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Illuminations - Geoff's golden memories

It’s a special year for the man known as the voice of Matlock Bath Illuminations as the 2017 season gets underway with a fireworks spectacular on Saturday 9 September.

Geoff Stevens MBE will be compering the event, organised by your District Council, for a 50th consecutive year every weekend until 28 October. Tickets can be booked online here.

Over the years more than two million visitors have heard Geoff - the man with the mike - tell the story of the history of the Illuminations’ centrepiece, the parade of illuminated and decorated boats.

Over the past half century he has introduced more than 400 different boats in the parade – yet his involvement began by accident when he volunteered to step up to the mike in the Derwent Gardens bandstand in an emergency when the scheduled compere failed to arrive.

What might have been a one night stand became a permanent job for Geoff, working alongside his wife Jacquie, who shares his deep involvement in the "lights".

He recalls:

“Back in 1968 I was a member of the Matlock Young Conservative Group that won first prize for our decorated boat, a paddle steamer model called ‘Derwent Belle’.

"As a young man with no fear, aged just 24, I volunteered to step in at the last minute as compere and it’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of this unique event ever since."

Geoff Stevens pictured far right with the winning Derwent Belle boat in 1968

Geoff has witnessed many changes - and several highs and lows - during those fifty years, including in his first year the moving of the main arena from the old Promenade Gardens – scaled back during A6 road widening - to its Derwent Gardens home of today.

A new river bridge was opened in the Gardens in 1969 and from 1970 the organising company asked a celebrity to perform the 'switch-on' ceremony each year.

Geoff introduced a whole host of stars who did the honours in the 1970s and early 80s including Chris Tarrant, Peter Purves, Tony Hart, Keith Chegwin, Wendy Craig, Coronation Street's Bernard Youens, who played Stan Ogden, and Julie Goodyear, who was Bet Lynch from the same soap, plus Crossroads star Noele Gordon in 1973, former Dr Who Jon Pertwee in 1979 and one of his favourites – Roy Castle – in 1982.

Geoff Stevens pictured with Noele Gordon in 1973

The 1983 season was hit by bad weather, with no fine Saturday nights at all, and with no funds to stage the 1984 event, the organising company was voluntarily wound up. Derbyshire Dales District Council took over the running of the event in 1984 and the "lights" went on to celebrate their centenary in 1997.

Said Geoff:

“Adding to the long list of celebrities to star at the Illuminations – although we didn’t quite appreciate how massive they were about the become – are Take That, who played in 1991 just before they hit the big time.

“So it’s been a roller coaster ride and I’ve enjoyed almost every minute! The focus of the Illuminations has changed in recent years to concentrate more on the lighting of natural features in the river valley, rather than the big set pieces of the 70s and early 80s.

“I’m particularly delighted that the boat builders, who put so much into this event, continue to be centre stage and it’s truly amazing that we continue to attract around 100,000 visitors to Matlock Bath every year."

The 2017 event is the 120th Illuminations and a fabulous fireworks finale will take place every Saturday night, while Sundays feature special family oriented themed nights, starting with a ‘Super Heroes’ event on 10 September, when youngsters are encouraged to attend in fancy dress.

The unique parade of illuminated boats happens twice on Saturdays at 7.45pm and 9.15pm and at around 7.30pm on Sundays.

This year adults pay £5.50 on Saturdays and £4.50 on Sundays if they buy online in advance - that's 50p cheaper than last year. Accompanied under 16s continue to be free, with concessions available for students and OAPs.

People who buy on the night will pay £7.50 on Saturdays and £6.50 on Sundays - £2 more expensive than the online prices.

Online bookers are fast-tracked into the Derwent Gardens - and the online incentive prices also applies to visitors who take the train to Matlock Bath during this year's season, which will run every weekend from Saturday 9 September to Saturday 28 October.

The District Council has acted on feedback from a customer survey conducted after last year's eight-week spectacular by restricting numbers in Derwent Gardens to a maximum of 6,000 - down from 8,000 in previous years - to improve crowd movement and enjoyment for visitors.

Chairman of the District of the Derbyshire Dales Councillor Steve Flitter, who will push the button to bring the new season to life, said:

"The Illuminations undoubtedly boost the local economy, attracting young and old alike from far and wide. As a District Council our aim is to stage the event at no cost to Derbyshire Dales Council Tax payers and we are hoping for good weather and fabulous visitor numbers again in 2017."

  • Park and Ride services operate from 6pm on Saturdays from Derbyshire County Council Offices car park to Matlock Bath Station and from Cromford Meadows to Matlock Bath Pavilion.
  • Hourly trains to Matlock Bath from Derby and Nottingham operate Monday to Saturday and every two hours on Sundays - for more details go to www.eastmidlandstrains.co.uk/derwentvalleyline
  • View our Illuminations FAQs
It’s a special year for the man known as the voice of Matlock Bath Illuminations as the 2017 season gets underway with a fireworks spectacular on Saturday 9 September.

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