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What was Edinburgh’s Royal Mile like without the festivals?

What was Edinburgh's Royal Mile like without the festivals? thumbnail

Image caption Todd Various said he enjoyed working as a street performer this year in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile Hundreds of thousands of people descend on Edinburgh every August for the world’s biggest arts festival.The Edinburgh Fringe attracts so many visitors that the Royal Mile – where street performers mix with actors promoting their shows congregate…

Todd Various

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Todd Various said he enjoyed working as a street performer this year in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile

Hundreds of thousands of people descend on Edinburgh every August for the world’s biggest arts festival.

The Edinburgh Fringe attracts so many visitors that the Royal Mile – where street performers mix with actors promoting their shows congregate – becomes a sea of people.

But what is it like on the street after the cancellation of the festival and the city’s other major cultural festivals?

In a normal year, the Fringe attracts so many street performers that City of Edinburgh Council has to give them time slots.

Royal Mile in 2019

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The Royal Mile is usually filled with performers and visitors in August

But this year James Hessler had no difficulty getting himself a place on the Royal Mile.

James, 58, from Midlothian, has performed on the street during 20 Edinburgh Fringes.

He said: “I wanted to come back as quickly as possible so I called the council and was given a licence.

“Normally you just have to make a loud noise and you have a huge audience during the festival but this year there is a much slower build up to attract people and so you have to have more material.

Royal Mile

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James Hessler said he was pleased to be back out entertaining people

“Now we are having to build an audience but then pull it when we see it is getting too big, we do this by making the shows shorter.

“It’s great to be back out on the Royal Mile and we just have to work harder to get more energy from a smaller audience.”

Todd Various, 45, from Midlothian, who has performed street theatre during 16 Edinburgh Festivals, said he estimated there was about 20% of the normal footfall of the Fringe.

He said: “This crowd is way better because it is a genuine audience making the choice to watch me.

“Normally people are muscled into watching what is closest to them.”

David Bosek

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David Bosek said the smaller crowds had meant his performances with his puppet Evan had been more popular than ever

David Bosek, 41, from Edinburgh, said his street performance with his puppet Evan had been a hit this year.

He said: “Less people is better for my show because I can interact with people more easily and make more jokes.

“Busier makes me more money but I prefer more funny and less money.

“I’ve been joking all day with people this year, which I love.

“However, I do want the festival to run next year in all its full glory.”

Glynis Hammond and her daughter Nia Mutsekwa

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Glynis Hammond and her daughter Nia Mutsekwa, nine, said they were “shocked and happy” by the volume of people in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile

Glynis Hammond, 36, from Watford in Hertfordshire, said she was “shocked and happy” at how many people there were on the Royal Mile.

She said: “I expected it to be so quiet, so to see so many tourists, so many people here, is just great.”

Glynis said they should have been on holiday in Ghana, but had come to Edinburgh instead.

She and her daughter Nia had visited the castle and had caricatures done by a street artist in the Royal Mile.

“It is our first time in Scotland and it makes me want to come back,” she said.

“I’m thinking of talking my husband into the Scottish Highlands for Christmas now that I’ve seen how great it is here.

Rafkha Gibrani

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Rafkha Gibrani said he was enjoying being a tourist in Edinburgh

Rafkha Gibrani, 20, from Brighton, was making his first trip to Edinburgh.

He said: “I was due to be in Mauritius but it was cancelled so I have come to Edinburgh instead and I am staying with friends.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be this busy but I am happy to see more people because it means things are getting back to normal.

“I am enjoying my trip so much and will definitely come back when the Edinburgh Festival is on again.”

Shops, restaurants and bars in and around the Royal Mile said footfall had been nothing like the levels they would normally experience during the festivals in August.

Naz Issa, manager of Laila's Bistro in Cockburn Street

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Naz Issa

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Naz Issa, manager of Laila’s Bistro in Cockburn Street, said his takings were down to a third on more normal times

Naz Issa, manager of Laila’s Bistro in Edinburgh’s Cockburn Street, said his takings were down to a third of what he would have expected at this time of year.

He said: “It’s been nowhere near as busy, not even half as busy.

“It’s certainly not a ghost town now, but normally it’s chock-a-block on the Royal Mile with 50,000 people and now there are just a few thousand.

“During the festival it is very difficult to walk down the Royal Mile. There is still life here now but it’s not the same buzz.

“I’m looking forward to next year when the festival returns.”

Daniela Scott, director of Gordon's Trattoria on Edinburgh's Royal Mile

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Daniela Scott

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Daniela Scott, who runs her father’s Italian restaurant Gordon’s Trattoria on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, said the street had been much quieter this year in August

Daniela Scott, who runs her father’s Italian restaurant Gordon’s Trattoria, said: “Normally it takes me 15 minutes to walk down the Royal Mile to our restaurant during the festival because it is absolutely rammed.

“Now its like a winter’s day.

“The Royal Mile is breathing again but there is no buzz and it’s not comparable just now to previous August days during the festival.

“We need the festival back next year.”

Kitty Bruce-Gardyne, director of Scottish Textiles in the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile, said: “It’s much emptier now. The comparison is dire. In the festival there are hordes of people walking past the door.

“I miss the festival. There is no buzz just now, it is sad.

“The Royal Mile is a different Edinburgh just now, it’s an Edinburgh for locals.”

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