PW MAY19 31-33 Industry Influencer.qxp_Layout 1 24/05/2019 15:39 Page 31

Industry Influencer

It’s not a job; it’s a passion

Balppa chief executive, Paul Kelly, tells Park World editor, Becci Knowles how a fateful work experience placement changed the course of his career forever…


aul’s long and illustrious career in the industry all began by chance at Thorpe Park in 1986.

“I was back there yesterday funnily enough to meet their

new divisional director, Helen Bull, who I used to work with many years ago at the The London Eye. “I was reminding her my first job as a student was at

Thorpe Park, working on the rides.” Paul was doing a Business Studies degree in North Wales

and, as part of the sandwich course, they sent a group of students down to work at Thorpe Park – and as fate would have it, he was one of them. “I’m not sure how they got the contact in the first place,”

Paul continues, “but anyway I turned up and got a job on the ghost ride, in the dark working underground, but that’s ok, I don’t tan very well!” he says, explaining that from the moment he got there he soon had the bug. “I couldn’t believe having not had a job anywhere else

prior to that (I’m from Liverpool, I was up in North Wales and in those days there wasn’t a lot of work going, so a lot of people did come South) you got paid for working in such a fantastic environment where everyone was enthusiastic and there to enjoy themselves. “On the plus side too, there were lots of young people

working there and lots of parties!” Paul went on to do a postgraduate degree in Portsmouth,

returning to Thorpe Park the next year to do another season. “I was going to wait there until I got a ‘proper job’, but

they offered me a permanent position while I was there and that was it, I never left the industry.” Paul’s official title was deputy to the assistant manager, a

bit of mouthful I suggest. “Yes, it was all written on the name badge, it was huge!” he says. Part of the operations department, his role was to help

organise the rotas and training for staff working on the rides. “It was a huge logistical seasonal operation, there was

a lot of recruitment and training of students in my role at that time, so effectively I went from being a student to managing them.”

MAY 2019 “ As Thorpe Park evolved so did Paul’s role, working

his way up through the operations department to Head of Operations and later, Park Manager. The latter gave him the opportunity to experience all

aspects of the business: “I was able to experience all of the different disciplines from an operational point of view. “It was a great introduction to working in the industry,”

he recalls. By 1998 it was time for something new and Paul left

Thorpe Park to “go and open The London Eye.” Interestingly, although it ‘opened for the Millennium’ it

wasn’t actually working that night, as it hadn’t been certificated, he tells me. “It had all the lights on so it looked like it working,

I was

going to wait there until I got a ‘proper job’, but they offered me a permanent position and that was it, I never left the industry.

but it didn’t officially open until the 8 or 9 March 2000.” Of course, there was another big structure under way in London at that time, but it didn’t get quite the

same reception. “I have great fondness for The Dome,” says Paul. “Obviously

that was being built with public money, whereas we had private funding, so it was subject to a lot of scrutiny - we had a lot of issues as did The Dome, but everyone concentrated on The Dome, so thankfully that gave us a year to undo the knitting, re-do everything that was wrong and get it right. “Everyone thought The Eye was fantastic and had always

been fantastic, actually it wasn’t but everyone was paying so much attention to The Dome, they didn’t notice.” Today The Eye is synonymous with London; it’s hard to

imagine the London skyline without it, but it very nearly didn’t get built. “There were a lot of local lobby groups that protested against it,” says Paul. “The architect, David Marks, who

sadly passed away just under two years ago did a fantastic job in getting it located in the parliamentary zone, it’s a stunning location. “I’ve no idea how he managed it. But manage it he did,

and the re-branding of The Dome as The O2 seems to have erased all of the bad memories in the national press.


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