Why the crowds (and Britney) are heading to Scarborough this summer

Star line-ups at the Open Air Theatre have been pulling in audiences from across the country and bey

Star line-ups at the Open Air Theatre have been pulling in audiences from across the country and beyond. - Credit: Alamy

The holiday season in Scarborough is going to be bigger, better and glitzier than ever, says Tony Greenway.

Surfing has become increasingly popular in the town and home to the UK Pro Surf Tour Scarborough Sur

Surfing has become increasingly popular in the town and home to the UK Pro Surf Tour Scarborough Surf Festival - Credit: Tony Bartholomew, Tony Bartholom

The Yorkshire seaside is not without its (typically English) charms. It’s great for paddling in the shallows, eating fish and chips on the prom, beach-combing, donkey rides for the kids, getting sand in your candy floss and throwing good money after bad in the arcades. But actual culture? Festivals, events, theatre, music, museums, galleries and acclaimed restaurants and good cafes? Hmmm, you might think, not so much.

But that’s where you’d be wrong says Janet Deacon, tourism and corporate marketing manager for Scarborough Borough Council and area director for Welcome to Yorkshire. Yes — spoiler alert — the coast has lots of sand but that doesn’t mean the Yorkshire seaside is a cultural desert.

‘For 250 years, the Yorkshire coast has played a major role in our national cultural life: introducing the world’s first purpose-built museum (the Rotunda in Scarborough), enjoying the top music hall venue outside of London (The Scarborough Spa), and even inventing the English holiday itself,’ she says. In fact, it has ‘an extraordinary wealth of world-class culture: art, heritage, theatre, music, and a year-round programme of festivals and events.’ And it is this time of year ‘Scarbados’ - as it’s not altogether affectionately nicknamed by the locals - is busy putting on its game face. And for 2018, the town has excelled itself.

First of all, there are the celebrities. The Scarborough Open Air Theatre is playing host to numerous mould-breaking musical megastars (and Steps are appearing too). As if Lionel Richie (June 19th), Gary Barlow (June 22nd), Nile Rogers & Chic (June 24th), Emeli Sandé (July 5th), Noel Gallagher (July 6th) and Texas (August 11th) aren’t exciting enough, Britney flippin’ Spears turns up on August 17th. Britters will be in town to perform her glitzy, pyrotechnic-tastic Piece of Me show, which has been in residency at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas for the last four years. Let that sink in for a moment. Britney Spears. Glitzy Las Vegas show. In Scarborough.

Scarborough Spa Orchestra, the UK's last remaining professional seaside orchestra

Scarborough Spa Orchestra, the UK's last remaining professional seaside orchestra - Credit: Archant

Maybe it was a slow news day, but when Britney announced she was Scarborough-bound it made national headlines. Even the BBC News website seemed stunned, noting ‘The (Scarborough Open Air Theatre) - regarded as the largest open air theatre in Europe - can hold about 6,000 people, but it is not often you hear it listed alongside the O2 in London or Manchester Arena’. It then quoted a local as saying: ‘She is a big star, she’s massive. It is quite shocking she is coming here’.

Then again, why is it? Last year the Open Air Theatre played host to The Beach Boys and the year before that the line-up included Elton John and Bryan Adams. ‘Visitors are travelling from all over the world to see the gigs at the theatre,’ says Deacon. ‘The new permanent decking has also increased the venue’s capacity to 8,000 — and a 10-year partnership with Cuffe and Taylor (the promoter) and Live Nation (the live entertainment company) will ensure that the high quality music offer continues for some time to come.’

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Away from Britney and chums there’s a ton of other things going on in Scarborough such as the always innovative programme at the fabulous Stephen Joseph Theatre (which is exporting Yorkshire coast culture when it takes Alan Ayckbourn’s A Brief History of Women to New York this month); the Scarborough Food and Drink Festival; the 10th Armed Forces Day; the 20th Scarborough Seafest; the Scarborough Jazz Festival; the Scarborough Cricket Festival and Scarborough GoldWing Light Parade (a biker weekend like no other). The town is also a staging post for this month’s Tour de Yorkshire.

Then there are the established attractions including the Alpamare Waterpark and the Sealife Centre and if you want to be really cool, try surfing which has become increasingly popular in the town. In fact, Dexters Surf Shop, based on the North Bay (which, by the way, is a totally different experience to the South Bay), is the first certified Surfing GB surf school in the area.

Scarborough’s food scene is looking good too, with old favourites such as Lanterna Ristorante rubbing shoulders with new - or relatively new - outlets, like gourmet burger joint Cow Shed and coffee houses such as Greensmith & Thackwray and Yay Coffee!

Stephen Dinardo and Marytn Hyde are the co-owners of Eat Me Café (facing the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Stage door) which has a string of awards to its name, including The Good Food Guide’s Best Café in the UK, and an unexpectedly global menu. ‘We wanted to bring something new to Scarborough and it worked beyond our expectations,’ says Hyde, who used to run the Drunken Monkey restaurant in Thailand. So much for that cliché that seaside towns are only good for fish and chips and a tray of cockles, then.

But, really, isn’t there a problem with locating a cafe in a seasonal town? ‘No,’ says Hyde. ‘We’re a local cafe/restaurant and we predominantly look after the locals. We’ve always been community-based and we try to give back as much as we can.’ He also points out that ‘places like us, and Cow Shed and Yay Coffee! have a passion and a love for food, are stylish and look like cafes you might find in larger towns’.

That is not to say everything is rosy in Scarborough. It has its social problems. And when the council gave the go-ahead to knock down the Futurist Theatre late last year, it caused outrage among campaigners. It’s been pointed out that the venue has been a fixture in the town since 1921, and its demolition could completely alter the look and feel of that part of the South Bay.

But there is something special about the place, whether you’re a local or a tourist. For Hyde, it doesn’t get much better than walking up to the Clock Cafe and looking down over Scarborough. ‘That’s one of my favourite things to do,’ he says. ‘You see the beautiful bay and the lighthouse and think this is why I live here. It might be winter and raining, but it’s still completely beautiful. North Yorkshire is one of the most beautiful places in the world.’

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