We’ve all attended and enjoyed firework displays over the years, but how often do you stop to think about the hours of display planning and preparation that will literally go up in smoke for your viewing pleasure?
Simon Page – co-owner of Titanium Fireworks – has been working on and off as a professional pyrotechnician since the mid-nineties and now has decades of experience under his belt.
Titanium is one of the most successful and regularly used firework display teams in the UK and their stunning shows at the London Olympics, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games (just to name a few) speak for themselves.
Here Simon imparts some wisdom and shares ten things he has learned during his incredibly dangerous (but exciting) career.
1. Skin is waterproof (thankfully)
“Unfortunately Guy Fawkes chose November to deliver his ultimate epic fail, so there is a good chance the Gortex jacket will be required for some or all of our busiest season. At least it gets dark early so there is no hanging around waiting for the sun to disappear over the horizon. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how wet you get, you don’t dissolve and a hot shower will stop even the most quivering bottom lip.”
2. Wet grass is not your friend
“I once spent nearly 5 hours in the dead of the night digging out a seven and a half tonne box lorry which had been sunk to it’s axle on a wet field. The term ‘floor it’ should never be used when you feel the wheels spin – it’s the equivalent of winding up the window of a car when you can hear the flat tyre flapping. When you’re stuck in the mud it’s best to stop and work out a better exit plan.”
3. Beware sod’s law
“Working with fireworks is a passion and a joy, but never forget that you are dealing with things that go bang and can cause serious injury or worse. Always consider the worst thing that could happen when rigging and mentally work back to a position of safety for yourself and your audience. Sod’s law really does exist and if there’s a one in one hundred chance something might go wrong – it will. Just a friendly reminder.”
4. Enjoy the roar when you can
“The sound of a crowd whistling and cheering is like nothing else. I can see how performers take energy from their audience. I’ve been lucky enough to hear the wave of enthusiasm at the conclusion of the ceremonies for the London Olympics 2012, the opening ceremony at Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games 2014 and the Rugby World Cup 2015.
“For the last eight years at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay I have literally felt the rumble from Princes Street as our fireworks subside and the hugging begins. Nobody sees us but it doesn’t matter – we go home (eventually) with the satisfaction of having initiated that roar.”
5. Watch out for (allegedly) broken slates
“I once had a call from a man claiming our fireworks had damaged slates on his roof. When I pointed out that he was more than a thousand metres from the firing site, he sent me a picture of a rocket stick. Even when I assured him that we don’t use rockets he still threatened me with a solicitor. It is really sad but there are some people out there who will go to any lengths to try to make a claim.”
6. All cogs are required for the machine to work
“The work that goes into a large event is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated and it takes a big team to make good things happen. I think the whole nation should be proud of the ceremonies in Stratford, Glasgow and most recently in Twickenham because they really have been world class.”
7. Believe in the power of positivity
“Because I’m prone to a moan I try to compensate by being positive. We work long and often uncomfortable hours but nobody wants to work with someone who is constantly grumbling. Things go wrong and nothing ever truly goes to plan. Roll your sleeves up, keep smiling and know that steps forward with a smile are so much easier than steps forward tripping over your bottom lip.”
8. Don’t get lazy
“You’re really are only as good as the last display you do, so whether it was the London Eye or a small wedding you have to give the display your best attention. Aim to deliver the best possible display for any given budget and you’ll reap the benefits.”
9. Mind your Ps and Qs
“Never mind Ts and Cs – other the years I’ve learned that saying thank you is the best and easiest way to conduct business. Appreciate the people who work for you and convey your thanks to them because – like customers – they also have a choice.”
10. Don’t over promise
“We’ve all been on the receiving end of something which didn’t meet expectation, whether it was a new music album or a disappointing eBay purchase. Defining what a customer will see in the sky is incredibly difficult because every site is unique. It’s vital not to over promise and under deliver, even if that means turning potential customers down if you know you can’t meet their expectations.”
All images: Titanium Fireworks