Pan boy’s 31 years of carnival commitment comes to an end

Paddy McHugh has devoted much of his adult life to the Island’s carnival scene, he explains why it’s time to hang up the streamers in 2018. 

“31 years is enough,” laughs Paddy. He started out his carnival career working on Pan’s carnival in 1985 while he was still at school.

He turns 48 this year and admits it’s been a hard decision to give up “doing the carnivals” as it’s been such a huge part of his life – although he will remain on the committee for Newport, Sandown and Ryde’s carnivals.

“I supply all the health and safety [and] the stewards,” explains Paddy. “I started off as a site builder back in 1985 when I was still at school. I’m a Pan boy – Pan used to have its own carnival then, so I just stuck with it. I’m probably one of the longest serving carnival members on the Island really.”

Paddy McHugh – photo by Joe Burn

The busy Island chap holds down a full time job with Island Roads, has helped build Cowes Week for the past 18 years, he even uses his annual leave to devote time to Island events. But perhaps the most difficult thing for Paddy now is to let go of his responsibilities and let someone else have a go.

“It’ll be hard to see someone else do it – if there is anyone else to do it. I know Ventnor have already got on Facebook and are looking for stewards for their carnival. I said I’d do a little bit,” said Paddy willingly.

Health has been another driving factor in the workaholic’s reluctant step-down. Around two months ago he suffered from what doctors are calling a stroke.

Keystone Kops 1988 – Courtesy of Sandown Carnival

“I’ve sort of got to start cutting back what I do because I do quite a bit,” admits Paddy. “I just had a chest infection, then I started coughing, couldn’t draw in any breath and they’re treating it as a stroke – because it knocked me out.”

During the coughing fit no oxygen made it to Paddy’s brain.

“It completely wiped my memory,” he added. “I didn’t know who my dogs were, didn’t know anything.”

Thankfully he has since made a full recovery and is excited for he carnival season – with a few successes for 2018 under his belt already.

Tractor 1990 – Courtsey of Sandown Carnival

The carnival creator continued: “Newport, for example was bigger and better than it has been for the last five years.

“Each carnival is different, some are still traditional – we’ve got the oldest carnivals in the country here, we were the first to do it. With Ryde being the eldest, 130 years this year is Ryde.

“Some are trying to make it more Mardi Gras-type, you know the dancey stuff. Newport is still very much traditional with the older stuff in it, the tractors, the sheep. Whereas others are trying to up it a bit and trying to move with the times.”

‘I just love Island life’

Keystone Kops 1988 – Courtesy of Sandown Carnival

Paddy told the IW Observer he couldn’t explain his drive and willingness to keep at it for all these years; sacrificing holidays, relationships and any semblance of relaxation.

“I’ll have to be honest with you, I don’t know why I’ve been doing it [for 31 years], said Paddy. “It’s an important part of Island life, and I love Island life.

“I do a lot of events and I am currently down in Cowes doing the build up for Cowes Week on Cowes Parade – I’ve done that for 18 years. I just love Island life.

“I think we are very unique. I think all the little bits and pieces that we’ve got, we need to keep, that’s what we are, init?

“Island life is just great, and I did the carnivals and liked them since I was a kid, the Keystone Kops, Ryde Buccaneers – great, because that’s what it used to be about – it’s all I did as a kid – loved it. So, to be part of it and be lucky enough to be part of it, for 31 years, is good.”

“Good” is a modest description at best of Paddy’s achievement, dedication and endless love for the Island’s culture – the man deserves accolades of the highest order, and every Islander’s respect.