As the sun shone brightly on the large crowd outside and the temperature rose inside, Cornet Ross Gibson was welcomed to St Leonards Hut like no other Cornet before.
As the top table guests, officials and the Big Four filed in to take their seats, one or two glanced to their left and were left open-mouthed at the scene. The table banging, the cheers, the whistles and the raucous fever-pitched applause lasted minutes and not moments. And if anyone ever needs proof of what their Cornet, their Hut and their Common-Riding means to the hundreds and hundreds of Hawick men, guests and visiting principals, then this was it. It means the world to them.
Honorary Provost Stuart Marshall took a few stunned moments to take in what he was seeing before proudly telling a simmering jam-packed St Leonards Hut that they were in for a real treat. But of course, everyone already knew that. They expected nothing less. And on this historic morning they weren’t disappointed.
First up, accompanied by Ian Landles on the piano, was official song-singer Michael Aitken with The Border Queen, and each time the chorus was belted out the whole building shook with pride and emotion.
In a humorous toast to Cornet Ross Gibson, Rob Bell spoke of long-term family friendship and of a young man who’d carried out the task of Hawick Cornet with confidence, pride and, above all, passion.
“Ross A. Gibson this is the day every young Teri dreams of and you have fulfilled that dream and when you return the Banner Blue unsullied and unstained tomorrow, it will be a job well done.”
Former Common-Riding chief guest Alan Brydon then favoured the company with his own song, ‘The Bonnie Banner Blue’, and once again those filling the Hut needed no encouragement to lend a hand.
Then it was the turn of Cornet Ross Gibson and the five-minute mark was easily passed before order was restored and the young man of whom so much was expected began to speak.
“It’s here, we have arrived at the Friday of the Common-Riding and we are in this hallowed building. Where else in the world would you rather be? Well, the answer to that is naewhere.
“This Teri heart is bursting with pride. Yesterday I said I felt on top of the world. Well this morning, gentlemen, I am at the summit. This is a dream come true.”
An emotional Cornet Gibson thanked his Acting-Father and Mother for their support and also thanked his mother and father and his supporters. He then paid tribute to his Lass Michelle Paxton: “You have been fantastic. You can relax now and have a brilliant Common-Riding. Thanks for everything ’Chelle.”
And he finished: “The support I have had has been amazing. To be Hawick Cornet has been an honour and a huge privilege. I’ll see you on the Waster Heather. Thank you.”
And the whole place exploded with cheers, a deafening thumping of tables and howls of approval for a young man who’d just given the speech of a lifetime and it was several more minutes before Ex-Cornet Ian Nichol favoured the company and heightened camaraderie with ‘Up Wi Auld Hawick’.
Rob Welsh proposed a toast to the Common-Riding, before Provost Stuart Marshall got to his feet: “We, and indeed Hawick, could not have wished for a better, more fitting chief guest. Gentlemen, Henry Douglas.
It seemed an eternity before the Ex Acting-Father and former official song-singer spoke but what followed was hugely emotional, will never be forgotten and was a complete break from tradition
“This is the greatest theatre in the world. My wife Aileen keeps telling me that the Common-Riding takes years off my life. I’ll tell you this, gentlemen, as soon as one Common-Riding passes, just like Chuck, I become ever more determined to see the next one.
“I am sure my old pal Viv [Sharp] will be looking down on us this morning and wishing the people of Hawick a tremendous Common-Riding. Gentlemen, would it be in order if I sing this song for Viv?”
And then he stopped everyone in their tracks:
“As I gaz’d in silent rapture
On Killarney’s lakes and rills;
Listened to the wond’rous echoes
From mountain peaks and rugged hills;
‘Mid these scenes of fairy gleamland
Peerless in a winsome west
I have wander’d as in dreamland,
But I like auld Hawick the best.”
And then the whole place exploded with the chorus and if Viv, as Henry said, was looking down, he’d have loved every minute of it.
“I like auld Hawick the best,
Each hill and heath’ry crest
That guards the grey auld toon below;
I like auld Hawick the best.”
Henry’s tribute to a much loved and hugely missed Viv Sharp ensured there was hardly a dry eye in the Hut and will live long in the memories of the hundreds of Teries and guests who were privileged to be there last Friday morning.
Graham Wilson proposed the toast to the Acting-Father Alan Gray, and in his response, the Fither paid tribute to his wife Jane and three children by telling them he “loved them more then life itself.”
The entertainment was rounded off by Elliot Goldie and Ronnie Tait.
And as riders, foot soldiers and guests left the Hut to make their way to the Mair everyone to a man knew they had witnessed something very special indeed in, as Henry Douglas put it “the best theatre in the world”.