Detours

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 12:00am

Welcome to Blackpool, Britain's supposed answer to Las Vegas and the nation's undisputed capital of entertainment. A cynic might say the competition sucks, but this seaside town 320km north-east of London does boast what must be Britain's most surreal hotel, a place where madness, whimsy and dreams collide: Sparkles hotel.


Once a nightmare to visit from London because the only option was an interminable train journey, Sparkles is now easily reachable. A new twice-daily flight with a one-way fare of #29.99 (HK$390) will bring the resort within 40 minutes of Stansted airport, which is just outside London.


Opening the door of the hotel herself, Mrs Sparkle proves to be a direct and, to use her own term, 'high-energy' character, unfussy about formality. She has to be. Her main clientele are families with kids.


Mrs Sparkle also takes couples and hen parties or, as she puts it, anxious to discourage rudely raucous females, 'lady stays'. The average room price is #40 per night for those allowed in; Mrs Sparkle says she only takes those who treat her with respect. Stag parties are out altogether because Mrs Sparkle would rather not see the building trashed.


Before she renovated it in 1997, there was a hole in the roof 'big enough to put a shark through'. Inside, the ceilings and skirtings were peppered with holes too. Rather than plastering them over, she used them to frame the bizarre toys and accessories her hotel now contains.


Rooms take their inspiration from myths and fairy tales. One, the Lost City of Atlantis, which is designed for the consumption of the British national dish, fish and chips, harbours sharks looking ravenously down from the ceiling.


Another, the Cinderella Lounge, which has a wall clock permanently stopped at midnight, features Cinderella's slippers, which you can take if they fit. Unless you happen to be the size of Shrek though, they probably won't - each is gigantic.


If you happen to be romantic you may care to sleep in the Chocaholic Suite, featuring purple walls, lots of silver, a heart-shaped bed and the smell of chocolate - well, linseed, which was mixed into the original paint to suggest the scent of the world's favourite legal high substance.


Some may wonder what Mrs Sparkle herself is on, given the originality and scope of her ideas. 'It's just my imagination,' the former drama teacher breezes.


Her quirky vision is nicely mirrored by the Sparkles website (www.sparkles.co.uk), the home page of which features trippy summertime iconography including two sheep ballerinas, a toadstool picnic table and, tied to a tree, a dancing kite. Click on it to take the Sparkles virtual tour of all five floors.


Next on Mrs Sparkle's agenda is a room in the spirit of the Narnia Chronicles by the English fantasy author CS Lewis. Her 'Narnia' is entered through a blackout curtain meant to represent the wardrobe portrayed in the book as the gateway to the magical land. Among other paraphernalia, the interior will feature a sleigh bed, a fur-cloaked witch mannequin and even Aslan, the hero lion, sprawling on a stone table.


'I doubt you'll see a hotel like this anywhere in the world,' she declares. With the possible exception of Vegas, she is probably right.


Sparkles Hotel, 37 Station Road, South Shore, Blackpool, Lancashire, England FY4 1EU. Tel: [44 1253] 343200; www.sparkles.co.uk