Geoff shines a light on 50 years as compere

Geoff Stevens.
Geoff Stevens.

Golden-voiced Geoff Stevens is celebrating 50 years as the compere of Matlock Bath Illuminations.

The man with the mike is continuing a proud tradition by announcing the parade of boats every weekend from September 9 until October 28.

More than two million visitors have heard Geoff’s commentary over the past half century during which he has introduced more than 400 boats.

But his involvement began by accident when the scheduled compere failed to turn up. He recalls: “Back in 1968 I was a member of the Matlock Young Conservative Group that won first prize for our decorated boat, a paddle steamer model called ‘Derwent Belle’.

“As a young man with no fear, aged just 24, I volunteered to step in at the last minute as compere. It’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of this unique event ever since.”

Geoff has witnessed many changes including the moving of the main arena from the old Promenade Gardens – scaled back during A6 road widening - to Derwent Gardens.

A new river bridge was opened in the gardens in 1969 and from 1970 the organising company asked a celebrity to perform the switch-on ceremony

each year.

Geoff introduced a host of stars to do the honours including Chris Tarrant, Keith Chegwin, Wendy Craig, Coronation Street’s Bernard Youens, who played Stan Ogden, and Julie Goodyear, who played Bet Lynch in the same soap, Crossroads star Noele Gordon, former Dr Who Jon Pertwee and one of his favourites – Roy Castle.

Said Geoff: “Adding to the long list of celebrities to star at the Illuminations – although we didn’t quite appreciate how massive they were about to become – are Take That, who played in 1991 just before they hit the big time.”

The 1983 season was hit by bad weather, with no fine Saturday nights, and with no funds to stage the 1984 event, the organising company was voluntarily wound up. Derbyshire Dales District Council took over the running of the event in 1984 and the “lights” went on to celebrate their centenary in 1997.

“t’s been a roller coaster ride and I’ve enjoyed almost every minute! The focus of the Illuminations has changed in recent years to concentrate more on the lighting of natural features in the river valley, rather than the big set pieces of the 70s and early 80s.

“I’m particularly delighted that the boat builders, who put so much into this event, continue to be centre stage and it’s truly amazing that we continue to attract around 100,000 visitors to Matlock Bath every year.”

The 2017 event is the 120th Illuminations and a fabulous fireworks finale will take place every Saturday night, while Sundays feature special family oriented themed nights, starting with a ‘Super Heroes’ event on September 10 when youngsters are encouraged to attend in fancy dress.

The unique parade of illuminated boats happens twice on Saturdays at 7.45pm and 9.15pm and at around 7.30pm on Sundays.

This year adults pay £5.50 on Saturdays and £4.50 on Sundays if they buy online in advance - that’s 50p cheaper than last year. Accompanied under 16s continue to be free, with concessions available for students and OAPs.

People who buy on the night will pay £7.50 on Saturdays and £6.50 on Sundays - £2 more expensive than the online prices. Tickets can be booked online at www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk/illuminations

Online bookers are fast-tracked into the Derwent Gardens - and the online incentive prices also applies to visitors who take the train to Matlock Bath during this year’s season.

The district council has acted on feedback from a customer survey conducted after last year’s eight-week spectacular by restricting numbers in Derwent Gardens to a maximum of 6,000 - down from 8,000 in previous years - to improve crowd movement and enjoyment for visitors.

Chairman of the District of the Derbyshire Dales Councillor Steve Flitter, who will push the button to bring the new season to life, said: “The Illuminations undoubtedly boost the local economy, attracting young and old alike from far and wide. As a district council our aim is to stage the event at no cost to Derbyshire Dales council tax payers and we are hoping for good weather and fabulous visitor numbers again in 2017.”

Park and Ride services operate from 6pm on Saturdays from Derbyshire County Council Offices car park to Matlock Bath station and from Cromford Meadows to Matlock Bath Pavilion.

Hourly trains to Matlock Bath from Derby and Nottingham operate Monday to Saturday and every two hours on Sundays - for more details go to www.eastmidlandstrains.co.uk/derwentvalleyline