Castlederg woman played badpipes for Vladimir Putin

Victoria in Raphoe
Victoria in Raphoe

Castlederg woman Victoria Catterson’s love of pipe bands has opened up a world to her which she never knew existed.

The 21-year-old’s recent journey to Russia – which saw her perform in Red Square for President Vladimir Putin – will feature this Monday evening on BBC NI’s True North programme.

Victoria, Chloe and Robyn in Moscow's Red Square

Victoria, Chloe and Robyn in Moscow's Red Square

Victoria, who comes from farming stock, said: “I haven’t seen the programme yet. I hope I don’t come across too culchie.”

Monday night’s programme – which will be broadcast at 10.40pm on BBC One NI – follows Victoria along with Raphoe sisters Robyn and Chloe Freen as they travel to Moscow as part of the massed pipes and drums who performed at the Kremlin Military Tattoo in Red Square, Moscow.

The tattoo came about after Vladimir Putin decreed that he wanted his own military tattoo that would be even bigger and better than Edinburgh’s world-famous event.

Victoria, who began life in pipe bands at the age of five, started out as drum major, before moving on to the snare drum. She then moved on to learn the ways of the bagpipes.

Programme Name: True North: Raphoe to Red Square - TX: 20/11/2017 - Episode: True North: Raphoe to Red Square (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Chloe, Victoria and Robyn in Raphoe.  - (C) BBC NI - Photographer: Barking Films for BBC NI

Programme Name: True North: Raphoe to Red Square - TX: 20/11/2017 - Episode: True North: Raphoe to Red Square (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Chloe, Victoria and Robyn in Raphoe. - (C) BBC NI - Photographer: Barking Films for BBC NI

Asked if she could qualify as a one-woman-band, she said: “I probably could, but I’d need a few more hands to hold them all at the one time.

“I’ve enjoyed all aspects of the pipe band, I honestly can say I don’t think I’ve enjoyed one more than the others.”

Victoria learnt to play bagpipes with tutor Andy McGregor and it was through him that she joined Raphoe Pipe Band and in turn met sister Chloe and Robin who also feature in the documentary.

A total of 70 pipers and drummers from Ireland travelled to Moscow including 22 members of the Ulster-Scots Agency Juvenile Pipe Band under the stewardship of Mr McGregor.

Programme Name: True North: Raphoe to Red Square - TX: 20/11/2017 - Episode: True North: Raphoe to Red Square (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Robyn, Victoria and Chloe in a Moscow subway station.  - (C) BBC NI - Photographer: Barking Films for BBC NI

Programme Name: True North: Raphoe to Red Square - TX: 20/11/2017 - Episode: True North: Raphoe to Red Square (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Robyn, Victoria and Chloe in a Moscow subway station. - (C) BBC NI - Photographer: Barking Films for BBC NI

Of the trip to Russia, Victoria said: “I was apprehensive about it because it’s a long trip away from home. I haven’t spent that much time away from home.

“We were in Russia for nearly a fortnight, but we nearly didn’t get there. There was flooding in Londonderry and we couldn’t get to the airport. We missed check-in and that created a bit of drama which I’m sure you’ll see in the show.

“I think on the journey out there I was awake for 52 hours straight. That was tough going at the start.”

Victoria was involved in seven performances playing for over six minutes each time.

“It was quite a long blow as pipers would refer to it,” she said. “We were playing non-stop for most of it, which means you’ve to keep blowing to keep air steady through the bag. The longer we were there we got used to it. We had powerful lungs by the end of it.”

She added: “People ask me for a go on the pipes all the time. They don’t realise how hard it is. Once they try it they see it isn’t an easy thing to do to make a sound that doesn’t sound like a cat dying.”

She said: “The documentary gives an insight not just into the three girls including myself who are in it, but also pipe band music and how you can travel with it. There’s a lot more to it than travelling field-to-field on the Twelfth of July.

“In Russia we were meeting people from pipe bands from all over the world including places like Canada, Holland and Germany.

“I’m hoping to just keep on travelling and seeing the world through bagpipes.”

Asked if she had any qualms about playing for Vladimir Putin, Victoria said: “You’re going there to do a job. You’re getting your flights, accomodation and a certain amount of food paid for. I don’t think we could complain about who we play for. You have to appreciate it and enjoy every moment.”

She added: “My knowledge was very limited before I went to Russia. I was sort of expecting the Russian mafia to be walking about the streets. It was a beautful city, the architecture was breathtaking, it was very clean, the people were friendly and there was an unreal amount of tourists.”