To Shipley and Beyond - remembering the day Buzz Aldrin visited Derbyshire's American Adventure Theme Park

The former main entrance to the theme park
The former main entrance to the theme park

It's funny what you almost forget about, until something crops up to remind you.

Some 30 years ago I was working in the entertainments team at the now long-demolished American Adventure Theme Park in Shipley, located just to the south of Heanor, just to the north of Ilkeston.

Buzz Aldrin, right, with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins.

Buzz Aldrin, right, with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins.

I'd spent my first season driving a horse and cart in the park's showcase wild west show but when, the following season, they replaced it with some motorbike stunt rider, I was offered the role of Fred Bear - one of the two costume characters.

I would generally spend my days wandering around in the blistering summer heat, being picked on by unruly children - in the end they employed minders for us after a bunch of drunks threw Mickey the Moose in the lake and he almost drowned.

I wrote a feature about four years ago about my experiences, so I won't digress too far - but I did mention that I had been there the day that Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, had paid a visit.

And a call from BBC Radio Derby the other day, wanting me on air to talk about the visit, got the old mental cogs turning.

Some of the park entertainers, who were there on the day of Aldrin's visit

Some of the park entertainers, who were there on the day of Aldrin's visit

The place was rammed, as I recall.

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Back in 1989, Britain still had a vast American military presence, from the US air bases littered around the country - and with it being the Fourth of July, I assume the American Adventure seemed like the obvious family-day out.

Plus, there was a VERY special guest.

Buzz Aldrin, whose feet landed firmly on the surface of the moon just moments after Neil Armstrong left the capsule with his iconic "One small step for man . . ." speech, was paying a visit.

Aldrin pictured next to the American flag.

Aldrin pictured next to the American flag.

Back then, before his death in 2012, Armstrong took much of the limelight.

And as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the most special day in the history of space exploration, I'm sure that would remain the case if 'the first man' was still with us.

At the time I was quite theatrical - I aspired to be an actor - so I was probably more excited when Barbara Windsor paid a visit a few weeks later.

But now, 30 years on, I do feel very privileged to have been there that day - to have shared a space with the 'second man', surrounded by thousands of adoring fans.

Visitors enjoying The Missile ride.

Visitors enjoying The Missile ride.

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To us Brits, Aldrin is a person of interest, perhaps. To the Americans he's a national hero - someone deeply ingrained in the nation's recent history.

He is the American Dream personified.

So as I stood and watched him pass on the back of a small flatbed truck, as I recall, the cheers and the whoops from the crowds was incredible - a feeling of utter adoration that I have seldom witnessed since.

He was all smiles, throwing big theatrical waves and clutching at outstretched hands as he passed around the edge of the lake, past Silver City - where the cowboys shot each other four times a day - past the log flume, the hot dog stands and the rapids to the park's latest attraction.

The plan was that Aldrin was going to officially open The Missile - a huge upside-down rollercoaster over at the far edge of the park - and take the first official ride.

I'm sure, after Apollo 11, it was a walk in the park for him.

Although as the ride soon became more famed for conking out - usually mid-point where its passengers were left dangling upside down awaiting the fire brigade - he may have thought twice.

The American Adventure had a strange tradition as well. There was an area called Boot Hill, a mocked-up graveyard named after the cemeteries that often featured in the old cowboy films.

And every celebrity who visited the park got their own gravestone.

Buzz got one with his name and the date of his visit.

Babs got one as well, as I recall.

I wonder what happened to Aldrin's stone? No doubt on the scrapheap with the rest of the place.

Not as iconic as a piece of moon rock, but certainly worth preserving.