Nanny Joyce Meikle surrounded by five of her ten grandchildren who are helping to organize a mini-Tattoo for the woman who has yet to miss a performance since it began in 1979. Photo courtesy Allison Meikle (bottom right).
Nanny Joyce Meikle surrounded by five of her ten grandchildren who are helping to organize a mini-Tattoo for the woman who has yet to miss a performance since it began in 1979. Photo courtesy Allison Meikle (bottom right).

With the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo cancelled for the first time in its 42 year history due to the pandemic, it has left many people disappointed. But none more than one of the Tattoo’s biggest fans, 88-year-old Halifax resident Joyce Meikle.

A Meikle family tradition

A Meikle family tradition, Nanny Joyce, as she is known, had been to every Tattoo since it began in 1979. “My father said one of his fondest memories was going with my grandmother to the very first one,” says Joyce’s 23-year old granddaughter Allison Meikle.

The younger Meikle also learned that her grandfather had been involved with the Tattoo, solidifying the annual outing. “My Nanny got very excited about going and involving her children,” she says. “They carried on the tradition by bringing the grandkids into it as well.”

Meikle cannot recall a time when she didn’t attend the Tattoo with her grandmother. She has fond memories of her grandmother using binoculars to get a closer look at the acts she found particularly excited about. “She would bring out the binoculars and pass them on to all the grandkids so we could see as well,” she says.

Meikle also recalls being proud to see her family members stand when the Tattoo recognized individuals in the audience who had served in the military. “We are a military family, so we have several people who do stand up, and it’s very touching,” she says.

With this year’s Tattoo cancelled, though, it looked like additional family memories would have to wait for next. And while Nanny Joyce has put on a brave face, there was little doubt she was disappointed.

“She downplays when she is upset a little bit, but when we’ve had phone calls, she brings up the cancellation frequently, and you can hear the disappointment in her voice,” says Meikle.

Memorabilia & social media gets things started

It would be hearing Joyce’s disappointment and the chance discovery of a few vintage Tattoo t-shirts that got the younger Meikle thinking about bringing some joy back to her grandmother.

“I thought maybe I should get one for myself and four more for my cousins,” says Meikle. “I called them up and told them about the Tattoo shirts, and I thought it would be really cute if we put them on marched to Nanny’s house and maybe play some bagpipes on Spotify.”

From that nugget of an idea came an appeal on social media for help in hiring a real-life bagpiper.

“By the next morning, we had over 1,200 interactions,” says Meikle. “Scott Long, the executive director of the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, was one of the people who reached out, and that’s how it expanded.”

Receiving so many offers, including outreach from CFB Shearwater and the RCMP, Meikle quickly realized the idea for the mini-Tattoo was beyond what she and her cousins could organize.

“We figured it was getting so big that five 20-somethings couldn’t really do this when we don’t have experience with planning anything,” says Meikle. “The Tattoo executives and then We Are Young very graciously took it over for us.”

The Tattoo & We Are Young step in to help

We Are Young is the Halifax organization founded by Katie Mahoney and Cara Chisholm, granting unfulfilled wishes to elders living in Nova Scotia. Think of it as the senior’s version of Make A Wish.

The idea was initially born from Mahoney’s experience of spending a day getting a pedicure and grocery shopping with a local senior after she was nominated to perform an act of kindness. “If that small act of kindness could impact this individual, how many others could we affect?” she says.

With the largest ageing population per capita in Canada, Mahoney says seniors in Nova Scotia are often overlooked and undervalued. “We thought about how many elders had unfulfilled wishes and dreams because of the personal sacrifices they made or personal barriers they face.”

Since 2015, We Are Young has helped grant many wishes to Nova Scotia elders. Among them is 73-year old Colleen Tanner’s lifelong dream to drive a Zamboni and 79-year old Joan Decker’s wish to get a tattoo.

Due to the pandemic, though, wishes have been put on hold. Instead, the team has been delivering care packages across the HRM. “We shifted gears because we still wanted to positively impact our elders’ lives,” says Mahoney. “We’ve been working with local organizations and non-profits to make sure they get into the right hands.”

With physical distancing restrictions beginning to ease, Mahoney says they are hoping to offer wishes again soon but saw the mini-Tattoo as an excellent way to restart. “We encouraged Allison to submit a wish application because it still had to go through our process of being approved like any typical wish,” she says.

Receiving the necessary approval from its wish committee, Mahoney and her team came on board to help.

“Her request was to help organize the influx of requests because our community is nothing short of amazing. Everyone wanted to lend a helping hand,” says Mahoney. “So we’re now working in partnership with Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo to help facilitate this small mini-Tattoo for her grandmother as her wish.”

Part of We Are Young’s role will be to make sure even the smallest details are covered. That will include ensuring Nanny Joyce’s experience is both comfortable and safe with the current provincial restrictions.

“She always used to go to Swiss Chalet with her grandkids before the show, so incorporating things like that is where we really come into it,” says Mahoney.

Keeping it a secret has been the easy part

With so much activity happening around preparations for Nanny Joyce’s mini-Tattoo, you would think there is a risk she will find out. The fact Nanny Joyce doesn’t use social media or read online news has definitely helped.

So has a virtual musical performance featuring pipers and drummers from around the world playing Scotland the Brave/The Black Bear organized by the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo and dedicated to Joyce.

“The Tattoo has always been a family tradition over the last 41 years,” says Tattoo’s managing director and executive producer Scott Long. “Even though the pandemic has interrupted our normal plans for 2020, the family tradition continues with the Royal Nanny International Tattoo.”

While Nanny Joyce was surprised that the Tattoo would dedicate the video to her, the planned mini-Tattoo remains off her radar. “That is the only inclination about anything Tattoo related,” says Meikle. “We told her that was the big surprise we had. She’s not going to see this coming whatsoever.”

A screenshot of the video dedication to Nanny Joyce Meikle. “We dedicate this performance to everyone who makes the Tattoo their summer tradition and to everyone who is missing the Tattoo for the first time in a long time. For many, the Tattoo is the kickstart of their summer, and we’d like to recognize these long-time fans for their support, including Joyce Meikle. Her grandchildren are planning a small-scale tattoo, with our support, to keep their family tradition going this summer, and we’re honoured to have fans like them who love the Tattoo that much.” - Scott Long, the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo managing director and executive producer.
A screenshot of the video dedication to Nanny Joyce Meikle. “We dedicate this performance to everyone who makes the Tattoo their summer tradition and to everyone who is missing the Tattoo for the first time in a long time. For many, the Tattoo is the kickstart of their summer, and we’d like to recognize these long-time fans for their support, including Joyce Meikle.” – Scott Long, managing director and executive producer of the  Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo.

With planning still ongoing, a date for The Royal Nanny International Tattoo has yet to be announced. Due to physical distancing restrictions, the exact location will be kept a secret. There are plans, however, for media to be in attendance to capture and share the festivities.

“[Nanny Joyce] is very grateful for anything anybody does for her, so I don’t really know how she will react to something so big and with so much effort put into it,” says Meikle. “She is very emotional, though, so I feel that she will definitely tear up.”

A Facebook page has been set-up to keep anyone interested in what is happening with The Royal Nanny International Tattoo.

Just don’t tell Nanny Joyce. Remember, it’s a secret.