A Life of Fireworks

Dr Tom Smith

One of the world’s leading fireworks makers who has been responsible for some of the most significant fireworks displays in recent history. You can read more about his work here. 

Published

Date (01/11/2016)

For most of us adventure is jumping in a car and escaping to the hills for a weekend, but for a select few it is a core value that runs through every aspect of their lives.

Dr. Tom Smith is one of these few. His extensive and award winning career in the field of pyrotechnics has seen him oversee some of the world’s most famous fireworks displays.

As fireworks shops across the country stock up in anticipation for bonfire night we sat down with Tom to get a glimpse into a life lived in the pursuit of adventure.

How did you find pyrotechnics (or how did pyrotechnics find you)?

It’s all in the family, I was exposed to the business very early on having a grandfather who went to school with and did displays with the Brock family, who just so happened to run Britain’s oldest fireworks manufacturer.

I grew up experiencing the Brockham Bonfire, which is still probably the largest annual November 5th celebration in the UK.This led, in part, to gaining a doctorate from Oxford University in the field of Chemistry (but not pyrotechnic chemistry). Which, in turn led to a long and award winning career in the industry.

What are your most memorable displays to date?

VJ Day on the Thames 1995 – which was the largest display in London to that date with over 18 tons of fireworks and 26 miles of electric wire to fuse them all together.

Hong Kong Handover display in 1997 – which was held in such appalling weather conditions that every firework was covered with tinfoil and plastic sheeting and the fireworks fired straight through it (they being so powerful that the protection made very little difference to the effect or height of the bursts).

The Millennium celebrations on the Thames – again the largest display to date and a lesson in how not to believe the “river of fire” hype…  The prospect of sitting on one of 16 barges with tons of explosives being lapped by flame was not only unreal – but a total distortion by an over-enthusiastic press.

Which awards are you most proud of?

Knokke Firework competition 1991 – First prize

Montreal Pyromusical competition 1993 (Silver Jupiter) and 1996

To win at Knokke was a very satisfying personal highlight, having been told that there was very little chance of success, and being criticised for our choice of fireworks BEFORE the event – to do something so precise and different that the judges praised the display for its originality and execution.

Just how much work does go into creating a world class show?

Take this year’s London New Year’s Eve for example, there will be four separate displays planned out to cover for any weather and wind conditions. The organisers will have to co-ordinate with the press and the media to ensure that everyone gets the display they deserve. It’s an annual event that takes a full year to plan, work starts on Jan 2nd, we allow ourselves a day off to recover!

How will you be enjoying bonfire night this year?

With my feet up and a glass of red in hand, sparing a thought for all those slogging it out in cold and muddy fields across the country.

Heading out on a weekend bonfire night adventure? Explore our full range of vehicles here