All about the "wow"

A VICTORIAN themed tea room and new shuttle service for North Pier; new look Legends tribute show, extra amusements, free family shows for Central Pier; major new white knuckle ride with the "wow" factor for South Pier.

The coming season's investment is a vote of confidence by a company run at arm's length autonomy from reclusive millionaire Trevor Hemmings' Leisure Parcs empire.

Our three piers, and some amusement

arcades, are run by Six Piers and Crown Leisure, under Mr Hemmings' Cuerden Leisure Piers and Arcades arm.

Paul Fairclough, northern operations executive, says the company's reinvesting and reinventing to ensure all three piers are without peer. He won't disclose the

figure involved.

The new concession, a thrill ride, is the big attraction for the all-action pier: South. The project's under wraps until a midsummer launch but Paul adds: "It will have the wow factor."

He says the emphasis is on family fun, but all three have a distinct identity. South for thrill seekers, Central for families, and North Pier for heritage.

North Pier's the only one to levy a 50p toll, from 10am to 5pm, from Good Friday. It's long been redeemed against coffee or

ice creams but will grant up to 5.50 discounts on the new tea room,

theatre and other treats this year.

The tea room takes over the heritage gallery, alongside the theatre, with posters, pictures and artefacts, having pride of place in the midst of the new genteel cafe society.

Keen to promote family fun, Paul's

introducing vouchers-for-prizes at the pier

arcades, with the lowest voucher trading for a prize, and big money quad bikes also up for grabs.

"It makes it more of a family offer," says Paul, a family man himself. "We need the right mix. Ask 20 people what they want and you get 20 different answers. Heritage is great but needs to be tweaked with the times. Hence the tea room. We've done that at Eastbourne with great success."

North Pier Theatre hosts Billy Pearce's

family laughter show – and his new adult show, too.

Medium Colin Fry is back for Easter after success last season.

Joe Longthorne is back too.

Paul's shopping for talent. He's not a fan of reality telly. "Telly used to furnish the up and coming stars with real talent. Now we have to hunt for rising stars, who could command a good audience, but wouldn't fill a 3000 seater theatre. It's about building the pier's profile – and their's."

More seating, promotional screens, and other improvements have been made to the

theatre foyer. "It gets a lot of footfall, so we're making the most of it. Last we had up to 1000 for some shows."

The Merrie England's had a facelift too. And last year's golf buggy has been replaced by an eight seater shuttle along the pier – good news for ageing entertainers as well as audiences.

At Central, the Big Wheel's back for Easter, after its three yearly overhaul. From July, a free panto will feature in the refurbished Family bar, along with more interactive fun. Legends is back at Central with two new tributes, to Neil Diamond and Diana Ross. Arcades have increased floor space too.

And at South the

mystery ride awaits. Meantime, a

recruitment drive saw

hundreds, including drama students, apply for jobs last week. The company also has a defined management training


"Our ambition for Blackpool is to attract staff who are

ambitious," Paul concludes. "Ambitious people make things happen. Blackpool was built on ambition."

Kenny Mew, another star of the Hemmings

empire, agrees. He first saw Blackpool Tower as an eight year old, with his chef dad,

moving to Blackpool to buy a hotel.

Kenny started his first summer job at 16, in the kitchens of the Tower and now, at 30, is deputy general manager.

"We open for 52 weeks, and in the summer employ 250 people, some of whom have worked here for 25 years or more.

"I look after the Tower and the Lounge. The Lounge has been a success for more than 50 years now. People socialise and listen to live music, the bar takings are the bread and butter market but we run it as a family bar in the summer, Monday to Thursday, with family entertainment on and a children's entertainer hosts the room from noon to 5pm. That's been very successful for two years now. We're finalising the details for more family entertainment to come.

"My favourite is the Tower Circus, which restarts on March 27, when the whole Tower really comes to life, but we're still seeing a renaissance in ballroom dancing too.

"We may repeat reduced admission at some point; we know our product is worth a lot more than we charge, but we go with what people can afford.

"It's a building which gets under your skin. You love it or hate it. I personally think Leisure Parcs have done a lot for the Tower. First Leisure wanted Vegas here. Leisure Parcs wanted to keep the heritage but move forward with our attractions, too.

"In the midst of financial slump Leisure Parcs invested 3m on level five which opened up rooms shut for 20 years, improved the food offer, the family fun, and has been well received by visitors.

"But passing back to local ownership would enable Blackpool to apply for Government grants and restore the Tower to former glory.

"I think that would be brilliant."