Amanda: We have an amazing story to tell
After my interview with Pleasure Beach boss Amanda Thompson, I feel like I have just stepped off one of the high-adrenaline rides the park is famous for.
The 90 minutes has sped by, my brain is buzzing from all the ideas she bounces across the table and at every turn in the conversation her enthusiasm for Blackpool brims forth.
From tales of how her forbears swapped designs for rides with Walt Disney to plans for the next multi-million pound investment at the attraction, it is a whirlwind insight into the success of one of the town’s tourism gems.
This year the Pleasure Beach marks its 120th anniversary, always in the ownership of the Thompson family, while the Hot Ice Show will celebrate its 80th production.
Amanda herself has been producing Hot Ice since 1991, but is as passionate as ever about the extravaganza that boasts former Olympic skaters from around the globe, flying in from as far away as Japan, Russia, Mexico and America.
She said: “It is the longest running ice show in the world, and this year will be particularly amazing because so many people want the skaters I have got.
“It is known to be hard and they have to be super fit, and the skaters say being in Hot Ice is as hard as training for the Olympics.
“It is like having a degree from Oxford, if you have skated in Hot Ice you are guaranteed a job in ice skating anywhere in the world.
“There is a cast of 31 people in the show and they are all hired because they are brilliant at what they do.
“They are always challenging themselves. I don’t have a problem if they fall because they are trying to do something more challenging.”
This year there will be eight shows at the Pleasure Beach, including the Evolution of Magic which sees magician Craig Christian return to Blackpool after performing in Miami.
“I think the Harry Potter influence has created a lot of new interest in magic and bought it all back again,” says Amanda.
“The Evolution of Magic is a really cool and laid back show. Craig Christian really wanted to come back to Blackpool and he said the Horseshoe here was the home of magic.
“Mystique had to close because of the smoking ban, but it was such a great show, sexy and fun, and it will definitely be back.” There is very much a global influence on everything that happens at the Pleasure Beach, and Amanda is on the board of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), as well as chairman of the IAAPA European, Middle East and Africa committee.
She said: “I am working with the heads of Disney, Universal Studios and Europa Park and Blackpool Pleasure Beach is very highly regarded in the international world because of our history and because we are family owned. It is a sort of one-off that something has been in one family for such a long time.
“It is not always easy because everyone has different values within a family, but everything has to be excellent quality and we have worked hard to make sure our audience believe the Pleasure Beach is great and different from everywhere else. We think about the rides we put in very carefully, and everything is done for the long term, and we want Blackpool Pleasure Beach to be the brand that other people want to work with. “Nickelodeon is a massive global brand and they chose Blackpool Pleasure Beach as a partner when they could have worked anywhere in the world.”
As well as Nickelodeon Land, recent additions have included the Wallace and Gromit Thrill-O-Matic ride and the Red Arrows Skyforce Ride - all proving big names want to be part of the attraction.
There was much criticism when a £5 entry charge was introduced to the park a few years ago, but this has created a safer, more family-friendly atmosphere which is why these organisations have been willing to come on board.
On the surface it means visitor figures appear to have dropped, but Amanda suggests more folk used the park as a “short cut” home in the pre-charging days, rather than a tourist destination.
Now there are formal admission gates meaning numbers can be properly counted which helps in managing the park better.
This year there is a focus on events - from a display by the Red Arrows on May 21, to ‘Summer Time Games’ and six nights of fireworks.
The attraction was also one of the first to embrace the Resort Pass, happy to link up with other key destinations in the town to give visitors more to do, at better value, and hopefully ensuring they stay overnight.
“I think it is a good value product and excellent for families and local people,” says Amanda.
“Hopefully it brings more business to the town. Everything we create here, we reinvest. We don’t take the money out of Blackpool, we keep it in the resort.
“And that’s part of our goal, that Blackpool remains top of the British resorts.
“It upsets me when I hear about people going to Brighton, but we do need to entice people with better restaurants and more boutiques. We need 75 amazing restaurants in town and then there will be something for everyone.
“I also think if we had a big conference centre, that would be great for the town. I would have preferred the airport to stay open, but it hasn’t, and they could develop an amazing conference centre on that site.”
Amanda’s own plans include a multi-million pound new ride, although details are still under wraps, which will launch in 2018. But she is prepared to spill the beans on her hopes of opening a museum at the Pleasure Beach one day.
“I want to turn Noah’s Ark into a heritage museum. We have such a lovely archive here, with designs of rides, photographs, pictures of the designs for the first ice show.
“It would also be great for schools and I would make it free for the people of Blackpool. We have an amazing story to tell.”
And it is a story which Amanda hopes will continue for many years to come, but one which she urges us all to be part of.
“Everybody who lives in Blackpool is an ambassador for the resort,” she believes.
And she adds: “We should all be proud and waving flags about Blackpool. We have a great beach, great sea and we can walk for miles up the Promenade. It takes a lot to change a town, it might not happen as quickly as we would like, but the more positive we can be, the more people will come here and keep coming back three or four times a year.”