‘We do what we love, and we love what we do…’Posted 13th October 2023
Main Image: Fireworks light the sky in Milton Keynes pic: Gill Prince
The Emmett name is synonymous with entertainment in Milton Keynes. Over the decades they have delighted hundreds of 1000s of people with their events, and there’s every chance that you are among that number. Sammy Jones spoke with Keith Emmett III to learn more about the family’s impressive history.
As a new city, and a new town before that, Milton Keynes doesn’t have too much in the way of ‘modern’ history – we’re still busily establishing things that will become traditions.
But one thing that is already anchored is an annual event that sees thousands of people flock to the heart of Milton Keynes to watch the skies above illuminated in spectacular style.
The firework display has been ‘a thing’ here for more than four decades, and the same family has been at the helm for every one of those events – Keith Emmett & Sons.
Entertainment is who they are and what they do, and that keen ability to raise a smile in others can be traced back 150 years.
“My grandfather, Keith Emmett Snr, was in the merchant navy before he married my grandmother, Violet Rose,” Keith Emmett III told me, “Violet was from a showman family, the Roses, who are still prominent in the Aylesbury and Banbury areas. This is very much an industry you are born into and then carry on the family traditions,” he said.
“Our experience in the industry spans generations and continents. My father, Keith Emmett Jnr, works throughout Europe, the USA and Australia and has been integral to the growth and success of many operators in these countries.”
The family association with Milton Keynes is almost as old as the city itself – the Emmett’s moved here nearly 50 years ago. What is it that makes you carry on those family traditions you mentioned? What’s the allure?
“We do what we love, and we love what we do,” Keith says with no hesitation, “This business is a passion that runs in our veins. “We love seeing the wonder and smiles on people’s faces, we love interacting with our customers. It is amazing to see the same people back year after year – we watch their children grow up, then their children’s children. It truly is a privilege to do what we do.”
Keith’s grandfather must have been quite the character. What did his grandson learn from him?
“He taught me to work hard for things I am passionate about, but most of all he taught me to give back to the community – to always aspire to achieve more and leave my mark on things.
“My granddad was very passionate about helping local charities and community events, which is where his passion for the annual fireworks display was born.
“He always told me to believe in myself and what I am capable of; he wanted me to find something that inspired me and put my all into it.”
Keith heeded that advice and now also works as director of the Milton Keynes Pride Festival: “I am so proud of this event and the visibility it gives my community, the LGBTQ+ community within Milton Keynes and beyond,” Keith said, “If my input can have a positive effect on just one individual and change the trajectory of their life for the better, this is where I want to leave my mark.”
But the illuminations and the fairground attractions that support the event is what the Emmett name is most familiarly associated with. And a whole lot of work goes into the 20 minute display.
“It takes a lot of time and planning, “ Keith agrees, “It is always in our minds and there are always cogs turning in the background to ensure it is well organised and delivered.”
And it’s not all about the fireworks themselves…
Keith said: “One of the largest tasks is the road closures. Ensuring the safety of our attendees is our number one priority. This is why so much planning and thought goes into this. We have been very lucky to have the advice of Milton Keynes Council and the support of Ringway to carry out these closures.
“Obviously the firework display is one of the other large tasks. Making sure we have the correct display and that it can be seen from numerous viewing points is of the utmost importance. We want our fireworks to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, not just those in Campbell Park.
“There are always challenges around large events. Our main one with the fireworks has been the growth of the event and therefore the expectations around the display. The people of Milton Keynes have come to expect the fireworks to be more and more spectacular with each passing year. We always try to deliver, but this drives up our main costs. The funfair used to be very well patronised and enabled the event to support itself, however this is no longer the case. Keith Emmett & Sons have always paid the deficit for the fireworks to ensure they go on each year.”
Let’s talk a little about funfairs; when the very first rides began appearing, back in the 18th century, times were very different.
How can they remain relevant in the 21st century?
“They bring about the nostalgia of memories of the days of old as well as the latest and greatest rides and technology available currently,” explains the man in the know, “We think we bring fun and enjoyment to the people of Milton Keynes year after year. Funfairs are a great family event that can be enjoyed by the young and old alike.”
The Emmett family also boasts a rather impressive Gavioli Organ which is a popular draw at events in the area, including steam rallies and festivals. It is a star at the annual Organ Festival at MK Museum.
“…that’s our 89-keyless Gavioli, built in Waldkirch in the Black Forest,” Keith says with a smile, “It was purchased by my grandfather in 1984 and underwent a full refurbishment in 2003. It has become a staple in our family, and we are so proud of it.
“The organ is very sentimental to our family and its many familiar songs spark memories for us all, of childhood and family members, some of whom are no longer with us.
“It has just had another full refurbishment this year, and we are constantly adding to the song catalogue to try to engage the younger audience.”
What does the future look like for Keith Emmett & Sons in Milton Keynes?
“Even after 43 years the future is not always certain, and while we plan ahead we can never be sure for how long we can provide the spectacular. But our drive and passion will never be hindered, we will always strive to bring the firework display back year after year,” Keith promised.
Milton Keynes Museum is dedicated to preserving the history, ancient and modern, of MK and director Bill Griffiths is only too aware of the part the Emmett family have played.
“Keith Emmett & Sons are one of the key players, and over a long period of time they have been an intrinsic part of entertainment here,” Bill said, “Few names have held the attentions of audiences across the new city for as long, or as successfully, as the Emmett family.
“They are an important part of our history and simply will have to be part of the story of the new city which we are developing now in the new gallery and around the Museum,” Bill added.
For more details of this year’s 43rd annual Milton Keynes Fireworks display, and to discuss sponsorship support, visit mkfireworks.co.uk
Milton Keynes Museum is one of the best interactive museums, a perfect outing for all ages, staffed by friendly volunteers, and highly recommended by visitors on TripAdvisor.
This feature was written by Milton Keynes Museum. Find out more about forthcoming events and see our opening times at: miltonkeynesmuseum.org.uk