Walking into the Winter Gardens at the moment is like wandering into a parallel universe.
There are magicians making people float, a bloke in a big top hat pointing at the skeleton of a mermaid found on a Pacifiic Island in the 1860s, and women in tight black catsuits tightrope walking overhead.
For a second I wondered whether someone had spiked my breakfast cereal with an illegal drug but there was no need to worry – this, folks, is Showzam.
Put simply it is 10 days of magic, circus and variety shows taking place at venues throughout the town, including the Grand Theatre, the Pleasure Beach, the Tower Circus, Sands Venue and Winter Gardens.
It is a great idea, Blackpool at its best.
“There is nothing else really like this in the UK,” beamed Coun Graham Cain, the resort’s tourism cabinet member.
“When it’s February and it’s cold and wet and windy outside, we are proud to be staging a festival that is going to cheer everyone up.”
The message to the people of the town is go and support it, for this is for locals as much as for tourists.
Now in its seventh year, the festival costs around £150,000 (the Art Council provided a £99,000 grant this year to make sure it went ahead) and features a string of shows, from Sooty to The Underwater Bubble Show, a 1950s themed Carnival Ball to Romany Diva of Magic.
There is also street theatre (though they might have to wait till the weather calms down a bit first – these winds might make juggling a tad tricky), loads of workshops and several tours of Blackpool’s most famous venues.
Best of all most of it is free, including the Olympia in the Winter Gardens, which has been transformed into Showzam Central and is a great starting point for anyone wondering what on earth the whole thing is about.
That’s where I and lots of other invited guests went for the launch yesterday. The rest of the invited guests merely listened and kept their dignity. I, meanwhile, somehow got roped in – quite literally – to test out the harness.
This involved being heaved 25 feet into the air. When the professionals are up there they do all sorts of tricks. I simply concentrated on not crying.
It was good fun (apart from when the harness unexpectedly and rather sharply tightened around my nether regions), and a flavour of the kind of thing the 25,000 people estimated to flock to this year’s festival are likely to see.
John Swift, one of the performers, spent the launch wandering around on giant stilts.
It made him quite tough to interview – I could barely hear what he was saying – but did manage to discover the 19-year-old learned his trade when Blackpool Circus School came into Highfield Humanities College to hold workshops.
“I went to my first one when I was in Year 7 and I’ve been doing it ever since,” said John.
“When I’m on these stilts I am 10 feet tall. Fortunately I’m not scared of heights, so it’s not too bad. Have I had any accidents? No, at least not so far...”
Over on the other side of the Olympia, Ali Williams sat directing her tightrope walkers what to do.
She set up No Fit State Circus 28 years ago. They will be doing free shows in the Winter Gardens each day of the festival.
“I’ve had more accidents that I care to mention – falling off highwires, twisting ankles doing acrobatics, that kind of thing. Now I’m a producer – it’s a lot safer and I can just tell others what to do,” she said.
“I do this basically because it’s a lot more fun than working in a bank and these next 10 days in Blackpool are going to be great.
“As a performer it’s great to see festivals like this happening and full credit to the people behind it.”
For chief organiser Chris Pope, from Visit Blackpool, it is the culmination of a lot of hard graft.
“We start planning for this 18 months in advance, so we are already planning for the next one even though this year’s is yet to start,” he said.
“The great thing about Showzam is that people can experience the arts for free.
“We are putting on loads of workshops in the Pleasure Beach and various places in the town centre. The Olympia will be open from 10 in the morning till five at night and my message to the people of Blackpool is come and have a look at what’s going on”
The 10-day festival begins tomorrow. For a full list of events head to the official website www.showzam.co.uk or call (01253) 478222.
What’s going on... a pick of just some of the events
Carnival Ball, Saturday, 7.30pm - Blackpool Tower Ballroom
Step back to the golden age of rock n’ roll for an evening of entertainment hosted by American-born stand-up Amy Lame, with music from the UK’s number one jive and swing band The Jive Aces.
The Sooty Show, Monday/Tuesday, 4pm - Opera House, Winter Gardens
Sooty comes back to the place where he was born more than half a century ago, joined as usual by Soo, Sweep and the gang.
Tickets adults £9.99, under 14s £6.99
Underwater Bubble Show, February 15-23, 2.30pm - The Blackpool Tower Circus
A circus show that blends bubbles with dance, juggling and aerobics.
Tickets adults £10, children aged 3-14 £8, toddlers £6
The Sugar Dandies’, Tea Party, Sunday, 2pm - Winter Gardens Spanish Hall
Britain’s Got Talent favourites serve up a 21st century twist on an old fashioned tea dance.
Romany Diva of Magic, February 16-22, 7.30pm - Sands Venue
Colourful magic from one of Britain’s top female entertainers.
Tickets adults £15, children under 14 £8
SingaLong Grease, Saturday, 7.30pm - Grand Theatre
An interactive version of the hit film, with the audience encouraged to dress up and join in the action.
Tickets £16.50, concessions £14.50
Michael Jordan’s High Jinx Magic Showzam Special, February 21, 22, 23, 7.45pm - The Horseshoe, Blackpool Pleasure Beach
A family variety show sure to have everyone on their edge of their seats from one of the resort’s most popular young magicians.
Tickets adults £10, concessions £8.50