Winner Skyburst The Fireworks Company
AS the city sleeps Alan Christie is carefully pacing the length of the Clifton Suspension Bridge even though the clocks have long past struck midnight. It is part of his job and he knows that every detail has to be accurate for in a few hours' time the eyes of the world will be on him.
Mr Christie, his family and a team of helpers were preparing the spectacular firework display which heralded the arrival of the Olympic Flame into Bristol from North Somerset last month.
In the short time it took for the flame to be carried across the bridge, 240 red, white and blue streamer canons were fired, along with 276 coloured stage mines. Fireworks worth some £7,500 went up in smoke in just a few minutes.
"We were on the bridge from midnight setting up the display. The fireworks are set off according to a computer programme that we specifically designed for the occasion. We'd always been told there was only going to be one runner crossing the bridge but in the early hours this was changed to two with a pause while the flame changed hands. That meant I had to rewrite the programme, changing the sequences almost at the last minute," said Mr Christie.
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He is the Managing Director of Skyburst The Firework Company, which he founded in 1982. His wife Deborah looks after administration, eldest son Jay, 26, is General Manager and Luke, 21, is the Marketing Manager and head fuser.
"We have eight full-time staff and 240 part-timers based all over the country. They include bank managers, accountants and teachers. One of them is a presenter on Teachers TV. Everyone is a fully-trained pyro-technician and they all volunteer their services. They're passionate like me about fireworks and enjoy working on our shows, especially the prestige events like the one on the bridge," said Mr Christie.
He started the business by opening a firework shop in Bedminster. It's still there and is run alongside an online supply business and a display service, while the head office is at Langford.
"On top of that we have licensed stores in Cornwall, on The Mendips, at an old American air base in Oxfordshire and one on the Shetland Islands. We've got our own team and a manager up there, too. The stores have to be well away from people for safety reasons." His passion for explosions goes back long before he founded his family-run business. "My grandfather worked in the quarries on the Mendips and I was introduced at a very early age to blasting a big hole out of the ground. I was pressing the plunger that set off an explosion when I was only about six or seven years old," he said with excitement.
Fireworks are no longer just associated with gunpowder, treason and plot on November 5 but throughout the year says Mr Christie. "There's a demand for firework displays at weddings, new year parties, corporate launches, national and international events."
Over the last 30 years Skyburst has fired more than 8,000 national and international displays at a catalogue of events including the Round Table's Downend Firework display, the International Balloon Fiesta at Ashton Court, Bridgwater Carnival, Brixham Festival and the Tall Ships Race. In the past 12 months alone the firm has staged 300 displays. "On one night we had as many as 40 going all over the country at the same time," said Mr Christie.
Earlier this year his firm was commissioned to put on a display in Liuyang in Hunan Province, China. "We buy our fireworks from China. The Chinese make fireworks to our specifications and timings have to be very precise when you set them to music.
"The Chinese are very good at making fireworks but they're no good at putting on displays so we were asked to put on something to mark the end of the Chinese New Year," he said. It took Mr Christie and 14 people from the UK three days to rig the display with help from a dozen local technicians.
Business has been given a major boost this year with orders for events marking the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. On the day of the Jubilee Regatta on the River Thames, Skyburst had 20 events all over the country.
"But the one we won't forget for a long time is the display on the Clifton Suspension Bridge. For days afterwards in the office we were all buzzing with excitement. We've had feedback from around the world including China. People had seen the pictures from the bridge on international news bulletins and on the internet.
"We had 18 people working on the bridge. I suppose we're just a bunch of mad people who go out to entertain other people," he laughed.