Jesse Harrison Lowe talks about his family legacy and involvement in the world of fireworks
I am incredibly lucky. I have a passion that pays. A phrase I have stolen from my dad, but that is still remarkably accurate.
Passed down from my grandad to my father, and subsequently to me, is an innate love to set light to things, watch it make pretty shapes and colours in the sky, and get paid for it. I was left with no choice – fireworks are in my blood.
With it being the season of bonfires and fireworks, it seemed appropriate to have a chat about it with my grandfather, who was a professional fireworks operator. From the first time I walked into my grandad’s factory, I was known as ‘Roly’s grandson’, and from a very young age I have been involved with different firework displays all over the country. The following interview might open your eyes to just how amazing the firework industry is.
“I was left with no choice- Fireworks are in my blood”
Jesse: What are some of the best things about this job?
Roly: I always looked forward to going and doing the jobs. I have been all over the place. Across the Middle East, Hong Kong. I went to America three times. The Seychelles. We did a display for Kenyan Independence – about twelve of us. We were all in different parts of Kenya, I was in the national stadium.
J: Sounds amazing. Do you have any particular memory that stands out? Like, your favourite or most impressive memory?
R: Well, I suppose the main thing was when I did the firework display for Prince Charles in Hyde Park. I was working on a great massive scaffolding. There were different big fireworks to put on the scaffolding and all over the park. We were going to put up a massive and great set piece, so we had the biggest cherry picker in the country. One of the blokes working for us went up with it to light it. He must have been up about ten meters. The set piece was dedicated to Charles and Diana.
J: How long did that display take to set up?
R: About a day and a half I think. I had to lay out all the different firework sets. Of course, I had to organise all of that. It was nearly time when we were going to fire, when the household cavalry came galloping in. I was still making electrical connections and they came and broke a wire!
J: That sounds a bit dangerous to me. I bet the team was pretty quick at getting that fixed?
R: Absolutely. The thing about working with fireworks it that it’s mainly about trust. Do you need to keep an eye on the guys you’re working with or are they going to get the thing done? You need to sort the people out. Sometimes they know what to do and what not to do, but above all, you have to make sure it’s safe.
J: Has there ever been a time when your own safety has been tested?
R: One time, I fell overboard into the Thames when a show was ongoing. I went to step from one raft onto another to see if the set piece had been ignited when I missed my step and went in. I started shouting. I was drifting down the Thames and I must have gone about thirty or forty yards before a guy in a boat that was on standby spotted me and pulled me out of the water.
“I missed speaking to the Queen…I was too busy, and didn’t have the time”
J:Do you have another example of things not going exactly according to the plan? For instance, did you ever get hit by something while doing a display?
R: Did I? Yes, I did. Yeah, in the back of the shoulder by an eight-inch mortar. We were out on an island in the Indian Ocean. I was there with a portfire, so that should any of them not go off, I was ready. I got hit in the back. Oh, and I never told your granny. I was perfectly alright.
J: These stories are fascinating. I mean, you’ve travelled the world, done large displays for the royal family in Hyde Park, gone for an unplanned swim in the Thames and even been hit by a mortar! On the last note, any other impressive story to tell before we round up? Have you ever met anyone famous, perhaps?
R: I missed speaking to the Queen.
J: Come again?
R: I had to build a big set piece that would go off upon the Queen’s arrival at a park in London. As she appeared in the early evening, my boss and I were to be introduced to the her, but I was a bit pushed for time. All of a sudden the Queen came up, and I was supposed to explain to her what I had been doing. But I was too busy, and didn’t have the time.
My granddad shared with me just a small amount of the stories he has from his forty years of working with fireworks. Hopefully this interview has given you an insight into the firework industry. From hearing stories told by him, to firing displays by hand with my dad for the last few years, it is clear that fireworks run deep in my family. The fact that I get the chance to carry on an interesting family tradition like this one is something that is really important to me. Some of the stories that my granddad tells me blow me away, and I can only hope I will have the opportunity to tell my grandchildren the same type of stories one day. Who knows, maybe I’ll even have to turn down the Queen someday being “too busy”?