On the anniversary of the devastating blaze, Kerry and Michelle Michael have described their delight when they first bought the Grand Pier.
Kerry said: "Buying the Grand Pier wasn’t a premeditated decision. In the weeks following the offer we found ourselves driving past it on the way to work and just looking at it. One day I walked in and said to Michelle "you know we’ve got to buy it don’t you". "She knew exactly what I was talking about and said "yes, absolutely". "You just don’t normally get an opportunity to own something like that. We grew up in our parents’ hotel at Knightstone and when we opened the curtains every morning that was the first thing we saw."
Fire broke out on the iconic Grand Pier at about 6.45am on July 28 last year, and before the morning was out, the landmark building had suffered catastrophic damage. Hundreds of Westonians witnessed the famous old pavilion being totally engulfed by flames, despite firefighters' vain efforts to save it.
Michelle said: “When my mobile rang at 6.45am on the day of the fire my first thought was that I had overslept, but it was my cleaner on the line who said she had seen a small fire on the pier. “I opened my curtains and could see black smoke coming out of the tower. “It was about two minutes from the time I finished the phone call to getting to the pier. “It was pretty harrowing when I got there. “In two hours the pavilion had gone and I had no idea what would happen by the end of that day. “Everyone was there to support me but sometimes I felt so completely alone. “The pier signified something to everybody. Everyone has a memory. “I felt responsible for the pier going. I didn’t think it would ever happen while we were looking after it.”
Kerry was abroad at the time, so a distraught Michelle quickly got on the phone to tell her brother about the drama that was unfolding in front of her eyes. Kerry said: “She was just saying ‘oh my God it’s on fire’. “I struggled to take in what she was saying and eventually put on the television. “That wasn’t working for some reason and so I switched on the laptop and could see the full horror of what was happening. “It didn’t look too bad to start with and it looked containable. “I did not think for one second it was going to be catastrophic. “But it got worse and worse and I turned to my wife and said ‘I’ve got to go home’. “The builder outside took me to the airport and the whole time I was talking to Michelle on the phone and watching everything on the laptop, feeling helpless. “When we flew into Bristol, the pilot announced that Weston’s pier had burnt down and flew over it. “He told everybody to look out and on the one hand I couldn’t and on the other hand I had to. “It was just shocking to see it from the air the first time.”
Kerry and Michelle were shocked and devastated following last year’s fire.
Kerry said: “It was a surreal time, like we were on the outside looking in, thinking suddenly we would look up and the pavilion would be there and everything had been a bad dream.
“We just couldn’t take it all in for three or four days.”
Kerry and Michelle promised the people of Weston that they would rebuild their beloved attraction and following a public consultation architect Angus Meek was selected in October to spearhead the project.
When planning permission was secured in March initial strengthening work started and the pier rebuild got properly underway. Kerry and Michelle travelled across the globe to find the very best rides for the new pavilion, visiting hundreds of theme parks, piers and exhibitions.
Kerry said: “There was no question in my mind that we were going to rebuild the pier.”
Work on the multi-million pound Grand Pier pavilion is expected to start any day. A three-storey fun house, a laser room and a mirror maze are among the thrilling attractions cherry-picked by Kerry and Michelle.
The revamped pavilion will feature some of the most technologically-advanced rides in the world. There are plans for a ghost train three times bigger than the one on the old pier, as well as Psychadelia, a crazy house-type attraction designed to 'blow your mind' according to designers. In addition there are plans to have a new 300m go-kart track, as well as a paintballing area, helter skelter, a helicopter ride for children and a drop-ride that takes thrill-seekers 12m in the air before letting them fall.
Michelle said: “We wanted to beat all the odds and put Weston on the map and be the town in the country that has the greatest pier. “It will kickstart the regeneration of the town. “Weston looks shabby at the moment, it does not look its best. “The pier has got vans all over it and scaffolding up, but when people see the new pier and the new seawall it will give us something to be proud of. “I have been to many piers over the past year and can say from the ones I have seen, we will have the best of the bunch.” The design features looming state-of-the-art towers and spectacular lighting, as well as an 85m observation tower.
Roger Ellams, company director at architects Angus Meek, says the project is the biggest and most exciting thing he has ever worked on. He told the Mercury: “We wanted to produce something that was a modern variation on the traditional pier. “It is a high-tech and pretty unique design. “So far nothing much has been changed from the original plans. “The next phase of building work is really exciting and we are going to work with the winning construction firm to give them more detailed plans to follow. “I’ll certainly be living this project for the next year.” The first stage of building work started at the Grand Pier in April, when piles were driven into the seabed to strengthen the structure. Attraction owners Kerry and Michelle Michael are currently in the process of appointing a main contractor, so that the new pier can open in May. The most expensive single feature on the landmark structure is likely to be the observation tower at the rear, which is coming in at a cost of around £2million.
The state-of-the-art pavilion is due to house a bar around three times bigger than the previous one, a Victorian tea room and a central canopy that would run the whole length of the pier, with sides that could close in bad weather.