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Dadusedtogoroundthehouseturning OFFLIGHTSMOANINGITWASLIKEBLACKPOOL Illuminationsinhere..Ineverdreamt I'd be running show; MEET THE SCOT IN CHARGE OF PS2M TOURIST DRAW Gillian is all geared up for another big switch-on as town starts its annual party.


WHEN she was growing up, Gillian Campbell's dad would follow her around the house, switching off the lights.

Recalling her childhood days in Dalkeith, Midlothian, she said: "He was always saying, 'Will you put the lights off, it's like Blackpool Illuminations in here.' "I had no idea what he was talking about.

"It wasn't until I came here and saw the Illuminations turned on that I thought, 'I get it now.'" Gillian, 45, first got to appreciate the amazing sight of the Lancashire seaside resort fully lit when her partner got a job there in 2000 and she followed him south.

Waiting tables in a restaurant in the Pleasure Beach, she soon felt at home.

A third of Blackpool's 18million annual visitors are Scots. There are plenty of other Scots working there as well, including the manager of Blackpool Tower, who was born in Dumfries and is a member of the Tartan Army.

What Gillian didn't know as she settled into her new home was that one day she would be responsible for the town's biggest industry, worth PS14billion a year - to say nothing of the million-odd bulbs that decorate the promenade every autumn.

These days, she is deputy leader of Blackpool Borough Council. Her remit is tourism, economic growth and jobs. The Illuminations are crucial to all three.

She said: "Last year, three million visitors came just to see the Illuminations in those 56 days we have them on.

"Seeing the joy on people's faces when those lights go on is just amazing."

Tr" In the past, switching on the lights meant looking at the Winter Gardens schedule, seeing which famous face was in town and borrowing them for a quick ceremony.

Gillian said: "It's so different now - it's one giant party. The switch-on star is really important.

"I didn't know until I started doing this role that people really want to know, and they want to know as quickly as possible, who's flicking that switch."

This year, tenor Alfie Boe is coming home to do the honours. He was born in Blackpool, raised just down the road in Fleetwood and is enchanted to be part of the biggest night in the town's calendar.

There will also be a special guest appearance from another local legend - Sooty, the glove puppet with the dark ears.

Gillian is very proud that the town can produce adorable puppets as well as Tony-winning singers.

She said: "Sooty was discovered on North Pier 70 years ago by Harry Corbett. He was staying in a B&B when he bought him.

"When he took him back and showed his wife, she said, 'He just looks like any other bear'. So she took some soot from the fireplace and put it on his ears to make them black and Sooty was born.

"He's coming to the switch-on with his current guardian, Richard Cadell. We've got a projection of him going on the Tower. He's a big star."

In previous years, the lights have been switched on by racehorse Red Rum and Muppets hero Kermit the Frog.

Barbara Windsor might have the Bow Bells chiming as her ring tone but she told Gillian all about her Blackpool connections when she was on switch-on duty. Gillian said: "She was evacuated here as a child, she took her very first dance class in Blackpool when she was 13."

The last weekend of August is now one long party. Last year, Will Smith played on the Promenade. This weekend, it's Britney Spears.

In the background, Gillian is the anxious hostess, hoping the rain stays off and the guests behave themselves.

She admitted: "The week before switch-on, I feel as if my hair's on fire. Things always crop up, I get a bit nervous. I want everything to be the best it possibly can, I want to see the crowds there enjoying themselves.

"You've got the celebration of 20,000 people in your hands. I need everyone to have a great time and think, 'Wow, I'll come back here again.' "It's really tense. My daughters know to avoid me because I'm really grumpy. Until those lights go on at 9.15pm, I can't quite relax."

Behind the shimmering lights, Blackpool has serious social problems - disintegrating housing stock and seasonal unemployment. So Gillian has to balance the stardust tourists' demands with the bread-and-butter services a council need to provide.

She said: "The Illuminations cost nearly PS2million to put on - but they are something that keeps people in jobs for an extra six weeks.

"By this time of year, a lot of seaside towns are ghost towns. Blackpool's not like that. We come alive. Our busiest week of the year is the October half-term.

"People who live here may not go to see the Illuminations but they do understand why we do it. People would be pretty foolish to say it didn't bring a massive benefit to Blackpool."

By this time of year, a lot of seaside towns are ghost towns. Blackpool's not like that GILLIAN CAMPBELL


SHIPSHAPE Tram fine show

CROWNING GLORY Town's bright display

IN THE SADDLE Gillian Campbell. Pic: Claire Walmsley-Griffiths

BRIGHT NIGHTS Blackpool Promenade during the Illuminations
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 31, 2018
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