David Hill marries for the final time tomorrow. Blackpool’s superintendent registrar will oversee the first ceremony to be conducted at the resort’s new £2.7m seafront complex – before plighting his own “off”, rather than troth, and retiring.
Sweethearts Kelly Goudie, an IT analyst, and Simon Garrick, offshore technician, of North Drive, Anchorsholme, have booked their place in Blackpool’s history by being the first to tie the knot at Festival House tomorrow at 3.30pm.
It is a “dream come true” for Kelly. It also marks David’s ceremonial swansong, a “fitting farewell”, as he puts it, to mark his last wedding with another first.
Punks getting hitched, Halloween ghouls who are fools for love, pigeon fanciers billing and cooing, an “Elvis” marrying “Marilyn Monroe”, the very first gay couples to be joined in civil partnership, or the most moving ceremonies, deathbed weddings at home, hospital or hospice, David has seen them all.
It’s 40 years since he started in local government life, initially in Manchester, moving into registration later, quickly finding his place at the heart of other people’s love stories.
He admits: “It was more of a conveyor belt then, in and out in no time. Today we allow an hour, whether you’re paying £43.50 for the small room, or the main room. In Manchester we used to get through 60 weddings between 9am and noon, particularly in the days when, if you married before the end of March, you got a tax rebate.”
Weddings, naming ceremonies, civil partnerships, marriage vow renewals, David’s overseen 350 a year, along with responsibilities for the registering of births and deaths (which will remain at the South King Street base) and citizenship ceremonies at the town hall.
He’s held the post of superintendent for 12 years. Dawn Haslam has been his number two for the last six years. Dawn takes over in February. “He’s going to be a tough act to follow,” she says. “David’s very good, witty, his ad libs are fantastic, he’s never lost for words.”
But neither have presided over ceremonials in a venue such as this. The outlandish Festival House, call it a chapel at your peril for these are civil ceremonies for those who don’t want, need, or can afford, a church wedding.
David, who was married in church, says he would have given his heart gladly here, had the venue been available.
“We were consulted every step of the way by the architect,” he adds. Architect Saskia Koopman is so enamoured of her creation, Festival House, that it will host her own wedding later this year.
David adds: “I think this building will prove iconic. Parking’s a drawback, with space for just one bridal car, but the car park at our old place wasn’t used that much, and the area was beginning to look rundown. We’ve got better transport links here and handy car parks too. Some asked why we didn’t move to Stanley Park. We’d have had to use council cash there. Here we gained from regeneration cash – and it’s multi-purpose.
“The sense of place and space is wonderful. Every room has a view. There’s even a rooftop balcony.
“This is bespoke for Blackpool. It blows Bournemouth’s licensed beach hut out of the water. It’s one of the best facilities in the country, certainly one of the most innovative. I think it will take a fair bit of trade from hotels – but also benefit them for receptions. And you can travel by tram – or carriage!”
Dawn, engaged to be married, admits she considered Festival House for her own big day. She adds: “But I work here and it would be too hard to separate the two. I wouldn’t feel off duty.”
Her office doubles as one of the three wedding rooms, chairs already placed, in front of her desk, and facing ceiling to floor mirrors. It’s like facing an invisible audience.
“I also have the best view in Blackpool,” she says, her window overlooking the Irish Sea. “The sunsets are spectacular. It’s very easy to daydream here. I think it’s fantastic.”
For all the bracing winds pounding those picture perfect windows with rain and sea salt, the horizon couldn’t look clearer.
Coming wedding law reforms could offer ceremonies 24/7 instead of 8am and 6pm as currently decreed – and offer the uniquely Blackpool backdrop of the Lights, which celebrate their 100th anniversary this year.