Can ex-Disney man save Hastings Pier?

Simon Opie -  the man who is charged with rebuilding Hastings Pier
Simon Opie - the man who is charged with rebuilding Hastings Pier

THE man who boosted the fortunes of the Euro Disney empire in Paris and set up Madame Tussaud attractions around the world has been handed the job of rebuilding Hastings Pier.

Simon Opie, 54, has just been appointed as the chief executive of the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust.

The father-of-three, who boasts an impressive CV, will take up his new role on November 1 in what is being hailed as a major coup for the trust.

Mr Opie, who lives in Cranbrook, has been handed the task of steering the trust through the next few years and helping complete its vision for a new and vibrant pier building.

When the fire ripped through the pier in October last year, Mr Opie was following the events unfold on French TV as he worked at the Euro Disney complex.

His partner’s family live in St Leonards and he was well aware of the dramatic impact the blaze would have on their home town.

Speaking exclusively to the Observer this week, Mr Opie said, “I am very excited and I really can’t wait to get started.

“I have fond memories of walking down the pier with my grandfather when I was a young boy. I grew up in Canterbury and used to have day trips to Hastings with my family.

“Like everyone else, I want to see it back up and running as soon as possible.

“There are three keys issues that I will be focusing on.

“We will have to establish the ownership of the pier first and that will involve a compulsory purchase order through the council, working in partnership with the trust.

“We will then have to stabilise the structure and make sure it is safe and then implement a flexible and robust business plan.

“These are very challenging economic times. But I have seen how far the trustees have come in just one year and how they have shown that anything is possible.

“We need to have a strategic plan in place by mid-2012 and then it could be just a matter of time before the pier is returned to its former glory.”

In 1995 Mr Opie joined the Madame Tussaud group as a project director and went on to help establish a Tussaud attraction in New York.

He then established more attractions around the world including Las Vegas, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hamburg.

In 2007 he took up a new post at Euro Disney in Paris to head up the entertainments division overseeing 1,200 staff.

And last year he was responsible for the opening of the multi-million Euro Toy Story Playland in Paris.

John Hough, Founding Trust member, said: “Simon’s appointment is a real feather in our cap because of the wealth of first class experience he is brings from some of the world’s biggest attractions.

“We are very much looking forward to working with him in what should be a very fruitful relationship.”

Ray Chapman, chairman of the Trust, said: “We are excited at the appointment of Simon who brings a wealth of experience of the leisure, entertainment and tourism sectors that will benefit Hastings and the future of our iconic pier.”