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Illuminations burst into life this Saturday!

As Matlock Bath Illuminations stalwart Paul Henshall looks ahead to his 40th anniversary as a member of the famous decorated boats flotilla this Saturday (6 September), he is in no doubt about which of his models went down best over all those years.

Back in 1998 Paul spent more than 100 hours building a 14ft model of the doomed Titanic and took first prize at the region's premier event - only to see his 14ft replica sink like a stone when storms ripped it from its riverside mooring.

Paul Henshall pictured at the Promenade in Matlock BathAiming for a 10th first prize in 2014 at the annual Illuminations organised by Derbyshire Dales District Council, Paul laughs at the memory of his Titanic - lit by almost 1,000 bulbs and complete with its own plastic iceberg - sinking without trace.

"I really didn't think I was tempting fate," he says now. "It was a well-timed choice of subject as the Titanic film had just been released on video. There was no raising my Titanic from the Derwent however - all that was left was the plastic iceberg! To be honest, it was great publicity for the Illuminations, making national headlines, and I even appeared on the National Lottery show."

Paul, 59, who is chairman of Matlock Bath Venetian Nights Boat Builders' Association, will once again be one of nine decorated boats that will parade up and down the River Derwent every weekend from this Saturday until the end of October - and the theme of each is a closely guarded secret until judging takes place on opening night.

"The boatbuilders share their themes with each other to ensure there are no duplications around Easter time," says Paul, "and that's when most of us start building.

"It's a bit of a cut-throat business until opening night - and after that we're all friends again! Actually we're a very tight bunch and I'm proud to be chairman of the association. While the boatbuilding art hasn't changed much since I started in 1974, a terrific development has been the involvement of women in recent years, and I'm delighted at that."

Paul Henshall rowing on the Derwent at Matlock BathEvery year, judges of the decorated boats competition are picked at random from the first night crowds in the District Council's Derwent Gardens, deciding the destination of a cash prize and the prestigious Arkwright Cup, donated in 1903 by Sir Richard Arkwright.

Another veteran boatbuilder, David Gregory of Matlock, was the man who introduced Paul to the boat parade. The 117th Illuminations will be the 44th time David has entered the popular competition, which he has won 11 times.

"Although my grandfather was an Illuminations boat builder, David is the person I blame for getting me involved," says Paul, who, appropriately, operates the rowing boat hire attraction in Matlock Bath's Derwent Gardens. "David and I were mates at school and I regard him as an Illuminations legend and a fabulous example for the rest of us to follow.

"I'll admit that we all have to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for rowing up and down the Derwent for eight consecutive weekends, but it's great to tune into the comments and banter you get from the crowds. I really enjoy that and meeting again the many people who turn out year on year just to see the boat builders."

The unique parade of illuminated boats takes place from 7.45pm every Saturday and Sunday evening until 25 October - and can be viewed from Derwent Gardens. An additional 9.15pm parade also takes place on fireworks nights, which this year are scheduled for Saturday 27 September and every Saturday in October.

Every weekend Derwent Gardens and nearby Lovers' Walks will be bedecked with colourful lights, and the unique family experience - first held to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 - continues to attract around 100,000 people over its eight-week season.

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