Skip Navigation

Why is it called the Air Tattoo?

Have you ever wondered why the Royal Internation Air Tattoo is called an Air Tattoo? Chief Executive Tim Prince explains how the name came about...

 

"When we (the original volunteer team) all sat around in 1971 discussing the merits of making the North Weald Airshow something different/special, we decided that it should become a meeting place for NATO air arms to give it a unique selling point to the public and make it of interest to prospective participants.

In that small group at the time there were a number of military types who brought up the word Tattoo as a possibility, given that if the word Air preceded it, it would nicely fit in with the derivation of the words 'military tattoo' (as described nowadays) by Wikipedia, as shown below:

'Dates from the seventeenth century when the British Army was fighting in the Low Countries (Belgium and The Netherlands). Drummers from the garrison were sent out into the towns at 21:30 hrs (9:30PM) each evening to inform the soldiers that it was time to return to barracks. The process was known as doe den tap toe (old-Dutch for "turn off the tap"), an instruction to innkeepers to stop serving beer and send the soldiers home for the night. The drummers continued to play until the curfew at 22:00 hrs (10:00PM).

Over the years, the process became more of a show and often included the playing of the first post at 21:30 hrs and the last post at 22:00. Bands and displays were included and shows were often conducted by floodlight or searchlight. Tattoos were commonplace in the late 1800s with most military and garrison towns putting on some kind of show or entertainment during the summer months. Between the First World War and the Second World War elaborate tattoos were held in many towns, with the largest in Aldershot.'

Thus the Air Tattoo was born and we have been banging the drum ever since to pretty good effect, albeit RIAT now welcomes virtually all of the world's air arms to come together in a spirit of friendship and goodwill. And indeed since those early days, many have been recruited into NATO!"

“It was an epic spectacle, as magical as anything you've ever seen in the West End, and as loud as anything you've ever heard at Knebworth.”

Jeremy Clarkson, Television Presenter

“All the thrills, excitement and noise of a Grand Prix, but in the air!”

Jenson Button, Former Formula 1 Racing Driver

“Probably the most complete air show I’ve ever been to!”

Al Worden, Apollo 15 Astronaut

“This is THE best airshow!”

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 Astronaut

“Text TRUST to 70490 to donate £5!”

Texts cost £5 plus one standard rate message

Sign up for emails about the Air Tattoo, Concerts and Merchandise