably has a bit of a nautical theme to it”.
Naturally, after all that preparation, the excitement is building as the day approaches. But asked what he was most looking forward too, Stevie found it hard to pin down one moment in particular.
“I’m looking forward to the Sunday before we go for the photos, because that will be the first time I’ve seen the whole squad suited and booted.
“On the day, I’m looking forward to just marching through the town, seeing the people and seeing the school kids. I think it’ll just be a buzz for me.
“And then at night time obviously the procession and the burning of the galley. That will be a very touching moment for me.”
With other events for the squad to look forward to throughout the coming year, including the possibility of a part in the Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations and even a potential trip to New York on the cards, the job of Guizer Jarl does not end on the last Tuesday in January.
Stevie is delighted to have the opportunity to lead his squad through 2013, but he is also keen to look back and say thanks to all those who have helped him and the Jarl’s Squad to reach this important moment.
“The help that I’ve gotten fae outwith the squad, fae within the squad, committee members, advice fae ex jarls: it’s just amazing the amount of help that you get fae people throughout the year.
“It’s just really gobsmacked me what folk will do for you. It’s been amazing.”