'People need stimulation': 30 years and countless 85mph thrills on Blackpool's Big One

As Blackpool landmarks go, it's nearly up there with the tower.

But while it might have some way to go before it becomes as synonymous with the seaside as the resort's premiere landmark, it's difficult to imagine Blackpool's skyline without the Big One - or Pepsi Max Big One as it was originally called.

The Pleasure Beach rollercoaster opened on May 28, 1994. At a cost of £12 million and at the 235 ft, the steel beast was described as 'the most significant structure in Blackpool' since the tower was built 100-years earlier in 1894. At the time it was the tallest and fastest rollercoaster in the world - reaching speeds of up to 85mph. Its most memorable feature is the climb and then a 205ft lightning drop at an angle of 65 degrees right at the start of the terrifying, white-knuckle ride.

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Jane Moore, writing for the Daily Mirror, was one of the first to experience the ride. She described her harrowing experience in the newspaper on May 13, 1994, two weeks before it officially opened. The ride started with the nerve-jangling ascent over Blackpool Pleasure Beach and the town. She wrote: "The siren wailed to indicate we were off, the workmen who have spent the past two years constructing it gathered round to watch with a 'it's been nice knowing you' look in their eye. 'We call this vertical reality' one of them said ominously."

The rollercoaster is celebrating a very significant birthday
The rollercoaster is celebrating a very significant birthday -Credit:Mirrorpix

"The rear of the carriages packed with people-substitute sandbags, we began the seemingly endless ascent to the legendary 235ft peak. Nelson's Column is only 170ft.

"As usual in these circumstances, my mind filled with bad disaster movie thoughts of fractured tracks or loose nuts and bolts. Hands welded to the bar in front of me, the car reached that deathly moment when you known you're at the top and the only way is down.

Views of the popular seaside Lancashire town of Blackpool in North West England, showing the newly constructed steel Roller Coaster at Blackpool Pleasure beach, shortly before its opening. 29th March 1994. -Credit:Mirrorpix
Views of the popular seaside Lancashire town of Blackpool in North West England, showing the newly constructed steel Roller Coaster at Blackpool Pleasure beach, shortly before its opening. 29th March 1994. -Credit:Mirrorpix

She added: "Just as I was enjoying the rather charming view of the Irish Sea from 235 feet up, I began to plummet vertically into oblivion. My bum left the seat and I feared the two would never meet again as we twisted and turned our way downwards."

Felicity Newton writing for the Liverpool Echo also got a pre-opening day taste of the white-knuckle ride. Describing her experience, she wrote: "There are a few precious lingering seconds while you gasp at the possibility of a precipitous ocean tumble."

"The the plunge into the wild begins with a violent, lurching fall down the nightmare drop. If you can bear to open your eyes you will see a galloping kaleidoscopic whirl as an immense arc of steel struts, random pieces of sky and Pleasure Beach, and dozens of disembodied screams hurtle past in dizzying succession.

"And if you slam your eyelids down in an automatic reaction, dark panic spirals up from your guts in even more rapid waves. The worst of the fall down the steepest stretch of ride in the world can only last for a dozen or so seconds. But it seems a lifetime longer."

She ended her review with: "I guarantee that if you are foolhardy enough to venture onto The Big One, your only thought as you tumble down that descent into Hell will be... let me off or let me die."

At 1,675 metres long, the ride itself is over a mile of twists and drops and lasts for around two minutes. In an interview published in The Independent on the day the ride opened, Geoffrey Thompson, the managing director of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, explained why he decided to commission the ride to be built.

"People need stimulation," he told the newspaper. "Rollercoasters can still give you a real thrill."

The London Philharmonic Orchestra ride the big One at the official opening
The London Philharmonic Orchestra ride the big One at the official opening

Explaining his four-year mission to bring the biggest rollercoaster in the world to Blackpool, he said: "This is the most significant structure in Blackpool since the Tower was built a century ago in 1894. We already have the best wooden roller-coaster, and now we have built the best in steel."

Despite its sheer size and speed, over the last three decades millions of thrill-seekers have scared themselves silly on the Big One, only to come back again-and-again. But it no longer holds the title of tallest rollercoaster in Britain.

First ever ride on the Big One rollercoaster in Blackpool following its official opening. May 28, 1994
Views of the popular seaside Lancashire town of Blackpool in North West England, showing the newly constructed steel Roller Coaster at Blackpool Pleasure beach, shortly before its opening. 29th March 1994.

Hyperia at Thorpe Park opened in March 2024. At a towering 236ft tall, it takes the title as the UK's tallest rollercoaster - one that was held by the Big One for 30-years. But despite losing its crown, nothing compares still to that lightning drop over the Irish Sea in Blackpool.