Crowds turn out for Santa … the ice rink… the festive lights… and The Pantiles party

    Dame Kelly Holmes joins Father Christmas in leading the parade as friends, family and children of the Pickering Cancer Drop in Centre celebrate naming the seals at the Tunbridge Wells ice rink.

    Photo by David Bartholomew

    Tunbridge Wells entered into the spirit of Christmas last week as thousands of spectators, young and old, were treated to an array of festivities. It was all coordinated by Royal Tunbridge Wells Together.

    It began on Thursday afternoon as bouts of heavy rain could not put a dampener on the enthusiasm of this year’s pantomime cast, as they paraded around the town centre on an open top bus along with Father Christmas and his elves.

    The pageantry of the Snow White cast drew waves, laughter and a fair bit of confusion from passers-by. There was even a moment of surprise for one London Road gentleman who, coming out of a shower and wrapped in a towel, was understandably taken aback to be greeted by ‘Wicked Witch’ Su Pollard and co waving through his second floor window from the top of their double decker.

    The bus pulled up to Royal Victoria Place (RVP), to allow Santa’s Grotto to be officially opened by the man himself but not before he spoke to many excited children about what’s on their Christmas list.

    Everyone then went along to the walkway outside Boots as the stage was set for the lights switch-on show. Introduced by Heart DJ Jenni Falconer, the audience saw performances from the Tunbridge Wells Rock Choir, dancers Boogie Storm and ex X Factor singer Ben Haenow. They all came together on stage, pushing a big red button to light up the town at around 7.15pm.

    RVP Marketing Manage Marc Burchett applauded the performers and audience for making this year’s show ‘the biggest and best ever’.

    The ice rink…

    On Friday evening, the council’s ice rink on Calverley Grounds, now in its sixth year, was officially opened by Mayor David Neve. Crowds were wowed by displays of figure skating by the Gillingham Silver Blades before the Invicta Junior Ice Hockey Club, under-9s and 11s, showed off their sporting skills.

    Afterwards dignitaries were permitted to head onto the ice before it was opened to the public at 8pm – a few slips and scrapes failing to put a dent in the evening’s festivities. The rink will be open seven days a week (apart from Christmas Day) until January 2.

    Following the opening, more than 100 children, parents and friends from Pickering Cancer Drop in Centre visited the rink on Saturday morning. Each of the 35 youngsters had earlier been invited to name one the rink’s ‘seals’– an aid that less confident skaters can use for stability or to push children around on. Paxton, Mooking and Bert were some of the more unusual names, alongside the more traditional Snowball and Winter.

    Hot chocolate came courtesy of Basil café to warm up the crowd.

    The Santa Express…

    It was then all aboard the Santa Express for its inaugural journey round town. During the lead up to Christmas the train will ferry shoppers, free of charge, between the Assembly Hall and the High Street. It is the fourth year that the train has run, with an average of 10,000 people being carried each Christmas. The train will operate on the weekends of: November 26 and 27, December 3 and 4 and December 10 and 11 and then everyday in the week leading up to Christmas.

    The Pantiles….

    Despite the heavy rain staff and volunteers worked wonders, and against all the odds, to bring some festive fun to youngsters and grown-ups alike with Saturday night’s Christmas Cracker. More lights were switched on along The Pantiles and a Kids Disco was followed by the Funk & Soul Machine.

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