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'Without volunteers the eisteddfod simply wouldn't happen'

Published date: 02 April 2014 |
Published by: Staff reporter
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Keith Potts, now 46, started out as a messenger on the eisteddfod field in the early 1970s when he was just a little lad.

Apart from just a few years out while he recovered from a motorcycle accident which left him paralysed from the waist down, he has been faithfully doing his bit ever since.

The helpful guy in the wheelchair, as he is known by many eisteddfod visitors and performers, is part of a Potts family tradition of working behind the scenes at the festival, which this year takes place from July 8-13.

Mr Potts, who has lived in Llangollen all his life, said: “My late grandfather, Robert Potts, was a volunteer with the eisteddfod right from the start in 1947 and my father, Leslie Potts, who is now 82, has carried things on by also volunteering for many years and still does so now.

“I suppose we began our long association with the festival because we lived just across the road from the field.

“I’ve been volunteering since I was four-years-old, when I became a messenger. That was in the days before the pavilion was built to house the eisteddfod and everything was in tents, including the offices, and the performances took place in a big marquee.

“There was no phone connection between the ticket offices at either end of the field and you had to have someone to carry messages back and forth. That was what I did. I was a sort of runner or gofer I suppose, and I enjoyed it very much.

“I was a messenger for a few years and then, when I was in my teens, I started working on the ticket booths and the turnstiles.”

Mr Potts said he was left paralysed from the waist down after a motorbike crash in 1988, aged 20. He has been in a wheelchair since then.

“Because of it I didn’t do the eisteddfod for a few years but then my dad talked me into going back,” he said. “During the time I was away they replaced the old turnstiles, which was a good thing for me as you used to have to operate them with your foot and I couldn’t do that anymore.”

Mr Potts added: “Over the years I’ve been associated with it, the organisation of the festival has changed out of all recognition.

“At the start it was all volunteers but now we have a small number of permanent staff, which we need.  Whereas in the old days most people would take time off work to volunteer, now that’s not really possible and people just come in when they can.

“The eisteddfod is run by a series of seven committees – marketing, grounds, tickets, floral, music, hospitality and finance – whose work is overseen by the standing board.

“Tickets have always been my area and I have been chairman of the tickets committee for the past eight years. I’m also a member of the finance committee and have been a director on the board for nine years.

“Apart from the week of the actual festival, I come into the eisteddfod office at the pavilion every Monday to make sure everything is running ok as far as tickets are concerned and there are no problems with things like double bookings or seating arrangements.

“I also attend the various committee meetings held regularly throughout the year and also come in if I’m needed for admin purposes.

“I suppose it’s all quite a big responsibility but it doesn’t fall too heavily on one man because I have 40 people on my tickets team and they share the load. They’re all volunteers and without all of them the eisteddfod simply wouldn’t happen.

“In the old days our volunteers used to mainly come from the local area. About 90 per cent of them still do but we also now have people travelling quite a way to help out from places like Manchester and even Cornwall.”

Mr Potts recalls seeing a procession of big stars coming to Llangollen to perform – from Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo to Dame Shirley Bassey and Elaine Paige.

He said: “Because my role is behind the scenes I don’t really get to meet
the guest stars but I certainly get a big buzz from seeing them coming along to the festival.

“I also get a buzz out of knowing when they’re up on that big stage being watched by thousands of people I’ve played a part in filling all 4,000-odd seats in the main performance area.

“Another thing it’s good to see is ticket sales going well. Having Status Quo here this year is something different for us and sales have gone very well. In fact, they’re already sold out.

“Tickets for Bryn Terfel are also going very well and all this gives you a feel for what the eisteddfod will eventually be like. Last year we must have sold something like £400,000-worth of tickets, so knowing I’ve played a part in that is very rewarding.”

Mr Potts said members of his tickets team work closely with their counterparts from the grounds committee to lay out all the seating from scratch in the performance area – and love to record the scenes as the whole thing takes shape.

“We like to take pictures at various stages of the process – when it’s empty, half full and then completely full,” he said. “Although those of us involved in it know it’s down to a lot of hard work, it seems sometimes there’s a little bit of magic about how the whole festival is put together.

“I think that magic is shared by the people from all over the world who come to the eisteddfod to perform and as spectators. I love meeting them and I help them as much as I can as I go around the field during festival week.

“Being part of the organisation of the eisteddfod is something I feel I can do given my disability, and doing it is just great because we’re all just one big family.

“I certainly intend to be part of it for as long as I’m able to do it.”

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