LIGHTS 2016: Dame Barbara revels in big Switch-On
Cheered on by the huge crowd, the 79-year-old lit up the Golden Mile on Blackpool’s annual party night — described as the biggest ever.
Seconds earlier the actress, best known for her role as fiery Peggy Mitchell in Eastenders, wiggled her bum as she told the thousands of onlookers to ‘get out of my bleeding pub’ to huge cheers, and joked about her slight stature.
The queen of soap also told of her love for the resort, where she was evacuated during the Second World War and first fell in love with performing.
She said: “Blackpool means so much to me because when I was six years old I got evacuated.
“I’m from the East End and we got bombed out and I had no home. My mum put me on a train and I came to Blackpool.
“I was evacuated to some wonderful people called the Norths. Florence and Ernest North.”
“They wrote to my mum and said, ‘Can we send Barbara to dancing school because she gets up to mischief?’
“What happened was, I went to that school, I got a little certificate and I came back with a note that said, ‘She’s a born show off, let her carry on.’
“I did and I’ve been carrying on and carrying on since.
“What I’m saying is, ladies and gentlemen, is that it’s all because of Blackpool.”
Despite earlier sporadic showers, the weather cleared as the crowd partied hard to a line up packed full of family entertainment.
Some 20,000 wristbands were handed out ahead of the event, and the crowd was sizeable, making last night’s Switch-On easily one of the biggest in recent years.
After excited visitors raced to the front of the stage as the doors opened at 4pm, a host of local musical talent performed, including 15-year-old Verity Kinnon, Axi Wild, and Blackpool’s own Stacey McClean, formerly of S Club 8.
It was then Ashley Banjo, talented choreographer of Britain’s Got Talent’s winning dance troupe Diversity took over, introducing Club MTV DJs R3wire and Varski, alongside Fatman Scoop, most famous for his 2003 hit Be Faithful and his appearance on last year’s Celebrity Big Brother.
At around 7.40pm, popular group The Vamps took to the stage to huge cheers, a year after last performing at the Switch-On.
They were followed by another set by R3wire and Varski, and then former X Factor contestant Fleur East, back in Britain after taking America by storm earlier this year.
Diversity then wowed the crowd with several typically acrobatic numbers, before the queen of soap took to the stage and kick-started another dazzling season of Illuminations.
Speaking to The Gazette back-stage, she admitted to feeling ‘very nervous’, and said flicking the famous switch had long been an ambition of hers.
“I’m a Leo and I like things to be done right,” she said.
“I just love Blackpool with a passion. It started my life. I get very emotional when I’m here.”
And in contrast to some previous Switch-On stars, Dame Barbara’s visit to Blackpool was not a fleeting one.
This morning, she enjoyed a trip to Madame Tussauds on the Prom, where she met her waxwork and chatted with staff.
“It was London but when I went there for a public appearance they said it was in Blackpool,” she said.
“So I brought them a dress that I wear now so we have modernised it, and we took a picture with it.
“I thought, ‘Don’t I look good!’ I always thought they got the hair right.”
Moments before pulling the iconic switch down, slightly later than planned, Dame Barbara was presented with flowers by children from Norbreck Primary School, where she learned how to dance during her spell in Blackpool.
And after she left the stage, chart-topping artist DJ Fresh performed some of his hits, including Hot Right Now featuring Rita Ora, before the night drew to a close, with the crowds piling onto the Promenade to head home.