How did you first meet Sir Billy?
I was working behind the bar of the old Butlins resort in Pwllheli in Wales. I deliberately avoided meeting him because I thought I wasn’t very good at the job. I thought he’d take one look and say, ‘Out!’ So I’d find out when he was due to visit, and book my day off to coincide! Then one day, he appeared unannounced. We just looked at one another and he said, “What time do you finish?” (Not the sort of thing that would happen these days!)
Tell us more about Sir Billy...
He was fantastic. We were together for 32 years. He was a man of great vision and always followed his ideas through. When we were building a Butlins resort in the West Indies, Bill was there in a tent, being eaten alive by mosquitoes. He wanted to oversee things properly and make sure it got built in exactly the right spot. If Bill saw a gutter was blocked, he’d take his coat off and start clearing it immediately. He’d never ask someone to do a job he wouldn’t be prepared to do himself.
How did life change after Sir Billy was knighted?
We were once invited to Buckingham Palace, which was nice. Another time, Prince Philip once came and stayed overnight with us at our home in Jersey. My daughter Jacqui still remembers singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ with him while everyone waited for me to get ready. We had a wonderful life.
Why do the British have such fond memories of Butlins?
In the early days, the war was over, our troops had come home and people just wanted to relax. They wanted fun and colour – and that’s what they got at Butlins. It was a ‘week’s pay for a week’s play’. Everyone loved it. Above all, it’s a family place. Butlins was created by a family and it’s enjoyed by the whole family. Guests would come back year after year.
Your granddaughters, Amelia and Laura, are following in your footsteps by doing work experience as Redcoats. Which part of the job did you enjoy the most?
I loved entertaining the children – the way their little faces used to light up. Being a Redcoat today is essentially the same job. But like everything, it’s simply moved with the times. Seeing my girls in their Redcoat uniforms is an absolute dream.
Do you like how the resorts look today?
I’m thrilled with them. If Bill was here, he would be delighted to meet the people who have brought Butlins into the 21st century. The rooms in the new Wave hotel in Bognor Regis are fantastic. Of course, when the first holiday camps were built, we were just coming out of a war. In many ways, Butlins is also a piece of social history – you can see how manufacturing has moved with the times. It looks wonderful, but they’ve still kept the feel of the classic Butlins resort. I wish them all the luck in the world.
Sir Billy and Lady Sheila Butlin’s Grandchildren, Laura and Amelia on being Redcoats
I’ve absolutely loved being a Redcoat! But it was pretty nerve-wracking at first. On one of the days, we had to dance on stage – I ended up going the wrong way and bumped into someone! Overall I enjoyed being with the children the most. Lots of them say they want to be Redcoats when they’re older. - Laura, 20
Redcoats are so bubbly – they work really hard. Being a Redcoat is surprisingly tiring. You have to smile all the time, and talk to everyone you see. At first, I was worried I might be annoying the guests, but it’s all about getting the right balance. - Amelia, 19