Defrosting the ‘ice queen’ image of an entrepreneur

Children's charity ice show - Amanda is third from left
Children's charity ice show - Amanda is third from left
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Blackpool Pleasure Beach managing director Amanda Thompson is being so, well, nice I’m tempted to double back to double check the name on the office door. Is this the ice queen whose frosty persona projected onto our TV screens back in the ‘90s made women’s blood run cold ... and grown men weak at the knees?

The six-part fly on the wall series set at Blackpool Pleasure Beach did her few favours as Amanda’s first to admit.

For years she endured the fall out. “Strangers would shout abuse at me,” she recalls. “I came across as an utter bitch.”

She had no say in the editing, the final cut left to her father, the late Geoffrey (“WGT”) Thompson, to approve. “He thought it was funny. But he didn’t have to live with it,” she recalls.

Much of the real Amanda, Mands to her friends, was left on the cutting room floor. That said, this feisty, formidable woman doesn’t suffer fools gladly – and journalists even less so.

Reporters, she assures me, seldom crossed this threshold back in daddy’s day. “I think only the financial press got in here.” The partnership with Amanda’s brother, deputy MD Nick, works well, she says. “It’s great because as brother and sister if we have an argument it’s forgotten. At the end of the day we both want the best for the Pleasure Beach, and we want to hand it on to the next generation.

“The park is important not just in Blackpool but the industry itself. But it’s very tough. We have to constantly find how to drive numbers up in the town and here. I have managed to continue to invest in the business and in advertising and we keep money in Blackpool, we employ people from the town, keep business here, don’t take it down the motorway, keep families here and bring more back to town.

“One person in every 10 families has been to Blackpool or the Pleasure Beach but we have to get them back to see how the town has changed for the better. It’s not the same as some boiling hot foreign holiday but it’s different and darn good. People forget their good times started when they were younger and in Blackpool. They learned how to have fun on holiday here.”

Prior to her marriage once of the most sought-after single women in Britain, and on the Times Seriously Rich list to boot, Amanda has grown into a role which can’t have been an easy fit for her theatrical flair.

She still yearns for the blockbuster shows she introduced to Blackpool and beyond – via Stageworks International.

“To be honest I’d love to have many more shows here but unfortunately accountants don’t see shows as important as rides.

“ I think they are because they make people come here, stay longer and enjoy a different type of holiday.

“Live theatre is essential. Bean counters forget that.

“Theatre is challenging in difficult times and I’m the first to cut shows but we should have more. Back in 1998 I had 3000 people tipping onto the park at 9.30pm so the park stayed open later and Blackpool stayed open later.

“The move towards more shows in Blackpool this year –including Mamma Mia – is good because people don’t just want to go straight home after seeing a show, so it makes for a more vibrant town by night. We just have to manage the different groups in a positive way.

“I detested the 999 series on TV. Every town has problems with drink and prostitution and drugs but to show those problems in the way they were depicted here was irresponsible and damaging.”

It could be the late Geoffrey Thompson talking. Amanda’s a chip off the old block. She and Nick took over the business after a double tragedy, their father’s death followed days later by their grandmother’s, left the family bereft.

“Gran was heartbroken when daddy died. She had also lost a daughter, remember. Mary Louise died at 21, daddy’s older sister. I found some stuff upstairs today. A Poetry Society brooch with ML on the back so gran must have kept it. I keep trying to throw things away but there are nice memories there.

“I even found the old education list from 1982 that she was copied in on – gran was an amazing person. She was here every day.

“She couldn’t walk well but had all her faculties and remained a lady throughout and never lost her dignity which was lucky, remarkable and special.

“If you own a business you should take an interest in all departments and how people work together.

“You can’t be good at everything – I have no interest in accounts.

“We’re not in the situation of being able to buy the first new attraction any more as we don’t have the number of visitors coming through the gate as Blackpool doesn’t – but we can still try to be innovative. Between Nick and myself we have pretty much everything covered.

“You react very differently to decision making when you own a company, rather than come from the corporate world, because you care, it’s not just about finance or other factors.

“I am responsible for everyone who works here. That’s over 200 permanent staff, seasonal staff up to 1,800 at certain times.

“I have my little gang who I love and don’t want to move and take it to heart when they do.

“If you’re prepared to work hard and enjoy extraordinary situations quite regularly this is the perfect place to work. It certainly isn’t the same every day.

“If you want nine to five stability look elsewhere. If you want a challenge every day, as most face here, and are ready to accept it and go with it, the Pleasure Beach is the best place to work.”

Amanda’s earliest memories are of learning to skate for the annual children’s ice show. “Daddy did that too. We all did. Only Nick escaped. We never came here often as children. It was a treat. I was born in London. My parents lived there until, as daddy put it, we were summoned here. But he was made for it really.

“And the park taught me the work ethic early.

“When I was seven I wanted a pony and grandfather let me work on the pony ride.

“When the summer holidays ended my grandfather said, to the horror of my father, that I could choose a pony. I’d worked with them, looked after them, and chose my favourite.

“It made me understand the value of work.

“I’ve never objected to hard work. You get out of life what you put in.

“We train staff to high standards of customer service and try to make sure they are happy - if you treat people with respect they do the same to others.

“And if visitors choose to come here – particularly in tough times – they deserve the best time, and that goes for Blackpool all the way. Everyone thrives on visitors coming to town.

“We’re now seeing the first of the true Google generation leaving university, internet access all the way; it’s a challenge for me to understand how useful it can be, how reliant these kids are on it.

“I resisted an iPhone an awfully long time until my old phone broke - even I’m a bit hooked now although my print is so large everyone can see any message that comes in to me.

“I even tweet these days, chat away, answer questions, say inane things, use the word fabulous far too much!”

Does she regret not having children of her own?

“I wasn’t in the right relationship at the right time. I was with someone from 18 to 26 when we separated but I didn’t marry until I was 41 – in 2004.

“I concentrated on working. It wasn’t that I didn’t want children, I just didn’t need them as others did.

“I’m quite glad now because I’m selfish with my time.

“ I love my dogs but it’s easy to give someone a dog to look after rather than a child.

“When my sister’s kids came to stay when they were tiny.

“I never slept because I’d panic, checking on them all the time. I get texts from them today, usually when they want something, and I can spoil them, and not feel responsible for them, and if I tell them off and they run off to tell mummy, well, no nice present come the next birthday.

“But I’m responsible for an awful lot of other people...”