X-Factor winner Ben Haenow put an extra sparkle into a dazzling Christmas lights switch-on in Blackpool as town’s across the Fylde got into the festive season.
Just around the corner from the Tower where the BBC’s ballroom blitz was being broadcast, thousands turned out in the winter chill to see Ben-mania rocking the resort.
Hundreds - mainly teenaged girls - had been waiting since well before the show’s 3pm start to secure a prime spot to view Britain’s latest pop idol. And even though he didn’t come on stage until just before 5.30, no-one seemed to feel the cold.
The switch-on bill read like a promotional ad for Simon Cowell’s two TV talent blockbusters, X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. And with Strictly Come Dancing going out live just down the road, the boast that Blackpool is the nation’s entertainment capital has never seemed more true.
“This is what Blackpool is all about,” said Eileen Ormand, manager of the town’s Business Improvement District (BID) which organised the switch-on extravaganza.
“Where else is putting on a night like this? Who else has managed to get Ben Haenow to switch on their Christmas lights? It’s absolutely brilliant.”
Bill-topper and chart-topper Ben admitted to being a touch overwhelmed by the resort’s reception a year on from winning X-Factor and following that with the Chrtistmas No 1.
“I had a quick peek at the crowd as I was coming in and it’s a fantastic turnout,” he told the Gazettte before going on stage.
“They seem rowdy enough and everyone seems to be in the festive spirit.
“I’ve done a couple of things like this, but this is my first time at Blackpool. It’s great.”
Ben’s first single Something I Need, performed in the X-Factor final last December, shot straight to number one over Christmas. But it has taken a full 11 months for the follow-up Second Hand Heart, a duet with American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, to be released.
Ben explained he had wanted to take his time with an album and a second single and didn’t want to be rushed.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be over in Los Angeles and a couple of other places just recording the album. It was an amazing experience.
“I could have come out with an album of covers like previous X-Factor winners have done, but it was important for me to write something original. But now I’m back here and we are going to be touring and doing loads of other stuff. So you should be seeing me in a town near you.”
Saturday evenings 12 months ago were a tense time for the former van driver from Croydon as he performed every week in the X-Factor live shows. So there was a word of sympathy for the current crop of finalists who, while he was on stage at Blackpool, would have been going through their preparations to appear on live TV.
“This time last year I was biting my nails and wondering what was going to happen and what the outcome of my life was going to be,” he said. “It’s been incredible, but I know what they are all going through.”
Ben opened his Blackpool set with last year’s No 1, but electrical gremlins got into the sound system as he was about to launch into his new single.
So he led the crowd in a rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer while engineers fixed the backing track.
Earlier the crowd had been royally entertained by a cast list which would have done justice to a prime time TV show.
MOBO and Brit Award winners Stooshe opened the show with four numbers including their hit Black Heart and a version of All I Want For Christmas Is You.
Fleetwood teenager Chloe Moyle got a rousing reception and revealed later she will soon be auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent. The 15-year-old singer/songwriter is a pupil at Cardinal Allen School, but is hoping to pursue a career in msuic.
“I’ve done quite a few charity events, but nothing as big as this,” she said. “The most I’ve played in front of before this was about 100. It was amazing.”
Unfortunately Paul Nicholas and the cast of the Opera House were unable to attend the event and so the organisers brought in a last minute stand-in, top Michael Jackson tribute act Navi. And the man who twice performed in front of Jacko - and got a standing ovation - didn’t disappoint with some of his greatest hits including Thriller.
There were terrific performances by swing group Jack Pack from Britain’s Got Talent, Lucy Spraggen of X-Factor and also the Neales, a father and three sons who reached the final of BGT this year.
After Ben Haenow, accompanied by Jack Pack and Miss Blackpool Jessica Bradder, threw the switch to turn on the Christmas lights, Eileen Ormand of BID said: “This has been our best yet. What a show.”
* Jack Pack and singer and keyboard player AJ Brown both made the short dash between Blackpool and Lytham to appear at both Christmas lights switch-on events.
The Lytham event, in Clifton Square, was hosted by BBC Radio Lancashire presenter Graham Liver and also featured 80s/90s singer Sonia who represented the United Kingdom in the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest.
Fleetwood made it a hat-trick of switch-ons on the same evening with a lantern parade to the Marine Gardens. St Wulstand’s and St Edmund’s Choir led the carol singing, followed by Christmas songs from Wyre Warblers.