Let’s make some memories at the Pleasure Beach

Amanda Thompson managing director Blackpool pleasure beach.

Amanda Thompson managing director Blackpool pleasure beach.

5
Have your say

‘Blackpool is Reliable’.

Not exactly the sexiest of slogans and unlikely to be the sort of thing VisitBlackpool will be using any time soon.

But that’s what Amanda Thompson OBE, boss of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, is sat telling me.

We’re speaking in her office, a spacious wood-panelled room at the end of a mazy warren of corridors. ‘I’ll never find my way back out,’ I remark as we sit down.

‘That’s the idea’, she replies, slightly worryingly.

We have 10 minutes to chat, before she heads downstairs to the Pleasure Beach’s Globe Theatre, where she will tell 400 hoteliers about the venue’s plans for 2014.

Ten minutes with Thompson isn’t long. She talks a lot. I get about five questions in, and that’s only through interrupting. She has a lot to say.

I’ve read before that Thompson is a little like Margaret Thatcher. I can see why the comparisons. She is certainly not the type to be cowed or to back down easily.

She speaks her mind, she will snap back if she disagrees with what you’re saying.

But given this is a women who is fiercely proud of the Pleasure Beach and who is trying her damndest to improve the whole of the resort and make life better for everyone, then that is a good thing.

In a town like this, where getting things done and making improvements is hard work, with lots of obstacles in the way, it needs a strong personality to make it happen.

So back to Thompson’s comment about Blackpool being reliable.

It seems a strange remark given the fluctuating fortunes of the resort, and the struggles it has had in recent years – struggles the Pleasure Beach has not been exempt from.

But this is what Thompson means.

“Whether you came here at two, 22 or whatever age you visited in the past, you have a memory of the place,” she says, leaning forward in her red leather chair. “These days everybody wants to do something different with their leisure time – but everybody also wants to come back to something they know and can rely on.

“Blackpool is reliable. So what we have to do is get those people back here, so they can create another memory and a good one.”

That task of getting people back depends on them actually wanting to come back.

The town has been trying for years to work out a way to do that, to create a better environment and to attract holiday-makers, while making it a good place for locals too.

It’s no surprise Thompson wants a better Blackpool. She’s bound to – she has a business here, a business she wants to be profitable.

But you get the feeling Thompson – the fourth generation of her family to run the Pleasure Beach (her great-grandfather bought the land on the seafront and opened the park in 1896) – genuinely cares for the town as a whole.

She says the only way for the resort to move forward is for everyone to stick together,

“I have been shouting about this for years, and now we have started to do it,” the 51-year-old said.

“We’ve got the Resort Pass, which means you can go to all the great attractions on one pass.

“Now 10 years ago that would never have happened, never in a million years would that have been possible.

“Why? Because no one wanted to work together or do anything together because they all thought their own business was more important than somebody else’s.

“I think by working together we realised the value that everybody’s business is important to making Blackpool great.”

There is one slight problem for this indomitable lady – Blackpool isn’t striding towards that greatness quickly enough.

“I like everything done now,” she says, laughing at her own impatience. “I don’t like waiting. I want Blackpool to be shiny, sparkly and brand new tomorrow.

“But I can see magnificent changes. When you drive down the Promenade, south to north, and you look left, you see a fantastic view. When you look right it is not quite so amazing.

“So we just have to make sure the right bit becomes amazing as well.

“We are moving. It is just not at 90mph.”

And you’re a 90mph kind of girl, I venture?

“Yes. Or 70, let’s keep within the speed limit,” she responds. “I don’t like things moving slowly because I think people that come to Blackpool want to see change all the time.

“Unfortunately it isn’t always possible to do that, especially when there are a lot of old properties here and people haven’t had the funding and haven’t had money available to them.

“Really when you think of the last 20 years there hasn’t been too much development within the resort. It’s been spent along the seafront, with the trams and the Promenade and all that.

“That’s a great start, because that’s what Blackpool is all about – it’s a resort. But more needs doing.”

It is often said the Pleasure Beach is a barometer of the 
resort and despite it continuing to be the place where every tourist seems to head, even this giant of the Blackpool tourism scene hasn’t always made money in recent years.

But, Thompson says with pride, it has always continued to invest and striven to improve.

“We have changeable times but we’ve never not invested. Over the years there has never been a lull,” she said.

“You can’t turn around and say the Pleasure Beach hasn’t changed a little bit every year, since it was first created... and truthfully that’s where I think people have gone wrong in the past in Blackpool.

“Perhaps not everybody has changed their business a little bit every year.

“For too many years there hasn’t been something different for people to come back to, so it is everybody’s responsibility in this town to make sure Blackpool is a little bit different and a little bit better every time a visitor returns.”

This year sees a freeze on gate prices from 2013 rates. Also introduced is new, lower, online pricing for off-peak visitors, meaning wrist bands for whole days out at the Pleasure Beach start from £15.99.

There is also free Pleasure Beach entry for anyone who books a ticket to see Mamma Mia, in a link up with Winter Gardens.

Together with the return of Hot Ice and shows like Michael Jordan’s High Jinx and Ken Webster’s Hypnotist, the park will be investing £1.5m in advertising across the UK, on billboards, digital adverting, and TV.

Two new TV ads, one for families and one for thrill-seekers, will be aired throughout the season.

On July 19, the park will be open until 10pm with guest DJs for
 a ‘Pleasure Beach Rocks’ 
event.

In October half-term there will be a Vampire weekend and on November 8 rides will run until midnight to finish the season.

Of course, I would be failing in my duty as a Gazette reporter to leave the park without getting chance to ask the annual question... ‘when’s the next big ride coming?’

“Of course, it will happen again,” Thompson says, “we are 

always planning and always building big new rides.

“Look back over the last 10 years – we’ve put Infusion in, Bling, built the whole of Nickelodeon Land… it all takes an awful lot of money.

“To build a rollercoaster takes between 15 and 20 million pounds.

“We are a privately funded company. But we are certainly not scrimping. We are constantly improving.”

Is there another one coming then? I ask.

“Of course,” she says.

Can you tell me what it is?

“No”.

And with that the Queen of the Pleasure Beach is picking up her phone to make a call and I’m whisked away.

She doesn’t say goodbye. Then again, she probably hasn’t the time.

This is a woman on a mission, a mission she is determined to complete.

And if she does, it’s likely the whole of Blackpool will 
benefit.