Interview: Geoff Stevens, the voice of the Illuminations

Geoff Stevens, 72, has compered the Illuminations for almost 50 years
Geoff Stevens, 72, has compered the Illuminations for almost 50 years

The spotlight falls on Matlock Bath’s Illuminations this week, as we speak to the festival’s long-time host, compere Geoff Stevens MBE, about his life with the lights for the past 50 years.

He’s been dubbed the Voice of Matlock Bath Illuminations, and his warm sawdust sound has been synonymous with the autumn festival for almost 50 years.

Pictured with Crossroads's Noele Gordon.

Pictured with Crossroads's Noele Gordon.

Geoff Stevens MBE joined the illuminations half a century ago. It was initially with a boat of his own, having entered the competition with a group of friends to do a model of Pinky & Perky in 1966.

And it was in 1968 that his team won the competition with the ‘Derwent Bell’ Mississippi steamboat and he was asked to announce the rest of the season’s displays.

The 72-year-old grandfather remembers: “It was when we had to move from the north end of the village, the set-up changed so the bandstand was behind the crowds in Derwent Gardens.

“The compere at the time couldnt get his head around people not facing him while he was speaking, so they needed someone to take over.

Geoff (far right) and his team won the competition in 1968 with their 'Derwent Bell' steamboat

Geoff (far right) and his team won the competition in 1968 with their 'Derwent Bell' steamboat

“The following week I got a letter saying they were so pleased, could I do it for the following year, so I said yes, of course, I could do one more year of course, and here we are 48 years later.”

And as you may have noticed, with so many familiar faces and stalwarts who have been involved for decades, the illuminations is tough habit to give up.

“It’s one of those things, once you get involved with it. Some of the chaps have been doing it for decades. David Gregory (this year with Thunderbird Four), has been doing it for 45 years. It’s something rather special, it’s absolutely unique and you get a bit hooked on it.”

A former councillor on Matlock Town and Derbyshire Dales councils, Geoff grew up in the area and lived all his life in Matlock. His services to the community led to him receiving an MBE in 2012.

“I always found politics enjoyable,” says Geoff. “I’m a people person, I love being involved with people and with my council work I tried to help as may as I could, and now I hope to entertain as many as I can.”

Alongside his wife, Jackie, he ran Geoff Stevens Ladies and Menswear in Matlock for 32 years, right up until the couple retired in 2012.

No, it was 2011...

“Jackie,” Geoff turns to call his wife in the other room. “What year was it we retired?

“She’s the one with the memory, she’s like a walking encyclopedia,” says Geoff.

Jackie has also played a major part in the running of the event for years, handling the ‘music and backstage bits’ says Geoff, who writes the script for the display himself.

“She acts as my backup on this - she’s the one in the background making sure everything is timed correctly. It’s all about timing – You have the boats at 7.45pm, fireworks at nine... the compering is only 25 minutes so it has to be sharp.

“I need her because she’s probably my biggest critic.

“I was rehearsing my piece the other day and she was saying ‘you’ve got to speed up on that bit or you’ll run out of music’.”

And he promises to stick with it as long as he’s able, largely because it’s just such an honour.

“I certainly want to be there for my 50th year so I want to notch that one up,

“It’s great that it still has a special place in Matlock Bath. People pop up to me and they say I was brought up here as a child and now I’m here with my grandchidren. So if my voice contributes to people enjoying it and understanding what all the models are about and the history of the event, that’s lovely.”