When I Became Famous. Sort of

Damn, I’m getting old.

So old, that I forgot to mention that I once broke a Guinness World Record.

It’s true.  Not only did I receive two, count ‘em, two Oscars, but I broke a Guinness World Record, on New Year’s Eve, 2001/2.

Now, I will admit that it wasn’t really a big deal for me.  I had already achieved my 15 minutes of fame by that time, and it had happened just a few days before breaking the record.

Oh, have I gotten ahead of myself again?  Sorry.  Fame does that to a person.  At least it does it to me.

It was our last year in Europe.  One of the reasons I had wanted to move to Europe was because I wanted to see Europe.  John had spent his junior year of college abroad, in Edinburgh, and fell in love with the place.  So whenever we crossed the Atlantic, Scotland was somehow where we landed every damn time.  During our 5 years living in Europe, we still found our way to Scotland.  Strangely, it became very much like going home to me.   I mean, they speak English there.  Sort of.

Edinburgh has the biggest New Year’s Eve celebration in all of Europe – Hogmanay.  It is a week-long party, complete with medieval revelry and modern touches — Jacob especially loved the carnival rides set up along some of the main streets.  And the fire.

As all things in a good European city with a castle in the middle, the real kickoff starts at the Castle.

Google Image

Google Image

The Scots build a replica Viking ship like the ones that raided their shores for centuries.  They haul it from the Castle down through the medieval street called The Royal Mile which leads downhill to Holyrood Palace and then across town and up again, to Calton Hill, another high spot in the city with magical views of Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and the land formations known as Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Craigs  (where John asked me to marry him).  The crowd gathers around the Viking Ship while looking over the majestic city.  Seriously cool stuff — you can smell the history.

Oh, did I mention that they set the bloomin’ Viking Ship on fire first?  And pull it through the streets?

Or that literally everybody is carrying a bloomin’ flaming torch ­­– regardless of their age or state of inebriation?

Parade of Death (Google Image)

Parade of Death
Inebriated Revelers and children who should not be playing with fire
(Google Image)

It is brilliantly fun in a “this will be a memorable way to die” sort of way.

Jacob was 10 and thoroughly into it.  The flames, the burning ship, the old buildings, the bagpipes.  He was in a 10-year-old’s version of heaven.  Which meant that I was expecting one or all of us to die at any given moment.

When we reached the end of the parade and a film crew from the travel bureau was interviewing volunteers.  Looking for revelers to tell the folks at home what they loved about Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Jacob jumped right up.

“I’m gonna be on TV, Mom!”  he said excitedly.

Unfortunately, the laws required that a parent  go on film with him, though, because Jacob was under age.  The parent wouldn’t have to participate, but it was necessary that John or I stand next to our son.  On camera.  John, true to form, backed away and tried to hide.  It was the last thing that I wanted to do.  But it was for my son.  And I knew I’d be able to use my participation against my husband for decades.

Did I mention that I don’t like being filmed?  It’s true.  You see, cameras always bring out my psychotic side.  No matter what I am doing when they start filming me, I look like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.  Or Lizzie Borden on her way to buy the axe.  Or Carrie, when she discovers how to get back at all the people who were ever mean to her.  I look rather frightening.

“Please, Mom?  We can be on TV!”

How could I say no?  He was so excited!  So I took a deep breath and asked my husband if I looked OK.  It was a cold night;  we were layered up, Michelin Man-like, only not so photogenic.  Heavy down coats, and so many layers that my arms rested at 45 degree angles from my body.  Not exactly the way a girl who once dreamed of Hollywood wants to look for her first time on TV.

“You look fine,” he assured me.  “Warm,” he said, choking back his laugh.  The light of the thousand deadly torches shown in his damn dancing eyes.  It would have been so easy to just push him off the edge of the cliff he was backing towards.

Jacob and I turned back to the film crew.  They positioned us, turned the klieg lights on, pointed them at us, held a microphone up to Jacob and said in a lovely Scottish lilt:

“So, where are you from?”


“Ummm, what is your name?”


“What brings you to Hogmanay in Edinburgh?”

Jacob stood frozen in fear.  I tried to urge him on, silently, as the camera was rolling.  He just looked at me with his big, terrified eyes that positively screamed ‘Help me Mom!’

The reporter and camera crew were busy, however.  Three strikes, therefore, and he was out.  They turned the microphone – and the camera – towards me. Shit!  What could I do but answer their questions?

I had to explain that we were Americans, living in Geneva, and we’d come to enjoy the biggest party in Europe.  That we had all fallen in love with Edinburgh, and had returned many times.  This time, however was our first Hogmanay.

“What are you enjoying most?”

“My son, Jacob, loved the torch-light parade.  We couldn’t believe that they lit a replica of a Viking ship and paraded it through the ancient streets.  It was so cool, wasn’t it Jacob?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “Really cool.”

They asked him another question, and he froze again.  Poor kid.  Fame is hard work.

So they turned back to me.

“What would you say to the folks back home in America if they were considering traveling to Scotland?”

“I’d tell them that it’s a lovely country.  The cities are beautiful and filled with history.  The countryside is stunning.  And they speak English here.  Sort of.”

The reporter interviewing turned wide-eyed to her cameraman:

“Did you get that last bit?”

“Aye,” he said. “That I did.”

I was a star.  They were pleased.  But then they hadn’t seen the film yet.  As far as I know, it was never used.  Except perhaps in training reporters for signs of potential freezing and psycosis.

Still, there was anther, more lasting way for us to achieve fame during that trip.   We broke a Guinness World Record!

It was two days after my film debut – on New Year’s Eve proper.

Earlier in the day, we heard that the Hogmanay folks were planning on breaking one of the Guinness World Record.  Jacob was excited, and wanted to figure out how so he could watch.  But it turned out even better.  We not only watched, we helped break that Record!

Several city blocks were cordoned off — a block away and parallel to Princes’ Street, if you know the city.  A stage sat up at one end of the street with a Ceilidh band — a traditional Scottish folk band that played traditional Scottish folk reels.  A swarm of volunteers with clipboards snaked through the crowd taking names of folks who wanted to participate in the effort to break the world record for the Longest ‘Strip the Willow’ – a Scottish Highland reel – in the World.  The Guinness folks were on hand to verify if, in fact, the record was broken.

John, Jacob and I, not having the slighted idea of how to strip a willow, or even if it was a proper thing to do with a 10-year-old boy, joined in.  Yes!  Even John danced!

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay: “Longest Strip the Willow in the World”

We did it!  We broke the record!  And I must say it was total pandemonium.  Because virtually everybody in the world, it seemed, joined in.  Once it got going everybody was dancing.  Many folks like us didn’t really know how to strip a willow.  That made for a whole lot of people bashing into a whole lot of other people.  Fortunately, alcohol eased the pain.  Mostly we grabbed arms and swung our partners in time to the beat of the Ceilidh band.

We had a blast.  The Scots are the most wonderful people.  Friendly, crazy.  Willing to show us how to do the dances.  Willing to let us bash into them with abandon as we enjoyed reeling with the lot of them.  And that was, possibly the most challenging bit of it.  Because normally when I dance, I don’t wear a winter coat.  Or long johns.  Or a 25 lb backpack on my back.  I’m less graceful when I do.

There was really nothing to be done with my backpack other then wear it on my back and hit unsuspecting dancers with it whenever I spun.  Which is exactly what you do when you Strip the Willow.  You see, the backpack contained my wallet, John’s wallet, passports, keys.  Necessaries for the day out away from our hotel.  Everything that we couldn’t do without which was why I had it all there to begin with.

So if you look at that film, which may or may not be from the year when we were actually there (they break the record every year, a technicality we did not know at the time), look for a Michelin Man with curly reddish-blond hair bashing into every single person within a 2-block radius.  That’ll be me.

If only I’d thought to have the Guinness folks on the lookout for the most dance-induced bruises, my name would actually be in the book!  As it was, the event made it into the 2003 Guinness Book of World Records, but not the names of the thousands of participants.

Sigh.  Fame is so fleeting.

*     *     *

If you ever want to go somewhere special for New Years Eve, I highly recommend Edinburgh.  It is a wonderful, joyous, fun party.  The Scots are wonderful people and will welcome you to their city, which is magical.  You can feel history in each step you take in Edinburgh, and it is magical.

Besides, in Scotland they speak English.  Sort of.

*     *     *

 This post was inspired by Art who, ably assisted by Trent and X is valiantly trying to break a blogging record for the most comments ever on a blog.  Go on over and abuse him if you haven’t already.  Because breaking records is fun.  For no real reason, but it’s just fun.  Just leave your backpack behind if you’re dancing anywhere near me.


Filed under Adult Traumas, Awards, Bloggin' Buddies, Family, Holidays, Huh?, Humor

78 responses to “When I Became Famous. Sort of

  1. Pingback: New Year’s Celebrations for Cheapskates | FiftyFourandAHalf

  2. What a memorable New Years! My brother and his boys would love this. I have to tell him about it. I agree with Life with the Top Down — what a wonderful momma bear you were saving your Jacob.
    What great, contagious music to bring you in to the party. What is it about Europeans and dangerous celebrations — “los san fermines de Pamplona” and this? And what is it that Scotland doesn’t have a national anthem or state song? I think that perhaps could be part of the problem over the vote on Sept. 18. If they had a unifying song, perhaps that might feel a bit more together. Judging by this celebration…certainly the potential is there.


    • Oh it has a wonderful, unofficial theme song by my favorite Celtic singer/songwriter:

      It was an amazing time. We actually went to Hogmannay twice — the first time we stumbled onto a rehearsal of the night’s feature concert — James Taylor and a wonderful group called Capercaillie. They were in the Armory of Edinburgh Castle, where we’d popped in to entertain then 7 year old Jacob. It was wonderful!


  3. JSD

    Wow, what a wonderful stumble that turned out to be.
    Oh, thanks for the comment on the new gravitar. I like to think I might have looked like that in my prior life. I like that she has so much more hair than me…I’m jealous. 😉


  4. JSD

    What a wonderful story! I’ve only been to Scotland once, but would love to go again. If I do, I’ll make sure to be there for the Hogmanay.


    • You won’t be sorry. Unless those flames get a little too close, that is. It really is a blast — we actually did it twice. The first time, when Jacob was only 6, we thought we’d take him into the castle to see some armor and stuff. We stumbled into a rehearsal of the New Year’s Eve concert — starring James Taylor. We practically had a private concert! Magic happens in Edinburgh!

      I love the new gravitar!



  5. Having a Scottish background I know whereof you speak. My grandfather was straight off the boat & I had “the divil” of a time understanding most of what he said. He spoke English, sort of.


  6. Okay, fine, I am clicking the follow button… because I have so much free time right now to get hooked on yet another blog… sheesh…


  7. What a story. I totally enjoyed reading it, thanks.


  8. Awesome Story – poor Jacob. I was on TV when I was ten – the local PBS affiliate took all of us that were in a Christmas program that my music teacher had written herself to their studios and filmed it. It was rebroadcast locally for several years. I never mentioned it to my parents for some reason. They never knew I was famous.


    • Your parents didn’t know you were famous?!?! Tragic!

      Jacob is actually studying filmmaking — he works filming college sports! Behind the camera.


      • I was kind of mad at my folks for missing the show at school and by mid March when we were filming it at the station, it seemed so weird to be talking about Christmas. My mom never asked where my field trip was to – so she never knew. My schoolmates gave me grief about my performance clear through High School. I love amateur filmmaking, our town just hosted it’s first film festival – very artsy stuff!


  9. Melanie

    I absolutely adore Edinburgh. I spent not nearly enough time there as a study abroad student in college. I got lost there, coming down the “wrong” side of Arthur’s Seat. Who knew you couldn’t just walk back around to the front? This whole story took me back there. Their NYE celebration sounds like such an awesome experience. Perhaps I’ll have to start a bucket list so I can put this on it.


    • That’s funny! I’ve never actually climbed Arthur’s seat in all the times I’ve been there. I follow my husband around (Univ of Edinburgh 1976-7) like a lamb when we go. He never leads me astray. And he loves the Salisbury Craigs — which is where he proposed to me. At sunset, looking at the castle. I had no choice, really.

      I’m not big on crazy New Years celebrations. But this was really fun. So yes — put it on your bucket list!


      • Melanie

        The climb wasn’t hard, but it took some time to wind up the path to the top. It was worth it for the view of the city. Although it would make sense for me to suggest going down the same path you went up, I really got to see a lot of the non-touristy spots while lost. I ended up getting directions in a Blockbuster Video store – and I had to have him write it down because I had so much trouble with the English that didn’t sound like any English I knew.


  10. Fire and drunks…that seems like an interesting combination.


    • It was really terrifying, actually. I don’t know how more fires don’t happen in Europe. They have a very casual attitude towards it. Young — short — kids were carrying torches they couldn’t hold up properly. Teens were waving them around. Drunks were poking them at their drinking buddies … I was fully expecting to see someone set ablaze. I didn’t like that part (but it looked AWESOME).


  11. New Years Eve in Scotland isn’t something I would have thought of. It sounds like a blast, though. They should promote it more. Doesn’t everyone want to be in the Guinness Book Of Records?
    This was a lot of fun.


  12. Your talents never cease to amaze me Elyse! Taking that bullet for Jacob doesn’t surprise me momma bear, but thinking ahead to use the moment against your husband for years to come….brilliant!


    • My list of things to use against my husband is pretty extensive, actually. But he’s actually a pretty good guy so I don’t use them. I consider them my nuclear deterrent.

      Have a good week, Tops!


  13. I love Edinburgh. I’ve only been there once, for a week, for work — but I still loved it. I was sleep-deprived and jetlagged when I arrived, and I felt kind of depressed when I checked into my cramped, bleak downtown hotel room — until I looked out the window and saw a castle. Everything suddenly got better. It was summer, so we could spend all day at our conference, sightsee for hours afterwards, and then wrap up the evening in a pub.


    • Isn’t it a great place? I think most Scottish hotels are as you described. But the Scots are warming and wonderful. And they have that wonderful castle. Edinburgh Castle has everything a castle should have! Glad you had such a good time.


  14. Some of us are born famous, and some of us have greatness thrust upon us… and some of just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Me, I just came up with a stupid idea and ran with it. I like your story better. Thanks for the help.


  15. You are definitely a character. Fun story. I’m sure you still have another 45 minutes of fame to go.


  16. One of my biggest regrets is not spending time “across the pond” when I was younger. I visited for a month this fall and would have loved to stay forever in almost every town I visited.


  17. Well, maybe the record for the longest Strip the Willow dance has been broken, but with your 25-pound backpack probably ensured that the record for the most dangerous Strip the Willow dance still stands.


  18. Luanne

    You have no idea how much I loved this. I have a mad crush on Scotland. My claim to fame on my visit there was getting locked in the loo and having to pull a string for help and who came to get me out of there, but the master of ceremonies for the entertainment.


    • You have to write up that story!!!!! Hilarious.

      My first trip I had to experience wax paper toilet paper. The country has come a long way since 1985!


  19. There were a few times I was interviewed and I’m afraid I freeze in front of the camera too. Love that you have no problem in front of the camera!


    • Well, I am a bit of an extrovert. It is difficult to get me to shut up (I imagine Jacob was counting on that). But when there is a camera, I want to die. Because I’ve seen the results. And I once wanted to be an actress … since I hate horror films, that would have been a difficult career choice!


  20. I would think I’d want to wear several backpacks. And frontpacks, just for the extra protection.

    Nothing like being caught up in a crowd determined to have a good time!


    • It was hilarious. I was trying not to either kill anybody or be thrown to the other end of the city by my offending backpack. Fortunately, I was not alone, as everyone had purses and backpack and children in snuggies … it was an all inclusive group of accidentally lethal folks.


  21. Addie

    I spent Hogmanay of 2000 in Edinburgh, where I discovered a good Scotsman will, after a few drams of single malt, insist on showing what they don’t wear under their kilts. After a few hours, I stopped blushing.

    It was a glorious few days, full of laughter, friends, dancing in the streets, sorta-English, haggis–which I love–and Butter Tablet, which is pure delight.


  22. Cool story, Elyse. Sounds like a blast. Poor Jacob, though.


    • Poor Jacob, indeed. And it was great fun for all of us. We have terrific friends who live there too. It was a blast.

      Funnily enough, Jacob — now 22 (!) — is a video cameraman. I guess that lesson stuck!


  23. Poor Jacob … so excited, then freezes. Consider commenting done.


  24. I can guarantee that if ever this introvert were to ‘strip a willow,’ alcohol would indeed need to be involved.

    But it looks like a wonderful time, and really, who can resist music like that? I’ve never been to Scotland but would love to go. But I’ll stay away from those news reporters…


    • The music is great. And it is easy to be an introvert in a massive dancing mass. Sort of like Rave!

      But I wouldn’t have gone in front of reporters had my soon-to-be-frozen son not made me. Even as much as I like to talk!


  25. And they speak English here. Sort of. Classic. Okay, this was worth the wait, and a great story, and I am currently enjoying the Strip the Willow music. Only in Scotland…

    Great story, Elyse. But now I have to ask about the 2 Oscars, because I am a rabid movie nut. I also kind of want to see your psychotic face…


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