Laurence of Glamtasia

Pictures Martin Bostock'Laurence Llewelyn Bowen on a visit to Blackpool Illuminations' Lightworks to check his centenary design's progress.
Pictures Martin Bostock'Laurence Llewelyn Bowen on a visit to Blackpool Illuminations' Lightworks to check his centenary design's progress.
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It’s hard to look effortlessly cool when standing alongside a giant yellow smiling face from the Four Seasons tableau from the Blackpool Illuminations display.

Yet Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen rises to the challenge with aplomb.

Laurence’s languid “lounge lizard” look is an affectation, as he’s the first to admit.

He strikes a near-identical pose alongside the beloved bears of Bispham Cliffs, the little blighters who have graced the start (or end) of the Lights for decades.

But if you go on to the Cliffs this season you’re sure of a big surprise. The bears have been “Laurenced”, as Lightworks director Richard Ryan puts it. They are kitted out in contemporary colours. One even sports a Blackpool FC tangerine kit. Tango-ed by interior design timelord LLB.

It is probably the only contribution to the Illuminations centenary display of which he is prepared to speak. At this time. The rest is under wraps, wheeled into hiding the moment we arrive, hidden under covers in a distinctly Dorian Gray kind of way.

In the suite of offices above the hangar-like confines of the bespoke Lightworks depot, on Blackpool Business Park, blueprints are whisked away like Harry Potter Howlers – those letters which spontaneously implode.

I catch an alluring glimpse of a magnificent Jubilee heritage tram, lean in for a studiously casual second glance of the design and, it’s gone, faster than you can say Bombardier.

The same goes for the stylised whirls, twirls of colours, tantalising bits of Bowen-esque burlesque on bits of paper, boards and hoardings, all magicked away while the man himself creates an elaborate diversion.

It’s rather like arriving late at a peep show. But what we’ve missed in substance Laurence makes up for in style. The Turn, as he is dubbed by Lightworks director Richard Ryan, sports a rather roguish beard, which he deploys to great effect. “It now has its own agent,” he tells me. “Mrs Bowen also rather likes it.”

Blackpool’s a big hit with the family too, although the designer’s tan was never acquired locally, unless he strolled through the paintspray shop en-route to his meeting with the resort’s new-look support group, Friends of the Lights.

Joining this dandy of designers on a tour of the depot is the best fun a woman can have outside a Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen-designed bedroom. Seriously, that’s the sort of stuff he usually does. Bedding, curtains, as well as the big league interior/exterior designs, and all those TV series.

Instead we find him waxing lyrical over large resin “road safety” bears which, he admits, looked “rather menacing ... until I made them over.” They sat, rocking back and forth, on creaking swings, near his Glampire display. Even Laurence found them creepy. They are now back to big-eyed multi-coloured complicity in children’s fun and ready for residence opposite Harts Amusement Arcade at Bispham.

Richard and Laurence have worked together for five years since The Turn was first talked into becoming Blackpool Lights creative director for a pittance from public sector funds. They share a sense of whimsy tempered with practicality. The camaraderie shows in the quality of the “imagineering” – and the pair are already planning next year’s show.

We step gingerly past the torso of Basil Brush to look for Alice in Wonderland. Where the heck is Alice? In storm-damaged semi-retirement in Lights Limboland, rather than Wonderland.

Laurence declares: “She can be saved. And made much better. She was far too dull.”

He relishes the surreal surrounds but agrees it was more fun to park alongside Noddy and Big Ears in the car park of the old Rigby Road depot, a building which had running water where it shouldn’t.

Fixtures and features are now home and dry in a light bright sanitised base – but it still has that sense of seamless social history.

“Blackpool has charm and vivacity, and much of it is down to what happens here,” says Laurence, who talks of the “blue collared Babylonian masses” of old.

We Philistines accept it’s nicer than being likened to Sodom and Gomorrah. With that, we gatecrash the Friends of the Lights, like-minded businessmen and women united to raise funds for the Illuminations, in person, and via a growing social network.

Blackpool councillor (and accountant) Mark Smith backs a campaign which “comes from the community” rather than a council directive.

Charles Hart, of Harts Amusements, agrees: “The days have gone when you had paid your bills by the time the Lights started – now you need the Lights to pay the bills. They do it on a shoestring. Just one per cent on the business rate would make all the difference here – and guarantee the future.”

Hotelier Shirley Hunt, of Cranstone guesthouse on Alexandra Road, South Shore, agrees: “After meeting Mr Llewelyn-Bowen I am convinced the Lights will continue with his help for many more years. I can’t wait for his next design! But they need our help, too.”

Last word goes to Laurence: “Blackpool became disposable. Now it’s back. Nothing compares to eating chips on a wet night and showing children the Lights. It’s an almost mystic experience shared with parents, grandparents, great grandparents before, and to be passed on. The Friends are helping re-illuminate others.”