Thursford: Fabulous at 40!
PUBLISHED: 11:46 22 November 2016 | UPDATED: 12:22 25 November 2016
It's the must-see spectacular which brings coachloads of people to a tiny Norfolk village. Rowan Mantell reports as the biggest Christmas show in Europe hits 40 years of yule-tastic joy
All the sparkle of Christmas is here – on a village farm transformed into a winter wonderland. Angelic voices soar through starry skies, the woodland glistens with fairy lights and a once humble barn has become a sumptuous theatre, ablaze with sparkling lights and festive joy.
Tens of thousands of lights sparkle from the trees outside. Inside, a forest of shimmering decorations awaits the crowds. There is glitz, glamour, laughter, love, music, dancing, sentimentality, nostalgia and sleigh-loads of festive fun. This is the Thursford Christmas Spectacular, Europe’s biggest Christmas show, in tiny Thursford village, usually a community of about 100 souls, a few miles from Fakenham.
A cast of 130 performs in front of more than 180,000 people during the six-week run of this festive phenomenon. Year after year people travel from across the country to be part of the experience, with coaches arriving from Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Kent and just about everywhere in between.
The flamboyant, fabulous, festive extravaganza, celebrates its 40th anniversary this winter. It began on a much smaller scale, with a farmyard carol concert for around 50 people. Staged to raise funds for the upkeep of the historic steam engines and fairground rides of the Thursford Collection, the concert was such a success it was repeated the following Christmas, and the next, and the next, growing in size and sparkle and spectacle until it had reached millions of people from across the country. Many now come every year, booking as early as January for the following festive season.
Each three-hour concert sparkles with music, dance, humour and variety. Singers, dancers and star turns segue from show-stopping chorus lines to soul-stirring carols in a superb choreography of concept and costumes, talent and tradition. The amazing Wurlitzer organ rises from the stage as the virtuoso organist creates near-miraculous music, his hands and feet skittering across multiple keyboards.
The Thursford Christmas Spectacular and Santa’s Magical Journey take place at the Thursford Collection of steam engines and fairground rides, founded in the 1970s by George Cushing. He fell in love with steam-driven fairground rides when he first visited nearby Walsingham Fair as a child.
Today the Thursford Collection is the world’s largest assembly of steam engines and organs. George’s son John took over his role as director and producer of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular. John still loves Christmas and says: “Christmas is a wonderful time for all; and the Thursford Christmas Spectacular is the perfect outing for every generation.
“Music has formed a huge part of the Christmas season for hundreds of years and we are no exception to that rule! Our hope is to leave you with a glow in your heart and a smile on your face from a memorable experience.”
And if you want to take some of the magic of a Thursford Christmas back home, then a range of shops stock food and drink, decorations and gifts, clothes and crafts.
There is also a fun-filled festive fantasy for families with younger children. Santa’s Magical Journey is a wonderland of giant dancing penguins, toy-making elves, furry polar bears and teddy bears, plus mischievous snowball-throwing snowmen, all lining a glittering route to Santa’s toy-filled grotto. Santa himself will be at home, waiting to greet children with a gift.
Thursford, 40 Glorious Years, is a celebration of the phenomenon that is the Thursford Spectacular. The lavishly illustrated book, published by Archant and priced at £5.95 will be on sale from Thursford, EDP offices across the county and selected shops, from November 7.
Santa’s Magical Journey begins on Saturday, November 26 and runs every weekend, and then daily from December 17 to 23.
Thursford Christmas Spectacular opens on Thursday, November 10 and runs until Friday, December 23.
Tickets range from £28.50 to- £40, from www.eticketing.co.uk/thursfordchristmasspectacular
The Thursford Collection, Thursford, near Fakenham, NR21 0AS; 01328 878477; www.thursford.com