BLACKPOOL’s own version of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has kicked off in spectacular style – with resort chiefs today boasting it will rake in more than £2m for the local economy.
The 10-day Showzam! festival of magic, circus and new variety is expected to draw 50,000 to the resort during the half-term school holidays.
Now in its sixth year, it launched on Friday with a variety of acts – including magicians, clowns, showgirls and acrobats – filling the Winter Gardens.
Natalie Wyatt, head of Marketing Blackpool, said: “Our hopes are it will exceed last year’s numbers of 50,000 visitors, it’s about growing awareness of the festival.
“At the moment the festival brings in just short of £2m but its about the extra spend in hotels, taxis, restaurants.
“Blackpool isn’t always synonymous with being cultural but it does have a culture of its own.
“There’s lots of free things to see and do, we want people to enjoy the experience.
“We want people to go away thinking ‘Wow, we didn’t know Blackpool had that’.”
Showzam! offers a range of performances over the half term holiday, with The Olympia in the Winter Gardens forming the main hub packed with arcades, acrobats on high ropes, a circus ring and magic shows on throughout the festival, which runs until February 24.
Blackpool’s first ever 3D street-art, involving a magic carpet in St John’s Square, will also be unveiled next week.
Speaking at a lavish opening ceremony yesterday, comedian turned actor Christopher Biggins, who will perform on February 22 at The White Tower restaurant at the Pleasure Beach, said: “It is wonderful to be in the home of variety.”
Business leaders said the festival creates a boost to trade out of the summer season.
Eileen Ormand, from Blackpool Improvement District, said: “Traditionally this half term is a quiet time of year for us. In the years since Showzam! was launched it’s made a big difference, bringing people from all over the country.
“I think anyone in the town centre will benefit as it’s not just one day, people will be eating and shopping all round the town centre.
“It’s different to anything else in the UK. We all want it grow.”
And Claire Smith, president of Stay Blackpool, said: “It’s a marvellous tool for bringing people in and getting them excited about entertainment in Blackpool.
“It’s good for hoteliers, but even if people don’t stay and they come for the day that’s helping the shops, restaurants and bars.
“We’re all going to benefit.
“The more we keep banging that drum I think at some point people will think ‘we’ve got to go to Blackpool’. It’s all happening in Blackpool.”
Doug Francis, director and ringmaster of the Invisible Circus, which is performing a show commissioned for Blackpool called The Last Waltz, in the Winter Gardens, said he hopes the festival will be a catalyst for arts in Blackpool.
He said: “I hope we’ll get a lot of people in, it’s always great when you get new audiences in.”
The appeal of playing in the entertainment capital of the North was the main draw for many of the performers, whether new to the resort or seasoned seaside performers.
Toby Park, joint artistic director and performer with Spymonkey, who has recently performed in Las Vegas, said: “It’s like Vegas here in that it’s a place to have fun.
“People have been coming here to have fun for a long time.
“It’s great to feel like we’re following in the footsteps of heroes of ours.”
And Mr Francis added: “I like the way a lot of the programme ties in with Blackpool’s history.
“It’s reminiscent of Blackpool’s golden era.
“It’s really exciting to come back to where it all began.”
n For more details visit www.showzam.co.uk