All shook up - one Lowton woman’s devotion to Elvis

Elvis fan Lesley Pilling

Elvis fan Lesley Pilling - Credit: Archant

A woman from Lowton is leading international efforts to help Elvis Presley’s ranch return to splendour. She spoke to Paul Mackenzie

Elvis fan Lesley Pilling

Elvis fan Lesley Pilling - Credit: Archant

He’s known the world over for his music but a woman from Lowton near Warrington is spearheading a global campaign to continue Elvis Presley’s charitable work. Lesley Pilling runs the Circle G Foundation which aims to buy and preserve The King’s ranch in the town of Horn Lake, Mississippi.

She also hopes to return the Circle G Ranch, which Elvis bought in 1967, to the state it was in when he owned it and to create a visitor centre and museum as well as a tourist attraction with outdoor activities.

The plans, which also include proposals for a statue, have the backing of the mayor of Horn Lake but now the Foundation needs to raise the money to buy and renovate the ranch.

Lesley, who has been an Elvis fan since seeing one of his films when she was seven, said: ‘As a fan, I was aware of the ranch but when I went there in 2010 I was devastated at the state it’s in. To my mind it’s an important part of his life, somewhere he would escape from the pressure of being Elvis Presley. I would never have forgiven myself I had done nothing so I came home and launched a campaign on Facebook to save the ranch.’

Within a week the site had about a thousand supporters and Lesley realised there was international agreement among Elvis fans that something should be done.

‘I started to reach out to people in the Elvis world and to network with fan clubs and organisations around the world,’ she said. ‘In January 2012 it reached the point where the most sensible thing to do was to form a small charity and in August last year we launched the Circle G foundation.

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‘There have been lots of different plans put forward for the ranch over the years but when we met the mayor of Horn Ranch and discussed our proposals he said they were the most sensible ideas he’d heard. We want to renovate the ranch sensitively and tastefully to get it back to the state it was in when Elvis was there and to have a visitor centre, walking tours and horse riding if possible.

‘But we don’t just want it to be a site for Elvis fans to visit but we also want to continue his charitable legacy. He supported many charities in Memphis and across the US and wherever he went he would see people in need of help and he would help them, a lot of the time anonymously. As Elvis fans, we believe it is down to us to keep the legacy going.’

Lesley, who used to work in the admin department for social services, has visited Memphis six times and has joined the long lines of Elvis fans parading through Graceland, but she believes that the renovated ranch would offer a different experience for visitors.

‘Graceland is great but it only covers a certain period in Elvis’s life, and there are only so many times you can walk round a house,’ she said. ‘It covers everything that people are very well aware of but the ranch is about the private man, the man behind the public image.

‘He bought it in 1967, at a time when he was a crossroads in his career – he was newly married, an expectant father and his film contract was coming to an end. The ranch must have been the place he went to to really think about what direction his career would take.

‘Elvis was a lot more than a figure in a white jump suit. The more you learn about the man, the more you learn how complex he was. I know people who knew him well and no-one has a bad word to say about him and that’s really quite remarkable.

‘The ranch is on the market now for £2.6m and we are obviously trying to reach out to people who can see the potential and the promise in the ranch. We’d love it if someone would buy the ranch and work with us to secure our vision.

‘This has become a full time job for me, more than a full time job really. The Circle G Foundation is now a global campaign, with ambassadors in every continent.’

And she added: ‘We have launched the Spirit of Circle G Foundation and that’s what we want to do – to return the spirit of Elvis to his ranch. I am confident we can do this, if I wasn’t confident I wouldn’t be taking it so seriously. Elvis fans are amazing people and if we can do this in his memory we will have done something remarkable.

‘We are holding an event in Blackpool this month with some of the world’s best Elvis tribute acts and some wonderful memorabilia on show.’

Lesley will be taking some of her own Elvis ephemera to the event at Blackpool’s Hilton hotel on July 5-7 where the Spirit of Circle G and the statue fundraising efforts will be officially launched.

‘My pride and joy is the cheque for $5000 Elvis wrote for deposit on the ranch. I only wish I could use it to buy the ranch. I also have a piece of wood from the ranch branded with the Circle G logo, and a ring Elvis owned.

‘My Elvis life is very contained though, I don’t ram it down peoples’ throats and I can’t abide people who dress up like Elvis, that drives me demented. I am passionate about the ranch and about continuing his charitable work. I’m pretty normal really.’