Christmas lights switch-on hit by Covid-19 in Preston

Preston's most glittering night of the year - the Christmas lights switch-on - has been forced off the streets by coronavirus.

Friday, 3rd July 2020, 12:42 pm
Part of the huge crowd on the Flag Market at last year's switch-on.

Organisers of the city centre's biggest outdoor party, which in the past has attracted crowds of up to 15,000, have had to abandon plans for a 'live' event and move the ceremony online.

The annual extravaganza in November is seen as the official start of the Christmas period in Preston, with stars from music and TV drawing huge audiences to the Flag Market.

But this year, while the festive lights will still be switched on on Saturday November 21, it will have to be a virtual party, hosted by a radio station.

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Alexander O'Neal braves the cold to star in last year's switch-on.

There will still be some "guest performances" and a list of those will be released later in the year.

"We, like thousands of people, always look forward to this special event, "said a spokesperson for organisers Preston BID (Business Improvement District).

"But this year, owing to obvious circumstances, we have no alternative but to look at different ways to mark the occasion, in the interest of public safety.

“We can confirm that we plan to launch the Christmas period in Preston in a special way by hosting a ‘Virtual Switch On’, in association with Smooth Radio North West, the region’s largest commercial radio station."

Last year thousands crowded onto the Flag market to see soul singer Alexander O'Neal and hybrid boy band Boyz On Black performing on stage before jointly flicking the switch to light up the city centre.

In recent years stars like Jack P Shepherd (Coronation Street's David Platt), Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell on Eastenders), singer Heather Small from M People and entertainer Alesha Dixon have also turned on the lights at the end of a free concert.

Mark Whittle, manager of Preston BID, added: "Of course we are disappointed not to be staging the physical event, but we have to put the safety of people first.

"We will still mark the event, in a different way, using virtual technologies many events have utilised successfully of late."