For most people, dangling at 518 feet off a 127 year-old structure is the stuff nightmares are made of.
For 62-year-old Dave Hulme from Blackpool however, this was as part of his daily routine.
The Blackpool Tower is visited by 650,000 people a year and needs regular work for both aesthetic and safety reasons.
This often requires “at height” maintenance on the Grade II listed building, that was designed by Victorian engineers to sway in the wind.
As former Chief Rigger at Blackpool Tower, Dave earned the nickname ‘the Blackpool Spiderman’ due to the ease at which he scaled and swung off the structure.
Quite literally, he has scaled the tower dressed as Spiderman to lay the cross of St George on it in honour of the England football team during the FIFA 2002 World Cup games. He done this while changing some of the 10,000 bulbs on the tower.
He worked at the tower for 30 years working all the way from the top of the crow’s nest right down in the basement. He has lots of stories and pictures of his time there and has started to write a book about his time there.
He started in 1983 as a chipper and painter. Dave told LancsLive: “I was part of a group who used to go up and knock the rust off. We also worked on the illuminations. I’m not an electrician but the lights were very low voltage so there wasn’t much danger of electrocution!
“A lot of people I worked with were ex-Navy or had come from the shipyards. It was very much seasonal work which meant there were times when we were out of work in the winter before I was offered a job as as a trainee rigger.
“The scaffolding was wooden poles then and not steel as it is today. The health and safety wasn’t like it is now either. We had a harness however there was no safety features and there was a good chance that if you fell the harness could snap you in half.
“It reminds me of the Fred Dibnah quote – who was an English Steeplejack – ‘One mistake up here, and it’s half a day out with the undertaker.'”
In 1994, the Tower had a makeover when it was painted gold for its centenary year and had to be painted back to its distinctive shade of red due to it being a Grade 1 listed building.
On July 22, the Queen and Prince Philip paid a visit to Blackpool to celebrate Festival 94 and Rossall School marking its 150th anniversary.
A visit was scheduled for Royalty to pay a visit to the Blackpool Tower and meet the people that gave the landmark its amazing transformation.
It’s didn’t quite go to plan however:
“The photographers almost completely missed us shaking hand with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh,” said David. “The visit was all planned however when we were going up in the lift, the lift doors opened and there they were.
“Needless to say it was a bit unexpected however they were really nice and Prince Philip noticed my Duke of Edinburgh award.
“We managed to get one photograph as the Royal party were walking back to the lift however we had to line up hastily in front of the Queen again. She must have been thinking ‘what’s going on, I’ve seen these before?!’.
“Everyone was joking saying we better hadn’t bump into the photographers or they’d be leaving the tower the quick way down!”
Dave has done everything on the structure from replacing steel, working on the outer rig, to putting scaffolding top and bottom.
He also used to clean the ‘Walk of Faith’ glass at 390ft above sea level with people watching him.
This proved so popular there were once discussions about making this into an attraction itself.
Not only has he maintained the outside but he’s used his skills to do jobs on its insides also.
Dave said, “I’ve done a bit of everything in the tower. I’ve worked in the circus repairing the coconut mats for the horses to walk on to fixing things right down in the basement,”
“In the ballroom I’ve helped take down the chandelier to be cleaned which was like Only Fools and Horses. I’ve also abseiled in from the roof dressed as Santa and was terrified my beard was going to get stuck in the rope.”
The most terrifying moments of Dave’s career however have tended to involve bad weather. Before scaling the building he used to check the general forecast and determine if it was safe by the gusting windspeed.
If Particularly strong winds were forecast pieces of scaffolding, erected to repair and paint the structure, had to be double checked to ensure safety.
He had to go up and refasten parts of the illuminations down, however had to retreat at times if conditions were too bad.
Dave said: “There times when I would abseil down however I’d have to come back off at another point. The good thing about the tower is that it has so many areas you can cling on to and come back in if you need to.
“It’s quite a unique structure in that it slopes out and the wind blows right through it but if you pick the right side you’re sheltered.
“It sounds daft, but I’ve always felt like Blackpool tower is a friendly structure and it’d look after me.”
Dave left in 2018 and now works at Blackpool Offshore Survival Centre as a trainer which involves other adrenaline filled activities such as teaching people underwater escapes.
He still does a lot of work at height working on wind turbines for Global Wind.
Dave added: “I’m happy that I still get to climb up things and with the tower I’m old enough to know what I’m doing but my knees might have other ideas.
“I say to people I’m not scared of heights but there’s no shame in being scared of them. Everyone’s scared of something!”.
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