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Pop Star Sophie Ellis Bextor Lights Up Blackpool Promenade

Matt Crisp August 31, 2023

The pop star Sophie Ellis Bextor switched on the Blackpool Illuminations for the 2023 season on Friday 1 September. Thousands of visitors travelled to the popular north west seaside resort by coach or car to witness the traditional switching on ceremony of the famous technicolour lights. 

Known as the greatest free light show on earth, the Blackpool Illuminations have been an annual event since 1879. They are switched on at the beginning of September every year and remain on display until 1 January. 

In the beginning the lights were of course nothing like today’s high-tech displays, but were simply a row of eight electric street lamps along the seafront. However, the majority of people had never seen electric lights before and the modest display drew an influx of admiring visitors. 

The more ambitious decorative lights appeared in 1912 to welcome the town’s first royal visitor Princess Louise, who opened the new promenade. The spectacle was a huge hit with visitors, but sadly the disruption of WWI put any further developments on hold for the next decade. However, the light show bounced back even bigger and better than before.

After another break of several years due to WWII, the Blackpool lights returned in the 1950s and have shone consistently every autumn since then, although there was a month’s delay during the pandemic lockdown in 2020. 

They are now a national tourist attraction, drawing about three million visitors every year to the six-mile long display from Starr Gate to Red Bank Road in Bispham. The opening show provides hours of free family entertainment, with the big switch-on occurring at around 9pm. The lights are then turned on at sunset each evening until early January.

Sophie Ellis Bextor, who is best known for her chart-topping hits Groovejet and Murder on the Dancefloor, told Lancs Live: “I’m so happy to be here. I remember coming here as a child and I can’t wait to see Blackpool all lit up.” The star performed on the Tower Festival Headland at the finale of the switch-on event. 

It is the first time that the switch-on event has been staged for four years due to Covid restrictions. 

In the past, many other high-profile stars have done the honours, including Robbie Williams, Dame Barbara Windsor, The Bee Gees, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Gary Barlow, and Shirley Bassey. 

Councillor Lynn Williams, Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “We were determined to bring the Switch-On moment back outside and for it to be accessible for all our families, residents and visitors.”

She added: “It has been a fantastic evening and a true celebration of our amazing illuminations. What a way to mark the end of the school holidays and to kick-start our autumn season.”

This year, the illuminations will feature specially commissioned installations from internationally renowned artists Dr Chila Kumari Singh Burman and Bruce Alfred.