Edinburgh: A day in the life of Festival City

Every year, Edinburgh welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors to its arts extravaganza. How does this invasion affect those who live and work in the city, and what is it like to perform there? Ian Griggs finds out
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The Independent Culture

Tanveer Ahmed, 21, Newsagent at Latest News

"I like the idea of the Festival, but the bad thing is I've never been to a show. I'm always in the shop working. It's great to see all the different nationalities coming in, and sometimes the odd celebrity comedian.

"We open 24 hours over the whole festival, unfortunately, and the amount of customers we serve almost doubles. We get quite a few drunk people coming in too, which can be difficult, and the odd one has an evil attitude, but most people are friendly.

"I wasn't prepared for it at first, but we've been here a few years and I'm used to it now. I'm studying computers and, luckily, I'm on my summer holidays or it would be too much with the festival on top. I have to work a lot harder over the festival and I'm stuck in the shop, so I bring my personal life to work and my friends visit me here instead of going out.

"A shop like ours is always in debt because we buy stock on credit. The extra work in August brings a financial benefit and the shop clears its debts for a brief time."

Mary Moriarty, 69, Landlady of the Port O'Leith bar by Leith Docks, Edinburgh

"The Festival is marvellous. I love all the visitors to the city and the events at the Fringe venues, as well as the Edinburgh Tattoo. The High Street looks amazing in August and there is a good atmosphere. I never see any trouble myself.

"Most of the events are in the town centre and they don't spread out as far as the pub. It would be nice if they did. I look forward to the Festival every year and I try and get to a few of the events, such as the cavalcade and the fireworks display. I take my son and daughter because they love it as well. My grandson thinks the Japanese drummers are better than his computer games.

"The pub gets quieter during the Festival. We do get some visitors but they are usually people who are staying in the area and come out to their local, which is nice.

"I think it would be good if the Festival expanded, but it costs £600 just to get on the programme, which for a wee boozer like ours is out of the question. Still, I hope it continues."

Roy Walker, 68, Comedian playing the Festival for the first time

"I think we should take the Festival and have it in Zimbabwe to cheer everyone up, although it would be hard to tell the performers apart from the politicians in that country. I am intoxicated by the talent at the Festival. The performers are so hard working. It is like walking through an art gallery in the city and seeing all the talent there in one go.

"I have never been here to perform before, and it is quite a frightening experience, coming into the heartland of modern comedy. People have been very nice to me so far. I am overwhelmed by their kindness.

"There is not much money in playing here, despite getting sell-out shows, because it costs so much to promote it. But I didn't come here to make money. I came here to be stretched as a performer. I came for the challenge. I have been a working comic for 36 years and I want to see where I am in the batting order."

Robert Nicoll, 53, Parking supervisor

"The city is much busier during the Festival because of all the special events, but I start work at 7am, so it's still possible to get there easily. My duties change because I have to make areas safe for the crowds during the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. We clear surrounding streets of cars for security for that one.

"We also have to work extra hours – till 9pm rather than 4pm. I do have a family but they are grown up so the longer hours don't have too much impact on my home life. It's only for three weeks, anyway, and I enjoy meeting so many different people.

"It's quite funny having tourists come up to you to ask where the car park is when they are standing right by it. Bad parking increases because of the number of foreign tourists, and I have to use my small amount of German and French, and a lot of sign language, to make them understand they can't park in certain places.

"The extra hours mean a bit more money at the end of the month, which helps towards paying the bills."

Sgt Colin Hewitt, 46, Edinburgh police officer

"I love the Festival for the influx of tourists from all over the world, and I enjoy giving them assistance and helping them. You get people from New Zealand and Australia, French and Spanish, and I speak to dozens of people. It is nice to present the friendly face of the city to tourists during the Festival. I sometimes think that it's a bit less friendly when you go abroad.

"I've seen many stage shows and I wanted to see Joan Rivers this year but I was too late to get tickets.

"Unfortunately, there is a criminal element which comes out to prey on people flooding into the city. But we have dedicated patrols day and night in the High Street to try to counter- act that, and we spend the five weeks before the Festival building up to it.

"It's harder work, because it's busier, and I have a lot more to deal with, but I enjoy it."

Scott Bootland, 40, Partner in a private waste-disposal firm

"I think the Festival is fantastic for the city – and long may it continue to grow. I love the fact that people come from all over the world to our city, all with a good sense of humour. There is something about it which lifts the mood of the city and makes it seem more alive. It is good to take the family to see a few acts too.

"The Festival affects my work because a few of the companies involved use us to dispose of their waste, so it gets really busy for three weeks.

"If you have to work longer hours, then so be it. I sometimes get calls at night to come and take away Festival rubbish and I go and do it. I can take anything that's thrown at me. The extra work means a bit more money, so it's worth it. I put the money back into the business and it's usually my wife who gets treated rather than me."

Kate Mcilwraith, 60, Nurse at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary

"We see about 350 people in A&E in a normal day but that rises by at least 10 per cent during the Festival. There are a lot of patients from outside the city who have forgotten medicines and also performers who have fallen off the stage and injured themselves.

"We try to advertise alternative services like NHS Direct, because some people come to A&E for inappropriate reasons, which is a big problem for us when we are busy anyway for the Festival. Problems with binge drinking don't really increase because of the Festival, because a huge amount of our work is drink-related anyway.

"I love the Festival because of the culture, fun and festivity. There is so much to see and do, when I have the time to go and see it. I like the drama and comedy most. We often have friends to stay during the festival and it's always much busier in town. I don't mind that, but my husband works near the High Street and he hates it."