Blackgang Chine, the country’s oldest theme park, has been run by the same family for 175 years. Its fifth-generation managing director, Alec Dabell, talks mud fights and dinosaurs
You must have been popular growing up?
I was a boarder at Ryde School and at weekends I’d grab a group of my chums and have the most wonderful mud fights on the site of the Old Cowboy Town once the visitors had left. We got into a terrible mess — and terrible trouble.
What’s the best part of your job?
All of it: it’s the best job in the world. That doesn’t mean it’s not lots of hard work — a lot of effort goes into having fun! One of the best bits is working with young people — we have up to 200 staff in the summer and getting them to do things that they didn’t know they could is immensely satisfying.
Do you have a favourite part of the theme park?
The last thing we launched — our Underwater Kingdom. It’s a magical underwater cave with larger-than-life animatronic sea creatures. It comes alive in the autumn, thanks to some clever after-dark lighting.
What’s the highlight of your day?
Creating new memories for people. It’s a good feeling when grandparents bring their grandchildren here and remember visiting with their own grandparents. Not even Disney can do that yet. Queen Victoria actually came here to see my great, great grandfather’s first exhibition, the whale skeleton — and it’s still here.
You must feel very proud of the park’s longevity?
It’s not about me. I want the Island to feel proud — it’s part of who we are. We have limited budgets compared with American theme parks, but that doesn’t mean to say they are better. We do our thing our way on our Island and we have fun doing it. As part of our celebrations, we’ll be taking some of our characters up to London. When you are 175 years old, you can do that.
What do you love most about the Island?
Walking on Gore Cliff over the top of Blackgang Chine, or along the coast beneath the Undercliff at St Lawrence. I love the trail past Stenbury Manor up towards the Worsley Monument looking down over Appuldurcombe, and I love learning about new plants at the Botanic Gardens. I also enjoy spending more than I should at Briddlesford Lodge Farm shop and the fish and chips at the Ventnor Haven Fishery.