In praise of those tourism superstars who don’t work in tourism

If you’ve ever crossed the Solent by Red Funnel‘s car ferry, you will undoubtedly have enjoyed the performance of ‘Dancing Jim’ O‚ÄôReilly, Visit England‘s Tourism Superstar of 2018. Vehicle marshaller Jim bobbed, gyrated and boogied his way into pole position in that year’s search for the unsung heroes of the staycation tourism industry. For the last few weeks the hunt is on to find the next individual who goes out of their way to make the Isle of Wight an unforgettable visitor experience.

On my travels around the Island, usually gorging myself in the county’s cafes and restaurants, I could make an enviable list of front-of-house staff who make their patrons feel warmly welcomed and, in some cases, warmly fondled (in a purely non-#MeToo kinda way!).

However, don’t bother firing up the valves on the internet to submit an online application for your favourite school crossing patrol warden (are there any left?) or whistling postie – steadfastly bearing letters and baring knees whatever the weather – as the nominations have just closed and, alas, were only open to folk who work for a tourism business or organisation.

In my little Twitter echo chamber I could nominate dozens of people who, like me, celebrate the idiosyncrasies of the Isle of Wight, promoting them on social media for our own and visitors’ pleasure. For example, taking joy in the perennial sightings of Ryde’s Town Crier, Steve King, as he ceremoniously fronts various carnivals and parades. Another home-grown madcap institution in the Island’s streets – and pubs – throughout the summer is Ventnor Comic Jazz Band. Spellbindingly keeping the faith of departed band leader Jim ‘Skimbo’ White, this ragtag tribe of musicians’ motto is allegedly “All the notes, not necessarily in the right order”.

Right at the niche-appeal end of the spectrum is the light-hearted campaign to usurp Bude Tunnel as the country’s top supermarket structure with Ryde Tesco Extra’s own ‘Zone D’ trolley park. The affectionate appreciation of what is effectively a brittle plastic tube in an otherwise featureless car park is spearheaded by local animator Drivelsieve. What started out as a bit of a laugh on Trip Advisor, Bude Tunnel – “the only tunnel Bude has to offer is open to the public free of charge, walk from the Sainsbury’s car park to Crooklets Road completely undercover” – has an enviably high tourist ranking and even has its own Christmas light display in 2018. Google it – and prepare to be awed! To be honest, Zone D is a particularly underwhelming challenger, but it gives a few of us Wight nerds some pleasure.

I’m sure you can think of your own examples, but these are just a handful of the folk on my radar who, although enthusiastic advocates of the Isle of Wight, will not qualify for tourism superstar status. At least not officially.

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 19 October 2018, and also online.

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