Magical Mancini

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Queen of the Lights, queen of charity, queen of hearts, queen of Blackpool (as best friend Jeremy Beadle once dubbed her) – the death of Pat Mancini, MBE, has shocked and saddened the resort.

Pat, 72, the landlady’s landlady, ran one of Blackpool’s best known hotels, The Queens Hotel, on South Promenade (where she had previously worked as a barmaid), effectively revitalising the namesake Queendeans charity association – and winning a Variety Club award, to boot, too.

Today roses bloom in a tiny garden named in her honour at N-Vision, the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Blind Society of which she was executive chairman. It’s a living tribute to a vibrant woman.

Her hotel, put up for sale this year, when Pat announced her retirement, became home from home for countless holidaymakers.

It was the showbiz retreat for entertainers – a haven for anyone with a hard luck story fortunate enough to catch the big hearted hotelier’s eye.

It was Pat to whom Joe Longthorne turned at his all time low, before a bone marrow transplant ended the cycles of chronic lymphocytic lymphoma which, along with double pneumonia, almost finished him off.

The ill-fated star has recently recovered from injuries incurred in a car crash after his driver suffered a seizure.

Pat attended all the star’s opening nights, through good times as well as bad. Her absence last night, at the start of his summer season at the Grand Theatre, was particularly poignant.

Joe called her “magnificent, sexy and beautiful” and said she pulled him through when spirits, health and finance hit rock bottom. No-one else, apart from his “mam”, and his partner, cared for him “quite as tenderly”.

Petite, just 5ft tall, Pat was small but tough, soft-hearted but never a sucker. She couldn’t afford to be.

Pat once confided how, when she started out in the guesthouse business, with her adored late husband Rudi, and just £80 in the pot: “We just got on with it. We had to.”

Close to skint, Rudi a hard-up organist, and Pat, by her own admission, “making it up as I went along,” invested £1,250 in a seven bedded guesthouse on St Bede’s Avenue in South Shore in 1967. “Blackpool was busy in those days, “ she said. “Crowds used to walk over Waterloo Bridge from South Station.

“A family came to the door and said ‘we’re the Walfords and we always pay up front anyway’. I was really glad, because we hadn’t enough money to buy any food.”

The weekly rate was £8.50 for bed and full board. Pat put near overnight success down to ensuring each guest had two-and-a-half shillings spent on food, twice as much as rival landladies.

“I thought it false economy to not give value for money and, from that day, none of my guests have ever left the table hungry.”

Lessons stood Pat in good stead, business acumen unerring, unwilling to delegate almost to the very end when ill health began to get the better of her.

Having once been “bellowed at” by a guest who found dust on the top of a wardrobe – “I was mortified” – she was hands-on at each hotel acquired, each one bigger and better than the last.

It peaked with the Queens, which became a showbiz haven, and fundraising mecca.

“Blackpool was so good to me I wanted to give something back, she said.”

Joining forces with resident charity Queendeans, Pat became a formidable force, once even held in police cells to raise funds.

Ramesh Gandhi, director of fundraising at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, hailed her “Goddess of Wealth and Wealth Giver.”

In 2006, she was awarded the MBE, having raised £2m in 22 years.

She was also generous to the Lights fund.

On receiving news of her MBE, Pat revealed abiding grief at the death of Rudi, 78, in 1998, after celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

“I cried because there was no-one I could share my delight with. I went to see Rudi and my mum at their graves. They would have been so proud of me.”

We all are ... but may the last word go to Robin Duke, our entertainment editor: “Blackpool is poorer today. Everyone who knew Pat Mancini is poorer today. With her passing goes an irreplaceable part of the resort’s heart and soul, a character who did not suffer fools gladly, whose generosity knew few bounds, and a tireless worker whose heart of gold shone a light on thousands of lives.

“Loyal to her friends and devoted to the resort she had lived in since 1967, Pat was truly – in an age when the meaning of the world has been weakened – a legend. And her hospitality was legendary.

“She loved the business she was in, she loved the showbusiness friends she met and made along the way. But stars and staff were treated exactly the same, nobody got the better of her and she was as swift to chide as she was to bless.

“Her birthday parties seemed to roll round with alarming regularity – attracting family and friends from all over the country, her post- Illuminations hospitality was the stuff of dinner party conversations for years to come.

“She supported established talent and encouraged new – making one of her final public appearances to present the winner’s prize at her Q Factor talent show final just last month. I feel honoured to have been considered one of her friends and feel poorer today after losing her.”

jacqui.morley@ blackpoolgazette.co.uk