Thousands pack Square to watch Dionne Bromfield turn on Barnstaple’s Christmas lights

THOUSANDS of Barnstaple shoppers were given an early taste of Christmas at the town’s annual lights switch on event yesterday (Sunday).

The Square was packed with people keen to see rising starlet Dionne Bromfield push the plunger before performing an eight-track set featuring Mama Said, Foolin’ and Ouch, as well as cover of I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus.

The 15-year-old soul singer-songwriter – the goddaughter, the late Amy Winehouse – has shot to fame this year with the launch of her second album and a MOBO nomination for best UK R&B/Soul act.

Dionne has recorded official Olympic anthem Spinnin’ for 2012 with rapper Tinchy Stryder and it was clear to see why she’s tipped for even bigger things next year having wowed the crowd with a warm, lively and note-perfect set.

Later, she Tweeted a picture of the crowd she’d taken from the stage: “Amazing crowd at Barnstaple ...wicked night x x,” she told followers.

Almost as popular were the ladies of the RMB Chivenor Military Wives Choir, who drew a huge crowd despite taking to the stage at the much earlier time of 3pm.

The choir, currently being featured on the new BBC2 series of The Choir with Gareth Malone, were ably conducted by tattooed chorister Samantha Stevenson.

Following their performance, they issued an urgent appeal to find a musical director or a pianist to keep the group going.

The choir can be contacted by email at militarywiveschoir@hotmail.co.uk or on Twitter at @Milwiveschoir.

By the time the Christmas lights went on at 5.30pm, the crowd was already in fine festive voice thanks to a fantastic medley of Christmas hits performed by a collaboration of some of North Devon’s finest and freshest faces on the local music scene.

The group of musicians – featuring, Jenna Witts, Ellie Campbell, Tamsin Ball, Jim Jones, Ben Brewer, and members of Maybe Naked, iFunk, The Breaks and The Confused among others, set the scene with a succession of reworked festive favourites.

Other highlights included a cheeky ventriloquist act by former Britain’s Got Talent runner-up Damon Scott and monkey Bubbles, a performance by the Streetz Dance Crew, and live music by The Elderly Brothers and talented vocal duo Foley and Hepburn.

The Christmas lights switch on heralds the beginning of late night Christmas shopping in Barnstaple, which takes place on Thursdays right up to Christmas Eve and will feature live music, street theatre and entertainment.

During the last five years, previous switch-on events in Barnstaple have attracted crowds of around 30,000 and initial estimates suggest Sunday’s event was just as popular.

Organisers BID Barnstaple and Barnstaple Town Centre Management thanked sponsors – including the North Devon Gazette and The Co-operative – for their support.

BID Barnstaple coordinator Sue Rawle said Barnstaple “set a benchmark” for Christmas lights switch on events.

“In terms of marketing our town, the lights switch on is a huge opportunity for Barnstaple to show how it should be done,” she said.

“We outshine Plymouth and we outshine Exeter and we know that many people come to Barnstaple from outside the area.

“We pride ourselves on getting in the right type of acts and offering something for everyone.

“We have got a fantastic team of people that help make it happen and that is the key.

“As a town, we are saying to shoppers: ‘we’re open for business – come in and spend your money’.

“The town is now all lit up and ready for Christmas and BID Barnstaple hopes all traders will have a good festive season.”

The event also featured the live North Devon Hospice grand annual draw. The top £5,000 prize was won by Mr Griffiths, from Tiverton, while Mrs Drayton, from Barnstaple, won the second prize, a £500 Farm & Cottage Holidays voucher.

Nearly 30,000 people entered this year’s draw.

Click on the gallery links on the top right of this page to see more pictures from yesterday’s Christmas lights switch on.