Clun fireworks expert at Bilbao display - with video
Whenever Shropshire's Avril Di Palma is around, you have to expect fireworks.
Which is hardly surprising as she is a pyrotechnics expert who is just back from Spain having been invited to judge at the seven-day Festival of Fireworks in Bilbao, one of the biggest in Europe.
Avril’s expertise was called upon as she attended as the professional international judge as professional firework display companies from France, Germany, Italy, and Spain turned the skies into a blaze of sound and colour.
"It was an extremely good standard and they had a nice Mediterranean effect. They were extremely noisy and kept being noisy throughout the display. You can imagine, you are in the hill tops and the way it echoes off the hills is a magnificent sound," said Avril, who lives near Clun, and watched from a balcony.
With 25 years experience she is a well known figure in British professional fireworks.
She is the administrative secretary of both the British Pyrotechnic Association, which represents the majority of professional display companies in the UK, and the Explosive Industry Group, a leading UK lobbying group with members from a wide variety of industries including the Ministry of Defence.
Avril is also a lecturer in firework display training and for the past 15 years she has been the adjudicator of the annual British Fireworks Championships held at Plymouth, one of the largest free events in the country.
She said: "In terms of what you are looking for, it's the range of products and the colours and the shapes. You are looking for things like the rhythm of the fireworks, how the display starts, and the finale is extremely important, getting the crowd going. You are looking for originality and how they are using the width and height of the space and whether there are any gaps in between."
For Avril, who is British, but whose father was Italian, it all started when she was a young girl being brought up in West Wickham in south east London.
"My love for fireworks started from a very early age with garden displays done by my father, the usual Bonfire Night, cooking potatoes and following it by having a few fireworks," she said.
Those displays, often getting together with neighbours, seemed to her to be really big shows, including the likes of Roman candles, volcanoes, traffic lights, Catherine wheels and rockets launched from a glass milk bottle.
He said: "It was much later in my life when the opportunity to become involved in the firework industry came along. I was working at our local primary school on fitting out a new IT suite for the children together with other parents, one of whom was a guy called Tom Smith.
"During the time we worked on the project I became aware that he was looking for someone to help him with his business and he approached me to see if I was interested. When I discovered he had a doctorate in Chemistry and had worked for a local firework company and was now starting his own business I was definitely up for working with pyro.
"That was over 20 years ago and we still work together."
There are, she says, some fantastic displays throughout the United Kingdom although she has a special fondness for Plymouth because she is adjudicator there.
“I’m certain British companies would do well in European competitions as the standard of our technical displays is extremely high.”
And what does she do on Bonfire Night?
"Basically sometimes I get the night off, thank goodness, or go and watch a local display here."