I first came to Edinburgh in the summer of 1998.
Aged 18, and as a would-be student in the city, I had the use of a car and the kind hospitality of a friend-of-a-friend outside the city for a week, and I was coming to 'do' the Edinburgh Fringe for the very first time.
That year I vividly remember sitting on the benches outside St Giles' Cathedral, passively avoiding the street artists (who have freaked me out, ever since I was picked on to take part as a 12 year old on a family holiday to York), and seeing an extraordinary number of shows for my budget of £50, a figure that seems pathetically paltry by the ticket costs of today's shows.
I saw nothing at any of the main venues - C on Chambers Street was the only large venue I entered, and instead I saw shows in many of the small venues that today's audiences (and would-be audiences) might still be astonished to discover. I sat next to a man at an Alice in Wonderland themed show at St Columba's by the Castle - in an auditorium that seated probably 150 people - only to discover that, unlike some of the previous shows which had been packed out, he and I comprised precisely half the total audience, and the others had had the good sense not to sit directly adjacent to each other. If #awkward (or even social media) had existed back then, I would have been using it vociferously that day.
This will now be my seventeenth summer in the city, and it's fair to say my engagement with the Edinburgh Fringe has been varied and extensive. As a resident of the city I have experienced years when, because of over-familiarity and other elements of personal circumstance, the tidal wave of summer festivities has felt less of blessing and more of a battle - for locals, trying to maintain a non-festival based existence in a world seemingly detached from the realities of everyday life is a draining experience, a bit like living in the flat above where a party is being held, 24/7 for an entire month. And no matter how politely you ask, the guests simply won't stop smoking in the stairwell, or turn the music down....
But in other years the Fringe has been an integral part of my life. As a drama student the month-long festival was a celebration of the kind of ideas and values that I was learning to adopt. As a graduate I worked as a reviewer for publications such as the List magazine and the Herald newspaper (and was award-nominated for my efforts in journalism, too!). Subsequently I've worked in the tourism sector, training as a tour guide with Edinburgh Bus Tours, and working at the country's busiest paid-entry visitor attraction, Edinburgh Castle.
As a reviewer I had the pleasure of being able to see many great shows, and share my passion and enthusiasm for them afterwards. I have also had the pleasure of being one of only two people in the audience at one particular show (with the other person being the reviewer for the Evening News), and, indeed, of being the sole audience member in a production at Cabaret Voltaire. A show which was heavy on audience interaction. To which I gave a (charitable) two stars.
This year I have been privileged enough to experience the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time in two different capacities. I spent four months working within the programme production office, helping to compile entries for this year's programme, and seeing how the Fringe vehicle operates from within. Comparatively few people who engage with the Fringe get to see the festival from this angle, and although my perspective on 'the world's largest arts festival' has been positively impacted, my faith in creative people to produce compelling sales pitches for their productions has, decidedly, decreased....
And so, with my engagement with the Fringe having truly run the gamut of experiences from relishing a free ticket handed out to a Hoipolloi production in 1998, to now, in 2015, participating in the Fringe as a performer for the very first time, I'm going from Fringe veteran to Fringe virgin literally (and metaphorically) overnight.
This August I'm presenting a daily tour of Edinburgh alongside my private tours and information packages. So far the process has been exciting and invigorating - check back with me in a few weeks to find out a) if I survived my 'first' Fringe, and b) whether I'll be signing up to do it all again next year!
My Edinburgh: Festival City Explorer Tour runs daily (with some exceptions) during August, at 10.00am. Tours leave from venue 363, Bottom of Granny's Green Steps in the Grassmarket. Tickets are limited to 10 people per tour, and can be purchased through the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Box Office. Advance booking essential!
Edinburgh Expert is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh with 18 years of experience living and working in the city.