Cherry Haynes has been coming to Lighthouse since before it opened and says she loves it just as much now as she ever did.
Having applied after seeing an advert in the Echo, Cherry was one of our first stewards – or usherettes as they were known then – and attended a series of training courses in the weeks leading up to Poole Arts Centre opening on 1 April 1978.
“We had to learn how the building worked, where the toilets were, what facilities there were for disabled seating all that kind of thing,” she says. “The late Jon Slaney, the front of house manager, was a lovely kind man, so professional and funny as well. He was West End standard. His assistant was a dashing young man called Nigel Fraser.”
Cherry worked here for nearly two years before leaving to run the hotel her husband had bought in Bournemouth.
“Jon Slaney said I should keep my uniform as he’d have me back at any time. I thought I’d be able to come back if the hotel closed in winter, but we kept open and it just takes over your life. I never stopped coming back to Poole to see shows though. I brought my children to the panto every year and now there are five grandchildren that come with me. It’s lovely.”
Although much has changed since those early days, one thing that remains the same for Cherry is the atmosphere.
“I still get tingly every time I come here, there’s a magic to the place and I love it. There are so many memories.
“I was here the minute they opened the door and Duke and Princess Michael of Kent came in – they were newly weds, he was so handsome and she was just the perfect princess. I was here the following year when the Queen and Prince Philip came to perform the official opening. She looked lovely dressed in red, but the Duke of Edinburgh made a bee-line for me, he came zooming up and said: ‘Now, what do you do?’ I curtsied and said: ‘I’m an usherette, sir.’ And he said to me with a twinkle in his eye: ‘Oh, nice bit of pin money for you then.’
As well as royalty and her many work colleagues Cherry has fond memories of stars like Leslie Crowther, Harry H Corbett, Derek Griffiths, David Jason and Roy Castle.
“I remember Leslie Crowther was in the summer season that first year. He came on dressed as Darth Vadar and on opening night they clashed light sabres and all the batteries fell out over the stage. Everyone laughed and he said: “We’d better keep that in.” I can remember every word of that show I saw it so many times.”
Poole Arts Centre also played host to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, on 25 February 1979 when he appeared with The Jacksons on their Destiny World Tour.
“People don’t believe me but Michael Jackson was here with his brothers,” says Cherry. “They wore these peachy-orange jumpsuits and he can’t have been more than twenty. He did his famous moonwalk across the stage and the audience went wild.
“My absolute favourite though was Kate Bush. She played on a Sunday night, I think, and she was incredible, what a show, pure theatre. She was only a teenager but to have created all that, it was wonderful.”
But one of Cherry’s most memorable moments still brings the colour to her cheeks.
“One night, it was a BSO concert and I was selling ice creams on the balcony,” she recalls.
“This man asked for ten tubs so I had them on the ledge as I sorted out his change. Someone pushed past and one of the tubs went over the edge and landed on the head of this bald man in a full dress suit below. Well, I was horrified and rushed downstairs to apologise.
“When I reached the poor man who was in full dress suit, he was licking ice cream from his hands and saw me and asked: ‘Can I keep it?’ When I apologised he said: ‘Don’t worry love, I thought it was raining raspberry ripples tonight.’ His wife laughed, put her arm around me and said: ‘Stop shaking, he’s fine, can’t wait to tell the kids.’
“They had a really good laugh about it!”