Name Dropper, Chapter 9
I’m A Celebrity – Throw Me Out of Here
By Peter Wills……..
I’m A Celebrity – Throw Me Out of Here
(with apologies to ITV Studios)
I suppose it’s true to say, that over the past 50 years, mixing with all of the aforementioned celebrities has had its effect on me.
It’s not the excitement or even the opportunity of meeting so many of these people, interesting though it was, that has had a profound effect on me, but maybe some of this “celebrity magic dust” has landed on my shoulders in so much that, in certain circles, I have become somewhat of a celebrity myself.
Let me say from the outset, that this status was not particularly fought for or sought after.
As I said earlier in this book, ‘a photograph is worth a thousand words’, and if there was an opportunity to get my face in print or on television, or in front of an audience to get ‘my story’ – no matter what it was or who for – across to the public, then I was there. I presume that was the P.R. man in me, and I have been known to pull some quite ridiculous picture stunts to fuel the media’s imagination!
It would appear that this trait was with me even when I was only four years old!
We lived in tied cottages belonging to a big Wightwick Manor country estate in what was then countryside, just 5 miles outside Wolverhampton. It belonged to the Mander family, very famous from the 1820’s through to the 1960’s for Manders Paints and Varnishes.
(I believe the company name is continued today from headquarters in Northampton.)
At the time, my grandfather was head gardener and my grandmother, head housekeeper.
Adjacent to where we lived was a short-cut pathway from our lane through to the main road, which was constantly getting overgrown with weeds and brambles, making it difficult to get through. We referred to it as “The Gully” .Apparently, one day, I grabbed some gardening tools and set about clearing the debris. So keen was I to continue this “mammoth task” – a distance of probably only 200 yards but it seemed like a mile in those days – that my father made me a sign to stick up at the end of the gully, saying:
“Caution! Man at Work!
Even Sir Geoffry and Lady Rosalie Mander came to see what was going on and I’m sure that it was them (and his influence as Mayor of Wolverhampton at the time) that resulted in a picture being taken by the local evening paper, The Express and Star of me busy clearing the gully.
I seem to remember that I also got paid for doing the job. Half a Crown, 2/6d or 12 and a half p in modern money, but that was a fortune in 1947!
So even then, I was in the news!
I suppose my second piece of fame came when I was at senior school. I had, since junior school, always been quite a good footballer and held a regular place in junior and senior school teams and was eventually selected to play for Staffordshire Schoolboys, along with my friend Norman ‘Twink’ Ashe.
We had obviously been “spotted” by a talent scout at one game and so were invited to go for a trial for England Schoolboys. It was at the Aston Villa ground in Birmingham. It was unfortunate for me that both Twink and I played as right wingers or inside right and he was better than me. He got selected and I didn’t but not only did he go on to play for England Schoolboys, but got signed up as an apprentice for Villa and later played in their first team and was then transferred to Rotherham.
I did have my moment of glory as a footballer though.
When I was working in Sheerness in Kent, and obviously having boasted about my England trial, my workmates played a telephone prank on me by pretending to be the manager of Gillingham Football Club. They said they knew about me and that I was now living in the area and would I be interested in going for a trial.
Very excited, I arranged to travel by train the following week to go for my trial. As I was walking down the platform to catch the train, my so called friend and colleague came running up behind me and said there wasn’t a trial and that they were just pulling my leg. I didn’t believe him and said I was going anyway. Having arrived at Priestfield Stadium, Gillingham’s ground, I explained what had happened and they said well as you are here you might as well join the guys for training.
Well, I had the last laugh. I played for the second team the following Saturday, was on the subs bench for the first team the week after and played in the first team for the following two matches. I was then asked if I wanted to sign full papers and turned them down, saying I would rather be a journalist. Ce la vie!
* * * *
I had a rather strange claim to fame when I decided on a career change, short-lived I must say.
My journalistic career was not progressing in the way I envisaged so I thought I would go for the only other thing that interested me and that was the police force. I had a school friend who had joined straight from school and he ended up as a special guard to the Royal Family. So the prospects sounded quite glamorous!
However I was slightly underweight and slightly too small. There were strict height restrictions in those days and for the West Midland forces, you had to be a minimum of 5ft 8 & 3/4 inches. The recruiting sergeant said right, we’ll put you through some height and weight gaining exercises but in the meantime you can train to become one of our new force of traffic wardens. We’ll teach you traffic law and that’ll save time at police college once you’ve made the height and weight.
I became the youngest traffic warden in Britain and got national press coverage for the fact.
But, I hated the job, gained height but lost weight and never did become a policeman, although I did play for the Wolverhampton Police Football Team.
We had finished a promotional tour of the country, selling the delights of Blackpool to the masses and there was a party night to celebrate the occasion. A beauty contest was staged to find “Miss Blackpool Roadshow” amongst all the ladies that had been on tour and, as a spoof, the coach driver and myself came on stage as the final contestants, complete with swimming costumes, tights, high heels, long wigs and full make-up.
I am sure the judges had been bribed but to everyone’s delight, I was presented with the winner’s sash and crown.
That was one of my more dubious celebrity roles and I’ve been trying to live it down ever since!
* * * *
However, I am proud to lay claim to creating two other ‘firsts’ for Blackpool.
Blackpool has always been famous for its Illuminations and it draws in millions of extra visitors every year. Its festoons of lights, tableaux on the cliffs and its famous illuminated trams are a spectacle to behold but the display has to be regenerated every year in order to continue to capture the public’s interest.
New technology offers new opportunities and I came up with the idea of using lasers, already in great use in discos and at spectacular outdoor concerts. Initially the idea was considered to be ahead of its time and too different for Blackpool but I arranged for some specialist technicians to come and put on a small scale demonstration for the powers that be in the council and they were more than impressed.
Permission was given and that year, 1982, laser beams bounced off the tower and the piers and there was even the opportunity to generate extra income from advertising and personal messages to be lasered on to the façade of the John Lewis building, which faced onto the promenade. It was a tremendous success and I quickly became known locally, as the man who brought lasers to Blackpool.
However, in 2007, a new laser light situated on top of the tower was condemned by world famous astronomer Sir Patrick Moore for “wrecking the sky at night”, its beam being visible for over 30-miles across the county of Lancashire. “We can’t see the stars because of too much light pollution”, he said. But his plea to have it turned off fell on deaf ears at The Council.
* * * *
Blackpool Tower, standing 518 feet 9 inches (158.12 metres), was opened in 1894 and was modelled on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but differed in many ways, insofar as that it was not just a gargantuan edifice that one could admire and ascend to the top, but it had many attractions inside the building to amuse and entertain the populous.
Built at a cost of some £300,000, the owners needed to recuperate some of their investment as quickly as possible. “We must give them a reason to part with their brass” said the owners.
And they did just that, and the operators, The Blackpool Tower Company, made a profit of £30,000 just two years later.
Ninety years later, in 1984, the outward appearance of the Tower took on a new dimension, which had the crowds starring upwards in disbelief!
Peter Wills (yes that’s me) had been at it again!
Having watched a television programme that featured the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York and seeing a giant inflatable King Kong, I thought that whatever was good enough for the Empire State Building was good enough for Blackpool Tower.
My bosses thought I was mad but I eventually persuaded them to invest in shipping the monster over to Britain and he was duly erected half way up the steel structure of the Tower.
Unlike the King Kong films of 1933 or 1976, he was not accompanied by such delightful women as Fay Rae (1933) or Jessica Lange (1976), but in the movement of the breeze, he did appear to be inviting some intrepid female visitor to join him at his vantage point overlooking the sea. Nobody took up the offer!
Nevertheless, I had made a name for myself once again!
* * * *
With the advancement of years, retirement, and a slowing down of the grey matter, no longer am I capable of coming up with mad schemes to generate corporate or even self publicity, but that doesn’t mean that I have been absent from the limelight all of the time.
In fact, my swan-song, at the time of recording this semi-autobiography (November 2012) maybe just around the corner, with the release of the full-length feature film, “Code Name Venus”.
It was filmed in Northern Cyprus and tells the story of the conflicts between the EOKA Terrorist Movement, The British (who had control of Cyprus in the 1950’s) and the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot communities of the island.
Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2012 and put on cinema release in December 2012, I play the part of the British Chief of Police who was trying to establish some form of law and order on the island. But did he have an ulterior motive? You will have to watch the film to find out!
And so, my life on the celebrity fringes would appear to be at an end.
But life is a succession of events – we have to learn how to use them to our best advantage.
I think I’ve done that so now …
“Get Me out Of Here!”
but before you do, watch out for the final chapter next week when
“I am still a Celebrity”
With thanks to all the celebrities and personalities for their pure existence, without whom this book would not have been possible.
And with special thanks to all of those who took the time and trouble to act as ordinary people, happy to meet with ‘their public’ and discuss the facts of everyday life.
Also with sincere apologies to anyone I have left out. It’s either because I have forgotten you or the memory of you wasn’t worth recalling