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Michelle Hicks theme park ride designer
Photograph: Andy ParsonsMichelle Hicks theme park ride designer

Things you only know if you’re a theme park ride designer

James FitzGerald

…according to Michelle Hicks, 27.

Live tigers trump looping the loop

‘I worked on the Tiger Rock ride at Chessington World of Adventures, which opened last year with live big cats – a family of tigers – roaming around you. Speed, drops and going upside-down are all impressive. But in my view, what makes a great attraction isn’t the hardware but the story it tells.’

You can’t buy a Gruffalo off the shelf

‘Most engineers working on big construction projects use pretty standard elements that are slotted together on-site like a big Meccano set. But at a theme park, everything is bespoke. For the first ride I worked on at Chessington, I was getting questions like, “If we put in a four-metre-high figure of The Gruffalo, how much would that cost?” I had to go away and think about that one.’

Rollercoasters need MOTs

‘Safety is always absolutely top of our list. The 2015 rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers affected everyone greatly. Every year, all our attractions go through a series of rigorous tests and we get issued a new certificate to show everything is safe. If I was at a fairground and there was a rollercoaster without one of these displayed on it, I probably wouldn’t go on it.’

Adrenaline is the best way to beat the commuter blues

‘There’s nothing like the sense of escapism that a theme park offers. Londoners need to be able to go somewhere they can forget about the stresses of daily life. Even I still go on holiday to theme parks!’

The Gruffalo Summer Party is at Chessington World of Adventures until September 2.

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