As nation celebrates Queen's Platinum Jubilee, former Concordia boss - from Morpeth - remembers meeting her 45 years ago

As the Queen and the country celebrate her seven decades on the throne, a former manager of Concordia has spoken fondly of the joy at showing her around the new venue for her Silver Jubilee.

By David Sedgwick
Wednesday, 1st June 2022, 12:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd June 2022, 1:02 pm

Mike Fulford had been appointed as manager of Concordia Leisure Centre in March 1976, when work was still progressing on the building as part of the rapidly expanding new town.

And shortly afterwards, he was invited to a meeting with the chief executive where he was told efforts were being made to ask a member of the Royal Family to officially open the centre the following year, with hopes it could be the Queen as part of her Silver Jubilee celebrations.

Mike, who has lived in Morpeth since 1976, said: “I was told it was top secret and if it leaked out, then all hopes would be lost.

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Mike Fulford (right) shows the Queen around Concordia Leisure Centre in July 1977, joined by Cllr Chandler, Mayor of Blyth Valley, and Cllr Gilbert Barker, Chair of Recreation.

"That was the first I heard of the plans and had to keep it quiet.

"I set up a meeting with the Chief Constable and the Duke of Northumberland in September 1976 in the centre, which was still far from being completed, and there were concerns it would not be ready in time.

"I told the Duke it would be, and then heard nothing more until early in 1977 and then once it opened in March and was successful, we were told it would be on the Silver Jubilee tour and be officially opened by the Queen on July 16.”

The Queen was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh to perform the official opening and take a tour of the facility.

Mike said: “They were on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee tour at the time, and it was the last stages of her visit to the North East.

"Security for the day was tight, the centre was closed for the day and no one was allowed in without a ticket.

"When the Royal Party arrived by car, they were introduced to a small group of us in the entrance then taken up the the first floor where the Queen and Duke signed the visitors’ book and unveiled the plaque.

"I then showed the Queen around the centre and the various facilities. We stood on the balcony overlooking the sports hall where a special demonstration was taking place, with invited people watching on.

“I then showed her the leisure pool, which at the time was one of the newest freeform pools in the country, and the real vegetation we had in there.

"We continued on the tour until we got to the social area where I remember the Queen stopped to have a cup of tea while the Duke talked to some of the invited guests.

"The Queen had come from Cramlington High School, where she posed for a picture with students on the playing field.

"It was a big day for Cramlington. Back then, it wasn’t as big as it is now. It helped put the town on the North East map and maybe played a part in the expansion.

"It was a great day for all those involved in the centre. People talked about it for a long time afterwards.”

Speaking of what it was like meeting the Queen, Mike said: “The first thing that strikes anyone who meets the Queen is she isn’t as tall as you would expect.

"But meeting her was something I will never forget.”

Mike, who says his first memory is as a six-year-old watching the Queen’s Coronation and the subsequent street parties, stayed on as centre manager through to the 1980s where, following a re-organisation, he became recreation manager at Blyth Valley Borough Council until 1996 when he retired.