The Blackpool Illuminations switch on concert takes place in a purpose built arena near the Promenade. The crowds begin to assemble in the afternoon and by early evening the arena is usually full. The Radio 2 arena which stages the event is situated in the centre of Blackpool adjacent to the Promenade opposite Coral Island. The capacity is 18,000 with room for an additional 7,000 people in the surrounding area. Admission is free and it is open to the public from 4 o'clock with the entertainment commencing at 6 p.m. and going live on air between 8.30 and 9.30. The feeling of anticipation builds up as the concert progresses, until the illuminations switch on when the six miles of Blackpool Promenade bursts into light and colour. The occasion initiates a weekend of events such as fireworks displays, parades and various performances. An example is the Honda Goldwings light parade which in 2006 was held on the 2nd September and involved over 400 beutifully decorated machines parading along the promenade, which against the backdrop of Blackpool Illuminations provided onlookers with a fascinating spectacle. The 2008 Goldwings promises to be even bigger and better and will be held on September 19th to 22nd, not the switch on weekend, the parade itself taking place on Saturday 20th Sept at 7.45 pm.

The modern high profile illuminations
switch on contrasts markedly with the comparatively low key event of earlier decades. In the 1950's there would be just one celebrity present to turn on the lights, without any further entertainment and afterwards the Mayor and Guests would have a traditional Lancashire hot pot supper. These days it has evolved into a series of activities lasting all week with press preview, lights tour and receptions. The organizers are exploring the possibility of holding the illuminations switch on concert at the new headland space on the promenade created by the Blackpool seafront regeneration project, with the site opposite the tower thought to be particularly advantageous. However this is something for future consideration.

Famous people who have carried out the Blackpool Illuminations switch on include Stanley Matthews, George Formby, Gracie Fields, Ken Dodd, Gordon Banks, and more recently Dr Who star David Tennant. The tradition of inviting celebrities to turn the lights on was not established until 1934 when Lord Derby switched them on, although of course the illuminations were held on a number of previous years.

Blackpool Illuminations switch on times vary throughout the Autumn. On the opening day the lights go on at about 9.25 PM and thereafter the turn on time depends on the the month and the hours of darkness, ranging from 8.00 p.m. in early September to 4.50 p.m. in late October and the beginning of November. The lights are usually switched off at 11.30 p.m. each evening, although this can be as late as 1.00 a.m. at weekends, and 2.00 a.m. at the end of the first night.

Blackpool illuminations 2008 will be switched on Friday 29th August and wiil continue until Sunday 2nd November.

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Blackpool Illuminations are switched on annually on the first Friday after the August Bank Holiday weekend. This is either the last Friday in August or the first Friday in September. On this first night the illuminations are turned on around nine twenty five in the evening, with the build up to the event starting in the afternoon.

The illuminations switch on is an important night in Blackpool and is extensively publicised. The ceremony includes a concert which is broadcast nationally on BBC radio and there is always a great cast of performing artistes, appealing to a wide ranging audience profile. . Previous stars who have performed at the illuminations launch concert include Status Quo, the Bee Gees, Natasha Bedingfield, Natalie Imbruglia and McFly. The casts of the various Blackpool shows such as the Musicals Chicago and South Pacific have also appeared. The lights concert is hosted by well known presenters, and in the past these have included Chris Evans and Dale Winton. A specially invited celebrity carries out the act of pulling the switch to turn the illuminations on.