Norman Kemish and Arthur Gale launched the first Southampton Boat Show which ran for just six days, from 29 September – 4 October. The early Boat Show was a far more modest affair than today’s event, solely contained within Mayflower Park and the army, based on the other side of the river at Marchwood Military Port, supplying the small pontoon where just a handful of boats were moored. Commenting on the Show at the time, Yachts and Yachting said: “The first Southampton Boat Show may have lacked quantity but quality was as good as any to be found anywhere in the world and, with what is responsibly claimed to be over 60 per cent of the British pleasure boat trade situated within a 25 mile radius of the town, the Southampton Show stands ever chance of becoming a popular annual event.” Although the founders were confident they had a success on their hands, little did they imagine the event would grow into a marine magnet for the international boating industry, drawing exhibitors and crowds from around the world. At the first Show there was roughly 50 exhibitors, compared to 500+ today.
The first of a long line of celebrity openers, BAFTA TV awardwinning actor and star of Till Death Us Do Part, Warren Mitchell, opened the 1970 Boat Show and was paid £200 for the honour.
By the time the Show reached the 1980s early hovercrafts, water-bikes and concept hydrofoils were amongst the weird but wonderful inventions often given their first showing at the event. But it was a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde which was the Show’s star attraction on the 400th anniversary of his circumnavigation of the world.
Best remembered as the year gale-force winds ripped through the Show on its final day, winds of up to 55mph turned the last hours of the event into a shipwreck as Ocean Hall was flattened.
The Show was sold to the British Marine (then known as the Ship and Boat Builders’ National Federation) becoming the official sister Show to the London International Boat Show. The running of the event still remained with the original organisers, J. E. Artman & Partners.
Richard Branson displayed his Virgin Atlantic Challenger at the Show, fresh from an unsuccessful transatlantic crossing, whilst Virgin Atlantic presented a fashion show in the Virgin Atlantic Hall. Other guest appearances included stars of the popular sailing soap, Howard’s Way.
Show founders, Arthur and Norman, handed over the reins of running the event to British Marine (then known as the British Marine Industries Federation) and the event underwent a dramatic expansion on the water with 254 boats showcased afloat.
This year saw Britain pulling out of the European Exchange Rate (ERM) and the resulting Black Wednesday (16 September), which cost the economy an estimated £3.3billion.
The Show celebrated its 25th anniversary with an impressive guest list of VIP visitors that included HRH the Princess Royal and the then king of Formula One, Nigel Mansell. One of the head-turning attractions was a 20 metre long Jongert with a price tag of £1million – the same cost of staging the Show at the time.
The event was debated by Parliament which granted permission for an extra nautical day of pleasure and the Show was extended from nine to ten days.
Romance was in the air when Wendy and Richard Keeble from Kingston, who met and courted on the waves, tied the knot at the Boat Show. Their wedding present to each other was a Beneteau Oceanis 411 which they bought at the event.
The Show welcomed its first celebrity chef, Ross Burden, who curated the menu for the event’s waterfront restaurant, the Mariner’s Grill. Since then, the Show has worked with Anthony Worrall-Thompson, Jean-Christophe Novelli and James Martin and this year has lined up the nation’s most loved culinary duo, Si King and Dave Myers (a.k.a. The Hairy Bikers).
The event featured a makeshift beach, with tonnes of sand being imported.
The Show turned ‘pirate’ with the introduction of its very own Treasure Island and it was ‘ooh arr me hearties’ all day long as the event supported International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
As well as welcoming a successful sailing Team GB, fresh from the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics, the Show witnessed the Royal Marines attempting a 24 hour underwater cycle of 240 miles. The equivalent of cycling from Southampton to Paris.
The Show introduced its first ever passenger boat giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy a free boat trip on the Solent, taking in the impressive view of the Show from a new perspective. In total, the organisers got a record 15,000 people on the water throughout the 10 days.
The Show was the most eco-friendly yet, announcing an eco-pledge and long-term commitment to marine conservation. The Harbourside Gin Festival with Pegasus Life UK was introduced as a brand new feature to the Show. The Show also celebrated its golden anniversary – over the last 50 years it has been the launchpad for boating legends, seen the evolution of ground-braking technology and tracked the rise of global marine brands.