The face of Poppython steps down after 25 years

Veterans Tea Dance at Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Ian Coleman (Blackpool Royal British Legion president) and his wife Mavis ready with the tea!
Veterans Tea Dance at Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Ian Coleman (Blackpool Royal British Legion president) and his wife Mavis ready with the tea!
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A chat about the life and times of Royal British Legion stalwart Ian Coleman uncovers some interesting facts.

Like his long-standing link with the family of Hollywood heart-throb George Clooney.

But here on the Fylde coast, 74-year-old Ian is a star in his own right - as the larger-than-life president of the Blackpool branch of the legion.

Last Sunday though he stepped down from that role after 25 years.

His most famous achievement has been as the founder and organiser of the Poppython, the annual day long fundraiser for the Poppy Appeal held at the Royal British Legion Club on King Street.

The Poppython will be 25 years old next year, and so far has raised £130,000 - the most money of any Remembrance Day event outside the actual sale of poppies.

But there are many highlights to recall - from setting down the foundations for Blackpool’s Veterans Week celebrations to campaigning for tougher sanctions against people who vandalise war memorials.

Ian has been on the committee of the Royal British Legion for 33 years.

He said: “There have been lots of highlights over the years.

“Prior to the Gulf War when I was visiting Washington D.C. I took with me letters from a few Blackpool ex-service associations which were then passed onto President Bush senior by a congressman friend of mine.

“At the beginning of the Gulf War, our club raised a lot of money for injured service personnel and this was before the military had organised an official fund.

“Over the years we have also had a number of ministers including the then defence secretary Malcolm Rifkind visit our club.”

Ian also played a key role in helping organise commemorations alongside others such as the late Jim Houldsworth, to mark the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in 1994 and the 50th anniversary of VE and VJ Day in 1995.

He added: “These events paved the way for the Veterans Week which is now a mainstay of Blackpool’s annual calendar and continues to be a success.

“Looking after the war memorial is very important and here in Blackpool we ran a petition protesting against vandalism and metal theft at war memorials.

“We handed a petition into Downing Street calling for tougher sanctions, and it was mentioned at Prime Minister’s Question Time, and eventually action was taken.”

Ian intends to remain involved in the Poppython whose 2007 fundraising included the sale of a photograph signed by George Clooney.

He said: “The Poppython will mark its 25th anniversary next year and has raised more than £130,000 since it started.

“We keep winning the national trophy for the most money raised outside of actual poppy sales which is great.

“We have had great support from the entertainment world, with contributions from several great American stars including my friends Rosemary Clooney, and her brother Nick whose son is George Clooney.”

The connection between the Colemans and the Clooneys developed after Ian’s wife Mavis began writing to George Clooney’s famous film star aunt Rosemary Clooney in the 1950s.

The pair met in 1961 and remained good friends, often visiting Rosemary at her home in the USA up until her death in 2002.

But not even a friendship with acting royalty can overshadow the devotion Ian feels for the Royal British Legion and its important work supporting servicemen and women and their families.

He said: “The honour which I have been given to be the president is etched in my heart and soul. To say I am proud to reach this momentous achievement would be an understatement.”

Michael Turner, Royal British Legion County Chairman for Lancashire, attended a special presentation ceremony for Ian.

He said: “Ian has raised an awful lot of money from the Poppython which he started and we hope that will continue.

“All credit must be given to him for the hard work he has done on behalf of the British Legion here in Blackpool.”