Women of Influence: Amanda Thompson

A view from the top…
Amanda Thompson has been the managing director of Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Blackpool, England, since 2004. The historic amusement property is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the U.K. and has won numerous awards from industry associations.


Thompson is the fourth generation of her family to head up the property. Blackpool Pleasure Beach was founded by her great grandfather, W.G. Bean, in 1896. Her grandmother, Doris Bean Thompson, and grandfather, Leonard Thompson, assumed leadership in 1931. Her father, Geoffrey Thompson, oversaw the business from 1976 until 2004.

Accomplishments and affiliations…
• Received the coveted Order of the British Empire (OBE) honor for her services to tourism in 2012
• First vice chair, International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (will chair in 2020, becoming first woman from Europe to chair IAAPA, first second member of a family to chair and third woman to chair in organization’s 100-year history)
• Has chaired IAAPA’s Europe, Middle East and Africa Advisory Committee and served on board of directors and various committees
• Michael Elliott Award for Director of the Year

Being involved is the key to success
Amanda Thompson OBE is not a simple person. Far from it. Yet her formula to success includes elements that are notably simple.

“I am very involved,” said Thompson, referring to all aspects of the companies she leads. “I have a team of people that I work with, and I work with my team. I am not afraid of making mistakes or taking responsibility.

“You have to make it happen. You can either sink or swim.”

And swim she has, all while juggling the management of Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Stageworks Worldwide Productions, an entertainment company she founded in 1982 that produces shows globally. She directs and produces with very much a hands-on approach. 

In 2019, Thompson will open Blackpool’s second hotel, the 120-room Boulevard Hotel, which she designed. It follows the 157-room Big Blue Hotel at Blackpool, a success since its debut in 2003.

Her design vision for a new coaster led to the opening of Blackpool’s $18 million-plus Icon earlier this year. Manufactured by Mack Rides, it is the U.K.’s first double-launch coaster, soaring to a maximum height of 88 feet and speeds of up to 53 mph.

Like Icon, Thompson is a force. She’s also a fighter, and it has not been an easy road.

Thompson’s rise to managing director of Blackpool was neither gradual nor comfortable. Not that she wasn’t a part of the family business over the years: she had been very active in the industry while also gaining life experiences. 

Thompson worked for a fashion design label, Joseph, in London. She launched her Stageworks business. She even produced and directed shows on an annual basis for Europa-Park for 13 years. She stacked her jobs one on top of the other, always maintaining at least two at any given time. In 2000, she became deputy managing director of Blackpool with a focus on live entertainment. 

Much earlier, as a child, Thompson had stints at the park. Right before her seventh birthday, she worked for about two weeks at the pony rides. It was a deal she had struck with her grandfather because she wanted a pony for her birthday, unbeknownst to her father, who had already nixed the idea. (She got the pony anyway.)

When she was 17 years old, Thompson’s father gave her permission to set up a booth at the park. She had an idea of spray-painting guests’ hair different colors. 

“And they paid me to do it,” she said. 

But on a Saturday in June 2004, her life changed dramatically. During her wedding reception, her father collapsed. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at Blackpool Victoria Hospital. 

There was no honeymoon for the newlyweds. 

“It was an extraordinary situation, actually,” Thompson recalled. “It was not one I was ready for, but I knew it was my responsibility to take over the family business. When I arrived at work on that next Monday, I had bankers knocking at my door. They hadn’t been prepared for what happened, either. They didn’t know what to expect.”

It was overwhelming for Thompson and not a great time financially for the park. But giving up was not part of her character. She knew she had to stand up, devise a plan, make changes.

Thompson began developing her team, leaning heavily on family. Her brother, Nick Thompson, became deputy managing director. Close by were her sister, Fiona Gilje; her mother, Barbara Thompson; her grandmother, Doris Bean Thompson; and her husband, Steve Thompson. She also had support from members of IAAPA.

Yet life struck another blow later that same month when her grandmother passed away at age 101.

It was a harrowing time. And it was even more challenging because it was not common at that time for a woman to be in such a high-profile position. Thompson found she had to work harder than any man. 

“You have to have a strong personality,” she said. “You have to lead by example.”

She dove in. Over the next years, she streamlined the park’s operations while also introducing new attractions, such as Nickelodeon Land in 2011. She continued producing new entertainment shows. 

She delivered. Her team delivered. Blackpool Pleasure Beach continues to thrive. 

Thompson’s advice to young women entering the industry is what has worked for her.

“Be prepared to be way better than any man,” she said. “Never complain. Never moan. Just get to the job at hand. 

“You are only as good as your last production.”

—Pam Sherborne

This article appears in the NOVEMBER II 2018 issue of Amusement Today.
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