SLIDESHOW: A landmark date for Blackpool’s king coaster

It’s been ridden by celebrities like Gary Barlow, Tim Burton and Kate Moss, and has carriages named after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Thursday, 28th May 2015, 9:52 am
Crowds gather on May 28, 1994 to mark the opening of the Big One

And the Big One rollercoaster has now come of age.

Today marks 21 years since the ride opened at the Pleasure Beach, becoming a new landmark for Blackpool’s already famous skyline.

While the Tower presides over North and Central Promenade, the Pepsi Max Big One, as was until 2011, is the modern starting point for Blackpool’s Golden Mile.

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The mile-long ride was celebrated as the tallest and steepest, and second fastest, in the world - making it a must-ride coaster for enthusiasts across the globe.

Although those records were soon toppled, now its sole title is being the UK’s tallest and fastest coaster, the Big One is still up there.

1994 was dubbed the year of the rollercoaster by the British Tourism Board, with the £12m Big One, Alton Towers’ Nemesis and Drayton Manor’s Shockwave all opening and beating records and standards previously held in America.

Andy Hine, chairman of the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain, said: “When the rollercoaster war was on world wide, Geoffrey Thompson said ‘I tell you what, we’ll blitz it all in one go’ and built this leviathan - monster by the sea, which should have been it’s name. It started and ended the war in one move.

Crowds gather on May 28, 1994 to mark the opening of the Big One

“It dwarfed and still does dwarf everything in its path. It’s an incredible structure.”

The ride opened when Pleasure Beach matriarch Doris Thompson was 91.

But in the face of family concerns about her health, she claimed: “I’ve been riding these things all my life, it doesn’t worry me in the slightest.”

Andy described the thrill of the Big One with the long slow climb to its peak, where you get a few seconds to admire the views over the Irish Sea and along the Promenade.

The view from Clifton Drive as the Big One take shape over South Promenade, at Blackpool Pleasure Beach

“A few seconds later you’re doing 80-odd miles per hour - it’s a real excitement,” he said. “It still provokes that emotion, of controlled danger, living on the edge once you’ve made that one decision that you’re going on.

“Part of the fun is the build up; seeing people below getting smaller and smaller until they look like ants.”

Members of theme park enthusiasts’ group Coasterforce were recently in town to try out new ride Red Arrows Skyforce and presented a 21st anniversary celebration plaque to the park.

Coasterforce owner Ian Bell hailed the ‘feat of engineering’ of building the steel framework around the existing rides.

“At 21 years young, it’s still an iconic ride,” he said.

“I first rode it in 2004, at that time it was my tallest and fastest coaster and I remember being blown away.

“To have fitted it in that way and the way it interacts with other rides was unheard of and spurred on other record-breakers.

“That it’s still standing and having queues today is incredible, and it will be there in another 21 years - getting rid of the Big One would be like ripping down Blackpool Tower.”

The Big One... in numbers!

235 ft - its highest point

205 ft - the height of the first drop

65 degrees - the incline of the drop

74mph - the usual top speed, although it can hit 84mph

5,497 feet - the ride’s length

3 minutes - the length of the ride

132cm - how tall riders have to be

8 - the number of tickets needed to ride

3.5 - the G Force reached, it also hits -0.5G

30 - people per train

1,700 - the number of people who can ride per hour

103 - Record breaker Richard Rodriguez rode it for 103 consecutive days in 2012

96 - the age of one of its oldest riders, Chrissie Robertson, from Bonnyrigg, in 2002

For more pictures of the construction of the Big One, see tomorrow’s Gazette.

What are your memories of the ride? Send your thoughts to [email protected]