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Blackpool Illuminations

The history of Blackpool Illuminations

Image: Billy Stock /

The Blackpool Illuminations attract millions of visitors each year as people from around the UK and the world seek a chance to enjoy a true spectacle of light. In the colder months, people descend on the seaside town for a truly magical night out. Let’s look in more depth at this year’s event and the history behind Blackpool’s famous lights.

When do Blackpool Illuminations start?

The date varies slightly from year to year but in 2023, the Blackpool Illuminations will be turned on on Friday, 1st September. There is often an accompanying concert at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom and of course, a local celebrity is brought along to press the button that turns on the lights.

What are the dates of the Blackpool Illuminations for 2023?

As the attraction is so popular, organisers keep extending the time to allow even more people to attend. This year you can visit between 1st September 2023 and 1st January 2024 for your chance to enjoy the illuminated stretch of road and marvel at the many twinkling lights.

Which famous people have switched on the Blackpool Illuminations?

Turning on the lights at Blackpool is a big deal and for nearly 100 years the organisers have brought in someone special to press the switch and kick off the celebration of light. The ceremony began in 1934, with Lord Derby being the first person to ever switch the lights on. Over the years a wealth of well-known locals, dignitaries and celebrities have carried out the special task.

From film stars like Jayne Mansfield to sports stars like Frank Bruno, people from all walks of life have been drafted in to flick the all-important switch. In recent years things had been slightly hampered by the Coronavirus pandemic but in 2020 heroes who’d done their bit during the pandemic were given the important job.

In 2021, head judge from Strictly Come Dancing and Blackpool regular Shirley Ballas took on the task. Last year, we were promised Johnny Vegas but when he had to pull out, well-known interior designer, TV personality and former curator for the illuminations Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen stepped in. As for 2023, we don’t yet know who is switching on the lights, it’s a big secret.

The history of Blackpool Illuminations

The first Illuminations were put in place in Blackpool in 1879. The council dedicated £5,000 to experiment with the idea of electric street lighting and their first lights were 60ft arc lamps along the seafront. In a time when people were still living by candlelight, the lights were seen as quite magical and described as ‘artificial sunshine’. The light installation brought even more visitors to the town and was the beginning of Blackpool’s reputation as the home of all things illuminated.

The closest example of lights that even slightly like what we see today took place in 1912, with an Illuminations display to commemorate Blackpool’s very first royal visit, as Princess Louise opened a new section of the promenade. Thousands of people visited and saw around 10,000 lights. The success of the event meant the council were keen to make it an annual occurrence. Unfortunately, the First World War meant it ended up being postponed until 1925.

The Illuminations of 1925 marked a turning point as the council worked to make them bigger and better than ever before. They stretched several miles down the Promenade and by 1929, all three of Blackpool’s piers were also illuminated. A huge, animated tableau was also added to display alongside Blackpool’s cliffs.

The Second World War also meant the Illuminations were stopped and the austerity that followed in post-war Britain meant they did not return until 1949. Thankfully, since 1949 there have been no further interruptions and famous names like Ken Dodd and David Tennant have attended the big switch on. The pandemic in 2020 meant the switch on ceremony was turned into a virtual event.

Top facts about Blackpool Illuminations

1. Miles of lights

The current length of Blackpool Illuminations is just short of six miles. It starts at Squires Gate and travels down the seafront to Red Bank Road.

2. From eight lamps to millions of LEDs

The first electric lights in Blackpool consisted of just eight lamps towering above the ground. Today, over one million lights are needed to create the spectacular light show. While that can get expensive, organisers have managed to cut their costs by switching to LED technology.

3. Miles of garlands

While the Illuminations are not quite six miles long, many more miles of lights are needed to create the display. There are more than 100 miles of light garlands used in total, hanging between the Promenade poles and across the main carriageway.

4. Illuminations employees work all year round

While the Blackpool Illuminations run for a few months, the team behind them work all year round to create a magical and unforgettable experience. The displays are designed and constructed by around 20 staff members including artists, mechanics, engineers and electricians.

5. The big switch on isn’t just for humans

OK, it’s usually a famous person who switches on the Blackpool Lights but there have been a couple of animals involved throughout the years. Kermit the Frog and racehorse Red Rum have both been the famous face performing the special task!