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New Year’s Honours 2020: Norfolk’s own Mr Christmas among those from Norfolk to be honoured

PUBLISHED: 22:30 27 December 2019 | UPDATED: 11:12 28 December 2019

John Cushing, owner and director of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular. Picture: Thursford Collection

John Cushing, owner and director of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular. Picture: Thursford Collection

Archant

Norfolk’s Mr Christmas has been honoured for decades of charitable work with a place on the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list.

John Cushing, Picture: AlbanpixJohn Cushing, Picture: Albanpix

He is the man behind the hugely successful Thursford Christmas Spectacular, which sees more than 100,000 people visit each year. He has been made an OBE for his services to charity.

It's Christmas every day of the year for 80-year-old Mr Cushing, dubbed Mr Christmas, who starts to plan another seasonal show while the current one is taking place.

Mr Cushing, who has previously welcomed royal guests including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the show, said: "I shed an emotional tear when I opened the letter. I really was not expecting anything like this, I was shocked.

"It means a lot to know that people care about what we are doing here in Thursford."

John Cushing, the founder/director of the Thursford Christmas Spectacula 
PHOTO: IAN BURTJohn Cushing, the founder/director of the Thursford Christmas Spectacula PHOTO: IAN BURT

Mr Cushing said: "I told one of my sons first about the honour and he helped me tell all of the family at our Christmas Eve meal.

"Just before the pudding he stood up and said he had an announcement, he then told them all about the OBE and we all cried.

"It was a very special and emotional moment."

"Thursford is a family business, I took over in 1977 and since then me, my wife Barbara and my boys Charlie, 29, and George, 27, have all been involved.

Prince William and Kate Middleton attending a gala performance at the Thursford Christmas Spectacular in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. Also pictured (L) is John Cushing, owner of the Thursford Collection. PICTURE: IAN BURTPrince William and Kate Middleton attending a gala performance at the Thursford Christmas Spectacular in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. Also pictured (L) is John Cushing, owner of the Thursford Collection. PICTURE: IAN BURT

"It's amazing to think that what started as a very small and amateur event with school choirs is now known across the UK for being Europe's biggest festive spectacular.

"Thursford has been a lifetime's passion for my family, my brilliant team, and I.

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"It has been a great privilege to work with such an amazingly talented group of people over the years, together seeing the collection flourish, and all witnessing the huge growth of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular and the joy and happiness that we have brought to so many visitors of all ages and from all corners of the world.

Thursford Collection owner John Cushing outside the new George Cushing memorial hall. 
PHOTO: IAN BURTThursford Collection owner John Cushing outside the new George Cushing memorial hall. PHOTO: IAN BURT

"Being bestowed an OBE for this work is a huge personal honour for myself but also extended to my team who have been there the whole way and for which I am very grateful and feel truly blessed."

With a budget of more than £2m and 150 performers, the show is Europe's biggest festive display.

The Thursford Collection is a registered charity which operates as a steam engine and organ museum as well as running the Christmas show.

Mr Cushing's father, George Thomas Henry Cushing, was made an MBE in 1989.

John Cushing at the Thursford Collection. Picture: Ian BurtJohn Cushing at the Thursford Collection. Picture: Ian Burt

Mr Cushing took over the Thursford Collection Trust from his father in the 1970s and has spent the last four decades dedicated to the restoration of the charity's fleet of steam rollers, steam trains, tractors, and fairground rides.

The charity attracts huge numbers of visitors throughout the year, from school groups to enthusiasts, educating them on the majesty of Britain's great industrial steam heritage.

Under Mr Cushing's leadership, the museum has grown into the world's largest collection of steam engines and organs with a transformed visitor experience including the addition of cafés, restaurant, bars, shopping village, pavilion and Bed & Breakfast Holly Lodge.

However, it is the creation of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular for which Mr Cushing has truly left his mark on the charity.

John Cushing won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2017 Norfolk Arts Awards at Norwich Cathedral's Hostry.
Photo: Simon Finlay PhotographyJohn Cushing won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2017 Norfolk Arts Awards at Norwich Cathedral's Hostry. Photo: Simon Finlay Photography

Accompanied by the enchanting Santa's Magical Journey fantasyland, the award-winning annual festive show has attracted nearly six million visitors since the first Christmas Eve production in 1977.

Preparations for the three-hour festive extravaganza start early in the year, employing around 360 young dancers, singers, musicians, variety acts, technicians wardrobe teams, ushers, caterers and production staff, providing many of them a valuable stepping stone to long and successful careers within the arts.

In 2014 Mr Cushing, a father of two, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for his dedication to the show at the Stars of Norfolk Awards, run by this newspaper.


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