Tom towers high above the rest

Head of maintenance at Blackpool Tower, Tom Kellett, is retiring after 40 years.
Head of maintenance at Blackpool Tower, Tom Kellett, is retiring after 40 years.
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The day we meet could not contrast more with Tom Kellett’s unflappable character.

A foul wind is single-mindedly demanding passage through the town centre, making noisy protestations at Blackpool Tower’s defiant obstruction of its journey.

But while the gale rattles its way past the Tower’s sea view terrace, where we see the rough horseplay of crashing waves below, Tom’s innate calmness belittles the facetious capers of the elements outside.

It is a trait which has served Tom well throughout his 40 years of service at the resort’s most celebrated attraction - after all, maintaining a structure of such proportion is no easy task.

“Every week we used to have to do a test on the lifts, and what we’d have to do was transfer people from one lift to the other at about 203 feet,” Tom recalled.

“We had a tunnel and we opened a hatch on both lifts, then they’d throw a rope across and have to crawl through the lifts.”

Kate Shane, the Tower’s general manager, is sitting with us and looks aghast when I ask if the same practice is still carried out today.

“We did it so often that it became second nature,” added Tom.

Evidently having a head for heights formed an essential part of the job description which saw him take up the role of maintenance fitter there back in 1972.

So how did this happy marriage of man and Tower (Tom jokingly admits he’s spent more time with it than with his wife) come to pass in the first place?

“I was working for a different company and they were sending me to Northern Ireland, where all the bombs were going off.

“I didn’t much fancy that so I went to the Trades Club and asked if there were any jobs going in Blackpool.

“There was one going at Blackpool Tower and at the interview they asked me ‘Can you take a bit of stick lad?’

“I said ‘yeah, and I can also give it.”

Tom was in, but acceptance took time in the nepotistic world the Tower was in the seventies.

“I was one of the few that hadn’t worked on the Tower before, which was a bit strange because it was usually handed down from fathers to sons.

“Daughters, wives and cousins all used to work there.

“It was interesting and I wasn’t part of the clique for a while, but once you were in, you were fine.

“Well, I must’ve been fine because I’m still here.”

In the years in between Tom, now a spritely 69, worked his way up to head of maintenance, and has been fortunate to mingle with famous names includingo Princess Diana and the Queen,.

He even had the privilege of showing Her Majesty the top of the Tower when she visited on its centenary in 1994.

“She loved it and thought it was excellent, I didn’t get invited to tea though - that’s one for next year.”

Buckingham Palace beckons then, but Tom says his focus will now be closer to home in Levens Drive, Poulton, after spending the past four decades working among lions, elephants, parrots and circus performers.

He even spent a period of time living next door to clown Charlie Cairoli and his family.

So what is he looking forward to most about his retirement?

“I’m looking forward to spending more time with my five lovely grandchildren.

“I can tell I’m going to become the taxi driver for them and it’s great.”

And for Kate Shane, the man she describes as “my James Bond” will be a sad loss to all at the Tower.

She said: “I can’t replace Tom, there’s nobody who can bring what he brings.

“Tom’s leaving a legacy, it’s the end of the rat race element of it but he’ll still be here.”

A legacy it certainly is, but life with the Tower is not something Tom plans on giving up any time soon.

He said: “I was born in Poulton, I’ve lived in Thornton, Cleveleys, Blackpool and now I’m back in Poulton.

“I’ve always seen the Tower everywhere I’ve lived, if anybody’s misusing it I’ll know where it is.

“It’s getting to the stage where you can’t go on forever, but I’m going to come back as the Tower ghost and I’ll really torment anyone who doesn’t pull their socks up.”