Once a year Butlins holds a wave of auditions for its famous Redcoats, whittling down a database of around 500 applicants to 30. Interviews with up to 100 applicants at a time incorporate icebreaking group exercises, a short one-to-one interview and a talent spot.
While it’s common to get pushy types jostling for attention in the group activities, they’ll often come unstuck in the personality interview and with customer service questions, says Butlin’s entertainment experience manager Jamie Thomson.
“Sometimes I’m really humbled, when an 18 or 19-year-old comes in - they’ve only worked in McDonald’s and they feel that’s not representative of being a Butlin’s Redcoat. But they actually have great customer skills.
“Many a time these are the people who really stand out and shine, and guests have great relationships with them. If they’ve got a hidden talent you can bring to the table, that’s a bonus.”
Influenced by shows like The Voice and The X Factor, singing is the most popular talent would-be Redcoats like to display but ventriloquists, magicians and poets have also auditioned.
“All we’re trying to do is find that nugget that we can work with,” says Thomson.
But he has also pulled the plug on some disaster auditions. “We’ve had two or three do a sketch and use the ‘F’ word. If they think that’s appropriate at the interview stage, then what’s to stop them going out and doing that in front of an audience?”
And if a would-be Redcoat has two left feet, and their singing would scare a cat, he has words of reassurance: “Don’t worry if you can’t sing or dance, we want to see you, your personality and your potential.” And when nerves are an issue, he says, come with an open mind, enjoy it and let yourself go.
Butlin’s likes to draw out Redcoats’ talents, providing singing and dance lessons. Training also includes vocal coaching, circus skills and sign language to communicate with deaf guests. Some recent sessions were run by Chris Pilkington, CBeebies producer and make-up artists from West End show Wicked.
Many people who do the audition will also do the rounds of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Being a Redcoat was historically a good launchpad for a career as a TV presenter but nowadays Butlin’s finds more Redcoats move on to the West End. However, the average length of stay for a Redcoat has risen from two to three years, to three to four years.
Josh Anderson is among those who have stayed on. “I used to come on holiday every year to Butlin’s Minehead with my family. It was seeing the Redcoats and how friendly they were and the passion they had for their job that had us coming back year after year. I looked up to them and knew that I wanted to be one.”
He says: “The hardest part of the audition was the one-to-one interview; because I wanted that job so much I put pressure on myself. All the questions relate to how we work as a business, because people think it’s all singing and dancing, and certainly we develop that, but it’s all about customer service.”
Last November the tables were turned when Anderson helped at the latest Redcoat auditions, questioning applicants and teaching them a dance routine. “I remembered being in their shoes. You could feel the excitement, you could tell the people who really, really wanted it.”
He has also had the pleasure of giving successful candidates the good news. “Some people are so excited they start screaming down the phone,” he says.
Expecting to stay one year, Anderson is still with Butlin’s six years later and has a new role in talent development. “I’m a Butlin’s boy through and through,” he says.