Steel bands, limbo dancing in the street, surf simulators and cocktails served in pineapples – a taste of the Caribbean is coming to Cheshire as the third Northwich Piña Colada Festival shakes up all notions of what a Great British day out should be.

This most improbable of celebrations will, however, also include lots of very English knitted post-box-toppers, all based on the drink that's a tropical blend of coconut cream, white rum and pineapple – decorated with a cocktail umbrella.

What is surely one of the most eccentric and colourful family events in the GB summer season, will be staged on Saturday, August 19, when the people of Northwich, and hordes of visitors, aim to top the 2022 extravaganza – a day that saw the town's businesses serve up 6,000 piña colada cocktails, mocktails, milkshakes and smoothies.

Great British Life: Northwich Pina Colada Festival. (c) Karl Brooks Photography/ Northwich BIDNorthwich Pina Colada Festival. (c) Karl Brooks Photography/ Northwich BID

The fun began in early 2021 when resident Tom Barrow unearthed the (then) little-known fact that Rupert Holmes, who wrote and performed the 1979 global pop hit Escape (The Piña Colada Song) was born in Northwich.

Tom popped a post on Facebook suggesting a local festival in honour of the man, the song, and the cocktail. 'It went viral,' says Tom. 'People got really behind it and it snowballed from there.'

Snowballed is the right word. Led by the Northwich BID, with support from the town council, Rotary in Northwich, and Barons Quay, the first Northwich Piña Colada Festival took place that summer with the town embracing all things pineapple for a day of music, fun, and cocktails.

Last year, Rupert Holmes, now aged 76, even donned a Hawaiian shirt and sent a video message from his home in New York, encouraging people to join in the festivities. This year he is hoping to go one step further and make a guest appearance, depending on whether his wife Liza recovers from a recent surgery in time.

Great British Life: Northwich Pina Colada Festival. (c) Karl Brooks Photography/ Northwich BIDNorthwich Pina Colada Festival. (c) Karl Brooks Photography/ Northwich BID

Close to 12,000 festival-goers visited last August's festival smashing all expectations – 3,000 people took part in 2021. Organisers are expecting 15,000 visitors this year, with plans for even more drummers, dancers, live music and, of course, piña coladas.

Tom says: 'We had an amazing thing happen last year when the knitting society created toppers for pillar boxes and street furniture. The whole town was kitted out with woollen pineapples.

'Business and house windows with tropical stuff – anything you'd find in a beach bar was in a window, so lots of palm trees, sand and there was bunting across the town. And everybody gets dressed up in their loudest Hawaiian shirt. And, of course, they all drink lots of piña coladas.

'It was so crazy, people were queuing for an hour to get into a pub that was selling piña coladas in a fresh pineapple. Another pub was selling piña colada beer, while another was mixing their piña colada with ice cream to make an alcoholic milkshake. Oh, and pineapple pizzas were on sale too.'

'But it's not all about drinking, Tom adds. 'You don't have to have a drink – it's just a fun, tropical day out with lots of things for kids too.'

For the latest programme of events see:

Great British Life: Rupert Holmes celebrates the Northwich festival from his home Stateside. (c) Stefan RadtkeRupert Holmes celebrates the Northwich festival from his home Stateside. (c) Stefan Radtke (Image: Stefan Radtke)

How a song changed a town

In the late 1970s when English-American singer-songwriter Rupert Holmes wrote Escape (The Piña Colada Song) never could he have dreamed that one day, more than 40 years later, a festival would be created in the song's honour. In the Cheshire market town of Northwich.

READ MORE: Rupert Holmes on being known as 'that piña colada guy'

Despite going on to build a hugely successful career as a Tony Award-winning composer, dramatist and author, Rupert's ode to the piña colada and the couple who rekindle their love when they discover they both like the tipple, as well as 'gettin' caught in the rain', is still what he is best known for.

And he is happy with that, so much so that he has been delighted to lend his support to the festival in his English hometown.

The oh-so-catchy hit may have brought decades of royalties to the songwriter, but Northwich is reaping the benefits too. Adam Gerrard is a project manager at the Northwich BID. BID stands for Business Improvement District and its mission is to boost the town's reputation as a vibrant place for culture and leisure.

'The festival has been one of our biggest successes. Last year, all but one hospitality business did record sales and the one that didn't was only £50 shy of its New Year's Eve takings in 2018.

Great British Life: Northwich goes piña colada crazy. (c) Karl Brooks Photography/ Northwich BIDNorthwich goes piña colada crazy. (c) Karl Brooks Photography/ Northwich BID

In 2021, we had a budget of around £7,000 to deliver the event. In year two, we increased this to £20,000 after seeing the potential. For year three, we’re likely to stay around the same budget, with the focus on delivering street animation to bring a feeling of energy as people walk through the town centre. Our local businesses will be working to increase what they deliver on the day, to make it even better for people visiting them.

'This year, we’re ramping up the musical element, with three zones of live music. There will be huge props dotted in the middle of town that will make visitors feel they are in the Caribbean. We’ve got more locations for people to buy piña coladas and there will be a themed range of clothing on sale.'

So what will festival-goers expect? A summer sunshine atmosphere, with deck chairs and palm trees to bring the Caribbean to Cheshire. Live music and street performers and drummers creating a carnival atmosphere. And fun for all the family – look out for free popcorn and street games such as the coconut shy.

The ongoing success of the festival bodes well for efforts to revive the fortunes of Northwich, says Sam Naylor, Cheshire West and town councillor and chair of Northwich Regeneration Forum. The town suffered from a series of knocks, not just from the effects of the Covid pandemic, but the 2020 fire that destroyed the market, and the severe flooding in 2019 ands 2021.

Sam says: 'The aim is to make the town a real centre for events and the Piña Colada Festival is becoming one of the main events of the year.'

Great British Life: Tom Barrow, who came up with the idea for the Northwich celebration based on the piña coladaTom Barrow, who came up with the idea for the Northwich celebration based on the piña colada

Last year's festival was boosted by Claudia Winkleman mentioning it on her Radio 2 show, and even interviewing Rupert Holmes about the festival.

'It has put the town on the map and gives all local businesses a chance to participate and encourages people to come into the town to enjoy it,' says Sam.

And all thanks to a catchy tune. 'It is an enduring song – once you hear it you are hooked on it.'

The tune, and the festival are fun, but the impact on the town is serious.

'The town was neglected for years,' says Sam. 'It sits on old brine fields and for centuries, salt has been extracted underneath Northwich. Until 2009 no development could take place because the mines plagued the town with subsidence. But a £37million project in 2009 filled in all the mines meaning Northwich could be developed, including an £80million new shopping centre.'

The aim now is to bring people into the town through events as online shopping takes its toll on centre shopping.

"We have a rivers festival and a huge Christmas extravaganza and an artisan market every month, which all bring people into the town centre. The Piña Colada Festival has been phenomenal and attracts people from all over the UK. Last year we had thousands of people come. For a town the size of Northwich with a population of 55,000, that makes a big difference.

'If we can attract 15 to 20,000 into town over a weekend that's really big boost to the local economy.'

Great British Life: The Bird & Hat mixed 1,012 piña coladas last year, and is ready to mix even more this August 19. (c) Vicky BoothThe Bird & Hat mixed 1,012 piña coladas last year, and is ready to mix even more this August 19. (c) Vicky Booth

Vicky Booth, manager of the dog-friendly Bird and Hat rum bar in Bull Ring, and her team mixed 1,012 of the cocktails at the last Piña Colada Festival and expect to be serving up even more this time around. ' We sell them all year round to our own special recipe but the day itself is unbelievable, the town is heaving. Northwich is such a special place ad we need to keep aiming high to attract visitors.'

Tom Barrow believes the town can build further success on the back of the festival: 'It is uniquely ours. No other town can lay claim to this fact. In five years' time I'd like it to be 10 times bigger. I'd love for there to be some heritage, something permanent – perhaps a mural or a piña colada statue or fountain, or a trail across the town with the lyrics of the song in brass plates for people to follow.'