Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The 2011 Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Interior view of the stands set up for the 2016 Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual series of military tattoos performed by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and international military bands, and artistic performance teams on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle in the capital of Scotland. The event is held each August as one of the Edinburgh Festivals.

History and etymology[edit]


The term "tattoo" derives from a 17th-century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe ("turn off the tap") a signal to tavern owners each night, played by a regiment's Corps of Drums, to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their billeted lodgings at a reasonable hour.[1] With the establishment of modern barracks and full military bands later in the 18th century, the term "tattoo" was used to describe the last duty call of the day, as well as a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by military musicians.[2]


The first public military tattoo in Edinburgh was entitled "Something About a Soldier" and took place in 1949 at the Ross Bandstand in the Princes Street Gardens. The first official Edinburgh Military Tattoo, with eight items in the programme, was held in 1950. It drew some 6,000 spectators seated in simple bench and scaffold structures around the north, south, and east sides of the Edinburgh Castle esplanade. In 2018, the stands were able to accommodate a nightly audience of 8,800, allowing 220,000 to watch the multiple live performances.[3]

Seating expansion[edit]

Since the 1970s on average, just over 217,000 people see the Tattoo live on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle each year, and it has sold out in advance for the last decade. 30% of the audience are from Scotland and 35% from the rest of the United Kingdom. The remaining 35% of the audience consists of 70,000 visitors from overseas.

The stands in place for the Tattoo of 2012

The temporary grandstands on the castle esplanade, used in 2018, had a capacity of 8,800.[4][3] New £16 million spectator stands and corporate hospitality boxes came into use in 2011. The new temporary stands reduced the time taken to erect and dismantle them from the original two months to one month, allowing the esplanade to host events at other times of the year.[5]


The Tattoo performance takes place every weekday evening and twice on Saturdays throughout August and has never been cancelled due to inclement weather.[3] However, in 2020 the performances were cancelled because of the worldwide onset of the Covid19 epidemics. Since 2012, each performance has included a fireworks display. From 2005 to 2015, a son et lumière element projected on to the facade of the Castle. In 2016, the projection technology on the castle was upgraded to utilize modern projection mapping technology. In 2018, laser technology was used for the first time.[6]

Since 2004, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo has also held free abridged performances at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, entitled "Taste of the Tattoo",[7] and as of 2008 also in George Square in Glasgow.[8] The Edinburgh Military Tattoo has also toured overseas, visiting New Zealand in 2000 as part of the Tattoo's 50th anniversary celebrations. It visited Australia in 2005 and returned to the Sydney Football Stadium in February 2010 as part of the Tattoo's 60th anniversary celebrations.[9] In February 2016 the Tattoo sold 240,000 tickets when it was staged in Wellington, New Zealand and Melbourne Australia.[10] The performance was held at ANZ Stadium, Sydney in October 2019. There were also plans to take the show to China in 2020, with performances in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou.[11]

As of 2014 the Princess Royal was the patron of the event, with the main corporate sponsor being the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In 2010 the event became the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo after HM Queen Elizabeth awarded the Royal title in celebration of its six decades of existence.

The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie being performed at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2007

International exposure[edit]

In 2018 the Tattoo was planned to be televised to 40 countries allowing an estimated 100–300 million people see the event on television worldwide.[3] In Britain the BBC broadcasts the event annually, with commentary in 2009 and 2010 provided by BBC Radio Scotland presenter Iain Anderson. Bill Paterson has provided commentary since 2011; before 2009 Tom Fleming commentated, not missing a year between 1966 and 2008. In Australia the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) traditionally telecasts the Tattoo on the evening of New Year's Eve, although in a break with tradition, the 2006 Tattoo was broadcast a day earlier on 30 December, the 2007 Tattoo was broadcast even earlier on Christmas Eve, and the 2009 Tattoo was broadcast two days after New Year's Eve on 2 January 2010. These changes were made so the ABC could expand its news coverage of local New Year celebrations.

The Tattoo is run for charitable causes and in 2017 it was estimated that over the years has given £10 million to the arts, military and civilian charities and organisations,[11] such as the Army Benevolent Fund. However, the greater benefit has been that, by independent count, it generates £88 million in revenue for Edinburgh's economy annually.

The official magazine of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Salute, is distributed free to sponsors, friends of the Tattoo, and visiting performers.

Performance structure[edit]

Each performance begins with a fanfare, usually composed for that year's show. The Massed Pipes and Drums then perform, marching through the gatehouse of the castle and performing a traditional pipe band set. Then, the show's featured acts perform individually.


The 2005 Edinburgh Military Tattoo celebrated Trafalgar 200

Each service is usually represented by bands from the British Armed Forces, along with drill and display teams as well. On special occasions, the Tattoo will feature bands from more than one service at the same time. In both 2002 and 2012, bands from all three services were featured to mark Elizabeth II's Golden and Diamond Jubilees. In 2003, the music of Westlife was featured at the event.[12]

From 1950 until 1994, the show mainly featured acts from military organizations. However, the show began to diversify and feature civilian acts beginning in 1995. While this was initially met with resistance from some fans, the inclusion of civilian acts has become more and more present in the show over time. One of the most popular acts featured at the Tattoo is the Top Secret Drum Corps from Basel, which has performed in the 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015, and 2018 Tattoos. By 2018 performers from 48 countries had appeared in the tattoo since its inception.[3]

Since 2014, a house pipe band was introduced to allow individual pipers and drummers from not only Scotland but across many parts of the world to play in the Tattoo. Known as the Pipers' Trail, they join in with the massed pipes and drums each year and are the first pipe band with no military connections to play in the Tattoo.

A stage band made up of volunteer musicians from around the world has been assembled for the 2019 program.


Producers of the Edinburgh Tattoo have included:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: five things you might not know". Britain Magazine. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
  2. ^ "What is a "Tattoo"?". Heartland International Tattoo. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e McLean, David (19 December 2017). "Everything you need to know about the 2018 Edinburgh Tattoo". The Scotsman. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
  4. ^ Mike Wade (25 July 2008). "Fighting talk from the general as Military Tattoo faces stiffest battle". The Times. Retrieved 9 October 2010.
  5. ^ "Tattoo stands and delivers £16m arena". Edinburgh Evening News. 8 May 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2010.
  6. ^ Ferguson, Brian (30 July 2018). "Edinburgh Military Tattoo deploys lasers for first time as it honours space race". The Scotsman. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  7. ^ Katie Emslie, John Gibson (25 July 2005). "Mini-military tattoo marches into city's annual calendar". The Scotsman. Retrieved 9 October 2010.
  8. ^ "Edinburgh Tattoo takes on Glasgow". BBC News. 5 August 2008. Retrieved 9 October 2010.
  9. ^ "Edinburgh Tattoo to go down under". BBC News. 3 March 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2010.
  10. ^ Cameron, Greig (26 October 2018). "Military tattoo will drum up interest with foreign tours". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  11. ^ a b MacAskill, Ewen (16 July 2017). "Edinburgh military tattoo to expand worldwide". the Guardian. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
  12. ^ "Westlife music to feature in military tattoo". Irish Examiner. 23 July 2003. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  13. ^ Newlands, Emma (18 July 2018). "The Big Interview: Tattoo chief executive David Allfrey". The Scotsman. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Major General Buster Howes appointed as new Chief Executive of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo". Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Retrieved 3 November 2020.


External links[edit]