BUXTON’S Billerettes are marching into the records books on the town’s Carnival Day with their 1,000th public appearance.
It’s been a journey which has taken the world’s hairiest majorettes all over the country, to millions of TV screens worldwide - and even helped get their leader Bill Weston MBE an audience with the Queen.
The Billerettes - a bunch of blokes who perform majorette routines better than the all-girl majorettes themselves - have now been wowing the crowds for 36 years, raising £40,000 for charity themselves and helping organisations they have supported to generate hundreds of thousands more along the way.
Bill has timed this year’s Buxton Carnival Day on July 16 to be the 1,000th after keeping meticulous records of all their appearances and of the 403 team members who have been Billerettes since it all started in 1975.
The idea for the Billerettes came to Bill when he was dressed as a hula-hula girl with strategically-placed coconuts and a grass skirt while walking alongside the Buxton Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society float in 1974.
He followed one of the many groups of majorettes who used to come to carnivals in those days - bored-looking girls who rhythmically but half-heartedly slapped their thighs in time to the music.
“There was no dynamism - they were like zombies walking along,” said Bill. “I thought this isn’t carnival - carnival should be happy and bright. I could do better myself,” Bill told a passer-by - who replied that he would never do anything about it.
“That was the gauntlet thrown down,” said Bill, who the next year took the Buxton Carnival by storm when he danced in the streets with his friends Simon Nicholls and Neil Gregory.
The rest has become part of Buxton’s history, with the group dressed in their distinctive uniforms, playing in carnivals all over the north west and dancing at 26 weddings and 90 private parties.
The interest in the Billerettes continues: “The Japanese filmed us for four days and it was seen by 30 million people,” said Bill, adding an American TV company sold their show about the group to 105 countries. Even the French like them!
“I feel very proud that we are still going strong and about to perform our 1,000th event,” said Bill, who won the MBE for his charity work - with the Queen mentioning the Billerettes as she conferred it on him in the Palace.
“She said I hear you have a unique way of raising money,” said Bill.
Part of his inspiration was Al Jolson’s famous quote about looking down on Broadway in New York and saying: “That street belongs to me.”
And on July 16, Bill will be thinking of the great entertainer as he dons his skirt and shakes his pom-poms.
“Buxton has always been our best carnival,” he said.
“We get a great response - there’s always that little bit extra here.
“I look at Buxton on Carnival Day and say: the town belongs to the Billerettes!”
For more about the Billerettes, see www.billerettes.org.uk.