‘I’m so glad they all persuaded me to be Braw Lad…’

WHEN Lou Reed penned his best-known track, Perfect Day, it is unlikely the Braw Lads’ Gathering was the main influence for his lyrics.

But for Braw Lad Lewis Playfair and Braw Lass Suzanne Henry the song summed up their faultless day: glorious weather, huge crowds, and a massive cavalcade of 402 horses meant 2011 will be a year to remember.

Both performed their duties immaculately throughout the week and as they finished on Saturday lunchtime, the pair shed tears as they were congratulated by family and fellow principals in the Burgh Chambers.

Lewis, whose family is steeped in the Braw Lads’ tradition, told TheSouthern: “The tears came because of the emotion of it all being over, and seeing my family.

“It was a tremendous morning – I couldn’t have asked for it to have been any better.

“The crowds were there and it was one of the highest-attended Braw Lads Days in terms of horses, which is incredible.

“The whole morning was a highlight – the Raid Stane, crossing the Tweed, Mixing of the Roses and going up Scott Street, everything was great.

“I wasn’t always 100 per cent sure I wanted to be Braw Lad but I am so thankful others persuaded me to do it.”

Suzanne, 20, added: “I was nervous this morning but we got a good breakfast and I quickly settled down. The day was great and the weather fantastic.

“Lewis was fantastic, I could not have asked for a better Braw Lad. The whole week was superb.”

Even before Lewis, 25. was handed the Burgh flag, he and Suzanne were given an indication of the level of support they would receive throughout the day thanks to the standing ovation they received from about 300 men packed into the Volunteer Hall at the Braw Lad’s Breakfast.

Before they entered the venue, Alex Gass spoke of his joy at being appointed Braw Lad 25 years ago, recalling former president Bert Naismith’s advice that he would wake up on Braw Lad’s morning as a boy, and end it as a man.

An hour or so later, Lewis had his chance to join Alex as the 75th Braw Lad.

Proceedings were kicked off by Town Crier Jim Amos, who has held the role for the past 25 years, before Lewis was handed the standard on the Burgh Chambers balcony by his dad, Colin, the Gathering’s president. Lewis’ beaming smile was reciprocated on the faces of hundreds of Galaleans gathered below.

And off they went, Lewis and Suzanne leading the cavalcade, supported by Bearer of the Sod Greg Borthwick, Bearer of the Red Roses Katie Scott, Bearer of the Stone Chris Mackenzie and Bearer of the White Roses Amy Gunter.

All six played a full part in the Raid Stane ceremony when Galashiels’ 14th century victory over English raiders is remembered as the Lasses pin wild plum tree sprigs to their respective Attendants’ jackets.

The Tweed glistened as the horses splashed through it, with the crowds gathered either side of the water at Abbotsford.

Then it was on to the famous house, and the relationship between Galashiels and Sir Walter Scott was remembered.

It was back across the water and up Gala Hill, before a descent to the Old Town Cross, where the moving Mixing of the Roses ceremony saw Suzanne maintain her composure in front of huge crowds to pay tribute to the marriage of James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor.

Then it was time for the highlight of the morning for many – the gallop up Scott Street.

First it was Lewis and Suzanne, and then came horse after horse, carrying riders from across the town, the Borders and beyond.

To complete the perfect morning, Lewis dipped the standard with aplomb in front of the Border Reiver statue and War Memorial at the town centre, he and horse Cassey motionless throughout their silent tribute to Galashiels’ fallen sons.

Tears flowed as the flag was handed back, and not just from the eyes of Lewis and Suzanne.

Amy Gunter was completing her third and final year as a Galashiels principal, and was unable to contain her sadness and pride.

She said: “It has absolutely flown by but I have loved every minute of it. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to be Braw Lass because I know a lot of people do not get that opportunity.

“It has been extra special this year with my cousin Lewis being Braw Lad.

“I think he was absolutely amazing. He has not had that much horse riding experience but has taken to it so well.

“It has been an emotional but amazing experience.”

Chris Mackenzie, 2009 Braw Lad, says farewell this year after three years service to the Gathering.

He said: “I am wee bit sad it’s all over but I have enjoyed every second – it is the best thing I have ever done.

“I have gained some lifelong memories and friends in Gala and from other towns.”

Colin Playfair also says goodbye after his three-year stint as president, going out on a high as his son did him proud.

Colin said: “It has been a week to remember, from the Kirking of the Braw Lad to the dipping of the flag at the War Memorial.

“I have been very lucky to work with some great Braw Lads and Lasses and the six principals this year have really hit it off from the moment they met.

“I am not sad to be stepping down – it had to end some time and this gives someone else the chance to become president, which has been a real pleasure for me.”