Kseniia Chepizhko from the Ukraine has a smile that could melt an iceberg.
Men who previously grumbled over joining their wives on a backstage pass at Blackpool Pleasure Beach have skidded to a halt in the dressing room she shares with other ice dancers.
Prior to that technical ice king David Bailey’s ice beast had been the major talking point for the men on the tour.
Something blokish to get steamed up about - the ultimate “boys toy” as David himself calls it.
The mighty ice mobile machine sweeps the ice and compacts the broken bits and ensures the surface is smooth and safe for the Hot Ice team about to set it alight. It seems a statement of the blindingly obvious but the ice has to kept ice cold. The edges of the rink are cut away each day with a sharp guillotine blade attached to the ice machine. The blade has to be replaced at least once a month.
David adds: “We wash the ice as well with a jet.”
Given the dancers trip the ice fantastic twice a day some days in the peak of the season the arena - or rink as the rest of us tend to call it - takes a battering.
Kseniia’s getting ready to warm up ahead of another gruelling day doing what she loves. “It is so exciting,” she admits. The young woman is one of the rising stars in Hot Ice ranks, one of managing director Amanda Thompson’s finds from Ukrainian figure skating championship ranks.
She is living the dream but it’s “hard work”. Hot Ice manager Joanne Conway, British champion for many years, knows that feeling all too well. She helps nurture the team of ice dancers and athletes.
“It’s a family,” she adds. “It’s amazing really. We have so many different nationalities here and it all comes together beautifully. People get on. They live to perform.
“I’d love more Blackpool people to see the show. I don’t think residents always appreciate what they are missing here. It is not just for visitors. We’re so lucky to have this opportunity here on our doorstep.”
Joanne’s indicative of the impeccable credentials of the skating team - many of them competitive and champion skaters.
She is the most successful female figure skater Britain has produced. She won her first international gold medal in 1984 in Vienna aged 13, competed in European and Olympic championships and featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest British sporting competitor.
She retired from competitive skating in 1992 and moved into broadcasting - and appeared in Hot Ice for Stageworks Worldwide Productions in 1996. The six times British figure skating champion says ice is a “great leveller”.
“We are all here because we’re passionate about it. And the Pleasure Beach has been passionate about it for decades. It is living heritage.”
Why all the background on the Pleasure Beach? This is the week when the annual round of Heritage Open Days begins in Blackpool, Fleetwood and Wyre and south Fylde. In Wyre, Margaret Daniels, chairman of Fleetwood Civic Society, is one of the team drumming up interest in access to 23 Wyre heritage sites. “Each year it gets busier and better,” she admits.
New to the list this year are the Beach Chalets, Cleveleys Masonic Hall, Marine Hall and the site of Fleetwood Rifle Range (on the Golf Links).
In Blackpool Heather Morrow, head of heritage for the council, and Kelly Walker, community heritage coordinator, can count on great support too. What started with a handful of heritage venues has extended to 23 and counting. Newcomers include All Hallow’s Church, Grundy Art Gallery and the Lightworks Illuminations base. There’s an excellent team in Fylde as well with five sites available.
The programme of open days right across the Fylde starts today and runs to Sunday and details of just what’s open where can be accessed on the specialist website www.heritageopendays.org.uk.
Booking is recommended - indeed it’s essential for some of the star attractions such as the Pleasure Beach tours over three of those days.
Programme co-ordinator Kelly adds: “We need to say a big thank you to all those who contribute. A huge amount of effort goes into coordinating this event and year on year it has increased in popularity with visitors attending from around the country.”
But the Pleasure Beach is an earlier bird than most. It already regularly runs tours - and there’s a good breakdown of locals and visitors for each.
Our tour includes some pupils of Blackpool skater made TV celebrity Katie Stainsby. The mother of one of the students admits: “It’s marvellous to see where Katie works. We come here often for my daughter’s lessons. Katie is a great teacher. She has really boosted her confidence.”
Some Friends of the Grand are along for the tour too - keen to see the impressive wardrobe amassed for the various shows available at the fun park and the seamstresses at work to keep them all in tip top order.
Diane Wilkins, one of the Matcham theatre’s friends, did the tour last year and loved it. She’s back with Jean Flint, a fellow FoG, Pamela Gornall and Grace Penfold, four ladies who regularly lunch together and are taking in the Pleasure Beach Grill as a special treat.
“It’s such a lovely insight into what makes the Pleasure Beach tick - and I think it would be lovely if more residents took up the chance,” says Diane.
But there are visitors from further afield such as Elena Spragg, with mum Vanessa, from the Midlands, bedazzled by the colours and sequins and feathers of the racks of costumes hanging in another usually off-limits area.
These tours, run in tandem by two of the top men at the Pleasure Beach empire, creative director Anthony Johns and company secretary and director David Cam, boast open access to areas visitors would seldom see.
On the first day of the annual programme of Heritage Open Day tours today, there’s a very special three hour long tour led by David of the park’s highlights. Even Morgan Thompson, fourth generation of the Thompson family clan at the Pleasure Beach, is on hand to assist. The tour wil be repeated on Friday from 10am to 1pm and from 9am to noon on Saturday.
Their own generosity of spirit - and time - make the tours a must-see in a park with plenty of white knuckle thrills and shows and other experiences. It is, as Elena puts it, “like stepping into Narnia.”
For Anthony Johns it’s “the chance to share the magic with everybody.”