Hanley Christmas lights switch-on draws crowds to see stars
LAST year model Jade Thompson was just another face in the crowd as Hanley's Christmas lights were turned on by celebrities including RnB artist Talay Riley, singer Eva Simmons and Stoke's Top Talent winner Sam Bloor.
This year the 20-year-old from Bentilee, winner of Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model, was on the stage herself, sharing the honour of switching on the lights with X Factor winner Matt Cardle.
Jade, a former pupil of Birches Head High School, said: "It's weird. This time last year I was in the crowd. I would have come to see the lights being switched on this year as well, I usually come to see it.
"I was quite shocked when I got the phone call asking me to help turn the lights on. It's a big honour for me, I couldn't believe they wanted me to do it.
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"I'm not a celebrity. It feels weird when people ask me for an autograph.
"I'm a Matt Cardle fan; I voted for him on X Factor. I was glad to meet him.
"It was really good being on stage. I'm a proud Stokie and it was lovely to come home. I met up with my family afterwards and we went for a meal.
"Unfortunately I couldn't stay, I had to get on a train back to London."
The down-to-earth model shot to fame earlier this year when she won Britain's and Ireland's Next Top Model, the reality show which pits would-be models against each other on the catwalk and on a range of different fashion shoots.
Since her success, Jade, who was bullied for her freckles and ginger hair, has moved to London where offers of modelling assignments have flooded in.
She said: "It's been amazing. I went to the MTV Awards, the MOBOs and the Pride of Britain Awards. I've met people like the Spice Girls and Cheryl Cole. When I saw her I shouted 'Cheryl' and she went, 'Jade', she'd watched the show.
"Now I want to go travelling, to America, and to work while I'm there."
A record number of people descended on the city centre to watch the lights turned on and to watch a host of chart acts perform on a giant stage set up in Fountain Square, hosted by Signal Radio.
As singer of last Christmas's number one single, When We Collide, Matt Cardle was invited to be guest of honour at the lights switch on.
Matt performed three songs from his debut album, Letters.
The singer said: "It was brilliant. The crowd were lovely, it was a great atmosphere. I've never been to Stoke-on-Trent before, but I will be coming back here next year as part of my tour."
Joining Matt at the event was the 2011 Britain's Got Talent winner Jai McDowall, who is set to release his debut album Believe on December 12.
New girl group sensation Parade also entertained the crowds before the celebrities returned to the stage, joined by Lord Mayor, Councillor Terry Follows, Santa Claus, Port Vale stars and Stoke City keeper Asmir Begovic.
Asmir said: "It was really cool. It was great to see so many people out."
Port Vale stars were booed by a crowd dominated by supporters from the red and white half of the city, but defender Adam Yates said: "It's lovely to be here. We've had a few boos, but it's just light-hearted banter."
Business in the city centre was boosted by the crowds turning up to see the lights switched on, with thousands of people staying on to wander around the shops.
Barbara Luby, aged 57, of Sneyd Green, has worked at Chatwins for 10 years. She said: "It seems a lot better than in previous years.
"The weather is good and having Matt Cardle here has encouraged people to come out. It's good for business."
Shop assistant Jess Abotts, aged 17, of Dresden, said: "It was good to have Matt Cardle here. Now the lights have been switched on, it is starting to feel like Christmas."
Lord Mayor, Mr Fellows said: "It's been fantastic. There's been so many people about."