The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, one of the world’s most iconic cultural events, is set to enter a new era under the leadership of a former US marine. Buster Howes, who took over as the chief executive of the Tattoo in January 2023, has ambitious plans to expand the global reach and impact of the show, while preserving its heritage and traditions.
A military and diplomatic background
Howes, who was born in London but grew up in Scotland, has a distinguished career in the military and diplomacy. He joined the US Marine Corps in 1981 and served in various roles, including commanding officer of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, deputy commander of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, and director of operations for the US European Command.
He also served as the British defence attaché in Washington DC from 2015 to 2018, where he was responsible for strengthening the UK-US defence relationship and promoting British interests in the US. He was awarded the OBE in 2009 and the CMG in 2019 for his services to the UK and the US.
Howes said he was drawn to the role of the Tattoo chief executive because of his passion for the event and its potential to showcase the best of Scotland and the UK to the world. He said: “I’ve always loved the Tattoo. I think it’s a fantastic celebration of culture, music, and military heritage. It’s also a great platform for promoting values like diversity, inclusion, and collaboration.”
A vision for the future
Howes has a clear vision for the future of the Tattoo, which he hopes to implement in the coming years. He said: “My aim is to make the Tattoo more relevant, more accessible, and more impactful. I want to create a show that is not only entertaining, but also inspiring and educational. I want to reach out to new audiences, especially young people, and engage them with the stories and messages behind the performances.”
One of the ways he plans to do this is by taking the Tattoo on the road, and creating alternative versions of the show that can be staged in different locations and contexts. He said: “We have a loyal and passionate fan base, but we also want to attract new fans and supporters. We want to showcase the diversity and richness of the Tattoo, and also adapt it to different cultures and environments. We want to create a global network of Tattoo events that can connect and inspire people across the world.”
He also wants to leverage the power of technology and digital media to enhance the Tattoo experience and reach a wider audience. He said: “We want to use technology to create more immersive and interactive experiences, both for the live audience and the online viewers. We want to use digital media to tell stories, share insights, and create conversations. We want to use social media to build communities and foster engagement.”
A challenge and an opportunity
Howes acknowledged that leading the Tattoo in the post-pandemic era is a challenge, but also an opportunity. He said: “The pandemic has had a huge impact on the Tattoo and the whole cultural sector. We had to cancel the show in 2020 and 2021, which was a huge blow for us and our partners. We also had to deal with the uncertainty and the changing regulations and restrictions.”
However, he said that the Tattoo team has shown resilience and creativity in overcoming the difficulties and finding new ways to deliver the show. He said: “We have a fantastic team of staff, volunteers, and performers who have worked tirelessly to keep the Tattoo alive and relevant. We have also received tremendous support from our sponsors, donors, and fans, who have shown their loyalty and generosity. We are very grateful for that.”
He said that the 2023 show, which will run from 4 to 26 August, is a testament to the spirit and determination of the Tattoo family. He said: “The 2023 show is a celebration of the Tattoo’s return and recovery. It’s also a celebration of the voices and stories that make the Tattoo so special. We have a great line-up of acts from the UK and around the world, who will showcase their talents and cultures. We have a great theme, which is ‘Voices’, which reflects the diversity and harmony of the Tattoo. We have a great venue, which is the Edinburgh Castle, which is a symbol of history and heritage.”
He added that he is looking forward to welcoming the audience back to the Tattoo, and sharing the joy and excitement of the show with them. He said: “We are thrilled to be back on the esplanade, and we can’t wait to see the audience again. We hope that they will enjoy the show, and feel the emotion and energy of the Tattoo. We hope that they will leave the show feeling inspired, uplifted, and connected.”