There are few jobs that women haven’t ventured into this century, even if they are still in the minority, but some of those jobs are ones girls probably didn’t know existed when they were at school.
At this time of year the shorter nights are ideal for enjoying firework displays, but in the dark we have no idea who has made them happen, perhaps vaguely imagining someone going around with a box of matches, but modern fireworks don’t need matches.
I interviewed Kellyanne Buckle who is a lighting technician and pyrotechnics expert.
What part of the country did you grow up in?
Tamworth near Birmingham.
Did you imagine when you were a child you would work with fireworks?
No, I didn’t even like fireworks.
What career ideas did you have at school?
I nearly went to catering college, but I grew up around the theatre and amateur dramatics so I decided to do a BTech in applied theatre technology, lighting and sound stage management. One of our projects was to do a production of Aladdin – we were given only £50, we asked Cadburys for free chocolate. We gave the show for a van company’s annual treat and they loved it.
What was your first job?
I did an HND in media and communication; being a technician at a theatre for eighteen months I learnt a lot more than I had at college. I started doing casual work at Birmingham Symphony Hall and ended up working full time there for eight and a half years. I was the only female out of eleven on the team, but I just blocked out the banter. A couple of the older chaps probably just wanted to be helpful and not let me pick up anything heavy! In my last year I got interested in pyrotechnics.
What is the difference between fireworks and pyrotechnics?
Pyrotechnics are precisely made and always exactly the same so you can use them safely indoors.
What sort of shows did you work on?
Birmingham Town Hall also came under our umbrella so there was great variety. We did shows for Chris Rhea, Billy Connolly and pop bands on the way up or down. Also conferences and corporate dinner dances.
Did you get to meet many stars?
Not really, the sound technicians got more involved, but Jimmy Carr did a show every year and we got to know him. One time he noticed the usual stage manager was not there. When we told him the chap had had a triple bypass operation, Jimmy recorded a get well message for him.
What made you leave Symphony Hall?
The management changed and there was a staff restructure; I didn’t want to be stuck doing admin, it was time to move on and do something different. I had already been doing freelance work with a pyro and firework company; it was October, it didn’t rain, I enjoyed it.
What big outdoor events have you worked on?
On the River Medway, Chatham, Kent in 2017 for the 350th anniversary of the Battle of Medway. ‘Medway in Flames’ dramatically relived the Battle of Medway when Dutch ships launched a surprise attack on the English naval fleet moored at Chatham Dockyard. I designed the pyrotechnics that went with the video showing on giant screens.
Firework spectaculars for cruise ships leaving Liverpool or Southampton usually involve long hours on barges, though when the three Queens left Liverpool I was up on the roof of Cunard offices.
I have also worked regularly at ‘Beating The Retreat’ on Horseguards’ Parade.
Does your work involve a lot of travelling?
Yes, often far from home, Porthleven in Cornwall to Scotland, but my furthest journey was to Spain to teach a safety course, though I don’t speak Spanish.
What led you to start your own company, Hillcrest Street Productions?
It’s good to be able to take control, working for yourself; as freelancers you can’t pick and choose the work. We are trying to do what no one else is doing, for example offer a display that can be done at a wedding and make the wedding photographs extra special. The happy couple can have a confetti cannon for the first dance or ‘dancing on a cloud’ with low level ‘fog’ or cold sparks for choreographed photos.
How do you make cold sparks?
80% titanium 20% zirconium granules are heated at 500-600c, just enough to glow but not combust. They pass in front of the heater just before they are pushed out of the machine by a fan and are cool again less than a second later. You can put your hands in the sparks.
What was your favourite job?
A job I volunteered to do for free! When Westlife announced in 2012 they were splitting up I was invited to Cardiff to help with the pyrotechnics for their Last Ever Show, I certainly didn’t want to miss that. This year I went to their Comeback show in Belfast!
What are the hard parts of your work?
Working long days with a deadline, overnight set ups, working all through the night… Preparation takes a lot of time, then after a display, especially a large one, everything has to be packed away again.
What are the best parts?
Variety, not doing a nine to five job and having days off during the week.
Do you have different interests outside work?
If I had followed a different career path I would have liked it to be music. Two years ago I started learning the piano. I also enjoy ice skating and reading.
What advice would you give to girls still at school who want to do something different?
If you want to do something don’t let others put you off.