Just what makes a grown man, or woman, want to don the costume of a cuddly, larger than life, creature in order to promote an attraction, worthy cause or football club?
We’ll never know, because if there’s one thing mascots know how to do it’s how to keep mum as to their alter ego. They are like super heroes minus the super powers, the ability to dance, skip, clap, or frolic, featuring far higher than heroic must-haves such as x-ray vision, invisibility and flight.
Instead, they sign up for a life of selflessly giving joy without hope of public recognition – until the occasional grudge match with a rival mascot spills into the headlines.
It’s not unlike the Mafia’s code of Omerta, absolute silence, minus the bloodshed.
But, boy, will the fur fly later this month. For right now, boys and girls, the gloves are off. The Mascot Olympics are coming to Blackpool and the competitors, who mean business, are already limbering up.
Rival athletes in disciplines as exacting as egg and spoon, musical deckchairs, tennis ball tilt and obstacle course, are tipped to include Mr Bling and his significant other, Balula, of Sandcastle Waterpark, Shakey Shark from Sea Life, Bradley Beaver from the Pleasure Beach, Matcham Monkey from the Grand Theatre and Big Cat from Blackpool Council. Others may compete once they have cleared the rigorous pre-Olympian screening ... for e-additive overdose, performance enhancing substances (such as Bling’s favourite Blaster burgers, or Bradley Beaver’s oysters), or any funny business behind the scenes, such as attempting to devour the other contestants (Lenny the Lion from Blackpool Zoo and Shakey Shark take note).
The second Mascot Olympics takes place on Saturday, July 30, from 1pm-3pm. It is understood that Wenlock and Mandeville, official mascots for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, can’t make it.
Wenlock turned up for the opening of the Youth Games in Blackpool last month, and both post regular updates on Facebook and Twitter. Some of our local mascots, such as Big Cat, are equally adept social networkers, tweeting regularly, although at the last check Shakey Shark (I am a Shark, I enjoy a lark, I came from the sea, please visit me) last updated his status on Twitter in December 2009. It’s hard to type when you haven’t got opposable thumbs...
The costume characters have been spotted out and about on extensive training schedules in readiness for the big day, including jogging along Blackpool’s new Promenade, cycling on one of the Hire-a-Bike bicycles, and sit-ups in Stanley Park.
Natalie Wyatt, head of VisitBlackpool says: “This will definitely be animating St John’s! We are expecting busy crowds to cheer on their favourite costume characters, at what will be a toughly fought contest. It is planned for this to become an annual event, and attract characters from further afield in future years.”
The good news, for those of us carrying an Olympian torch for reigning champion Mr Bling, or his sworn furry foe Lenny the Lion, is there’s no tedious tendering process for tickets. You won’t end up stuck with synchronised swimming when you wanted the rowing, or watching curling, likened to competitive vacuum cleaning at extreme sports level, when you wanted to see diving. Above all, it’s free, although it might cost the mascots an arm or a leg, if the going gets tough. Lenny Lion is being trained for the rumble in the jungle by PlayBarn manager Gary Leighton, who has him doing laps of Lemur Wood, skipping in Wallaby Walkabout, and scaling the orang-utan climbing frames, while the residents go ape elsewhere. He’s also been spotted heavily disguised at Sandcastle Waterpark trying to get the lowdown on Bling’s preparations.
Gary says: “Lenny’s reputation as king of the jungle took a real blow last year at the inaugural Mascot Olympics, so he’s determined to rectify that this year!”
Bling’s up against his girlfriend Balula, in the Olympian sense.
Training includes swimming in the Shimmering Shallows, dodging the Super Soaker cannon, battling the rolling waves in the Typhoon Lagoon, getting steamy in the sauna, before a rub down with ice.
They also enforce a strict NO HUGGING ban until after the Olympics, to avoid sapping their strength.
Mr Bling is out to get even with Sharkey Shark. “He accused me of cheating last year, so I’m going all out to prove there was no monkey business then or now.”
Also keeping it clean are Pleasure Beach sweethearts Bradley and Bella Beaver, although hugs are very definitely on the cards, for their “strength enhancing” value, no doubt enhanced by regular treats at the park’s three oyster bars. Pleasure Beach PR Daniel Thompson says Bella’s overseeing training, which includes regular laps of the 42-acre park, and a daily climb up and down the steps of the 235ft Big One. “Make no mistake, Bradley takes it very seriously indeed.”