The red curtain concealing the best kept secret in Peebles was lifted last Friday evening when Andrew Napier and Natalie Stewart graced the stage as the Corner Elect and Lass for 2019.

Judging by the rapturous applause and cheers from the audience in the packed Burgh Hall for this year’s Beltane principals, you could say Peebleans were happy with this year’s selection.

Andrew has spent his life in Peebles attending both Kingsland Primary and Peebles High School.

His Beltane history is full, and perhaps the year he was dressed as a chef triggered his future career, as he trained in this profession and works in the kitchen at Coltman’s Restaurant.

The Cornet-elect is used to being centre stage at the annual festival, only he’s normally wearing a frock and strutting his stuff with the YM Dancers, continuing the long tradition of cross-dressing at Beltane.

A keen musician, Andrew has played the drums in the local pipe band from the age of nine to 21 years, before changing instruments and joining the silver band where he has played the trombone for the past three years.

Speaking to the large audience, Andrew said being selected as the Cornet “is a dream come true”.

He added: “I keep thinking that I’m going to get a knock on the door or a phone call from the committee to say they’ve found someone else and I’ll no longer be needed.

“Until a few weeks ago the closest I’ve ever come to riding a horse was being flung on the back of Auntie Susie’s old horse, no saddle, no reins, just holding onto its mane for dear life. I can safely say I was not a fan, but thanks to the girls at Kailzie Equestrian, I’ve been assured it isn’t normal and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning to ride.”

Andrew says he is well prepared for a Scottish summer having endured rain, hail and gale force winds and sunshine, during his riding lessons.

Supporting Andrew this year is Natalie Stewart, who says she is extremely honoured to be offered the role of Cornet’s Lass.

She said she hoped to do the town proud, adding: “Beltane is always something I’ve thoroughly enjoyed throughout the years and this year I am truly speechless as I get to represent Peebles as Cornet’s Lass 2019.”

Chairman Keith Brunton announced this year’s Boundary Reader, Sally Swinney, who was unable to attend due to her commitment refereeing at the British Para Swimming Meeting in Glasgow.

However, this will be Sally’s third time in this position having been Boundary Reader twice before in 1998 and 2009. Since last taking on the privilege, she has learned the pipes and teaches chanter at Kingsland Primary School and is a member of both Melrose and District Pipes and Drums and Jedburgh Royal British Legion bands. She has marched out playing the pipes many times at the Beltane but will be best known in her role as a senior partner at the firm Blackwood & Smith.

The Warden of the Cross Kirk will this year be Father Tony Lappin of St Joseph’s Church who enjoyed his first Beltane last year.

Describing his appointment as a “wonderful privilege", Father Lappin said he arrived in Peebles at the beginning of June last year and was encouraged by his parishioners to get involved in the festivities.

“I was quite amazed at the organisation of it all, but also by the wonderful sense of tradition that’s been carried on for years and years.”

And arriving just in time for the curtain opening to be announced as Warden of Neidpath was Reverend Callum Macdougall.

Rev Macdougall was in popular demand and hot-footed it to the Burch Hall following a choir concert in Eddleston.

He is no stranger to the role of warden having graced the stage on three occasions as Warden of the Cross Kirk in 2003, 2009 and 2017. But this time his location and duties will be far different.

Chairman Keith Brunton recalled Rev Macdougall’s ministry journey and said in 2001 he made the “correct choice” of coming to the Old Parish in Peebles.

Describing the moment he was asked to take on the role of Warden of Neidpath, Rev Macdougall said: “We had locked up for the night when the doorbell went and standing on the doorstep was the chairman of the Beltane Committee and the secretary with him. I think the word I used when they issued the invitation was flabbergasted.

“I have a strange mix of feeling. I am deeply humbled but also immensely proud. Humbled to be standing on the same stage as the others along at the other end there, each of whom so richly deserves the honour that the Beltane Committee as accorded them, but deeply proud because I can scarcely believe that I am here among them.

“In this beloved town of ours there are many people who are more deserving than I am to be up on this stage.”

The minister described Beltane as “the jewel in the crown” and said he is bursting with pride.

“Mr Chairman, I am a mere ‘stooriefit’, an imposter, an infiltrator in your midst, but I can assure you I stand here as a proud Peeblean, and with the greatest sincerity and gratitude I want to thank you and the Beltane Committee for the faith you have put in me. I will do all I can to repay your trust.”

And finally, crowning the Beltane Queen this year is a lady who for 30 years has been making and mending costumes for the children taking part in the festival.

Mandi Bain will be stepping out from behind the sewing machine and heading up the Parish Church steps.

After having a difficult year health-wise, Mandi describes herself as “walking miracle”.

Following a very emotional speech which moved committee members in the Chambers Institute, Mandi managed to hold back the tears when she was sashed as the Crowning Lady moments later in the Burgh Hall.

She told the cheering crowds that she was “extremely honoured and humbled” to be appointed. “I am really looking forward to Beltane Week and I hope the sun shines for us all. Hip Hip Hooray!”

The question is who will Mandi be crowning on Beltane Saturday? The town of Peebles will find out on Wednesday, May 15, when the Queen and her court are announced.