Swindon's first virtual Christmas lights switch-on reached more than 75,000 people within 24 hours, organisers say.
Saturday's launch, which also marked the start of new festive campaign Swindon's Illumina, was organised by inSwindon BID, the organisation tasked with raising the profile of the town centre and its businesses.
The change to a free virtual event was taken in the wake of the pandemic.
Swindon's Illumina aims to drive footfall safely into the town centre in support of all businesses through visual, virtual and digital experiences across the festive season.
The switch-on was dedicated to the work of Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, emergency services and all keyworkers throughout the pandemic, and featured an exclusive projection, light and fire show for the switch-on moment.
inSwindon BID Manager Anita Bellinger said: “We are thrilled with the support and reaction from the local community.
"We had people tuning in across Swindon and even from Oxford and as far as Bournemouth, and we know that the virtual event will continue to reach even more people in the lead up to Christmas, which is a wonderful way to raise awareness of our town centre across the festive period.”
The online event was live streamed via Facebook and featured a variety of pre-recorded performances from local acts including The Tribe, Phoebe Maddison, Swindon Dance, Billy & Louie, PQA Swindon, Wilkes Academy, Rock Choir North Wiltshire and Jenny Bracey, as well as Josie Ellis on aerial hoop.
BBC Radio Wiltshire's Ben Prater and Damian Pickett from Totally Crazy hosted the free show and kept viewers entertained throughout, whilst also introducing special messages from Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust CEO Kevin McNamara, the Mayor of Swindon Coun Garry Perkins and Anita Bellinger.
Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Fayth Ifil and singer, stage star, TV personality and Principal of Swindon’s Wilkes Academy Jonathan Wilkes also made an appearance, sharing their special messages before introducing their favourite acts.
Social media reaction was positive, the organisers say.
Desley Ayres wrote: “Absolutely brilliant. Watched from just outside Banbury Oxfordshire.
“A fantastic show so far. Love from us all here at Holiday Inn Express.”
Christopher Passmore added: “Yes, it’s only October! But it gives us all something to smile about. Absolutely love Christmas. Well done to all involved.”
Anita Bellinger said: “We realise that for some, this may feel very early, but we’re also conscious that the local community may be stretched financially this year, so we hope that businesses and town centre visitors can benefit from us bringing forward the official switch-on and encouraging people to spread their spending over a longer period of time, whilst bringing in sales sooner for the businesses.
"And more importantly, they can avoid overcrowding and stay safe by allowing shops to maintain social distancing.”
Viewers were encouraged to get involved and interact with the online event by donning their Christmas jumpers - decorations and all - for a chance to win a range of £50 and £100 vouchers. Children had the chance to win £50 to spend at The Entertainer by answering a special question during the show.
Viewer Toni Brack said: “Thank you. Have two happy grandchildren, they are loving this, they loved Santa and the Elf!”
As the switch on moment arrived, inSwindon BID shared a heartfelt video which featured five nominated NHS Heroes from the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and special guests including the mayor and Anita Bellinger as well as Santa and Buddy the Elf.
The video included a projection and lighting show and saw a silhouetted family looking over the Swindon skyline from the top of Liddington Hill, just before the ‘Swindon’s Illumina’ star swirled David Murray John building.
It lit up the town to reveal a selection of messages dedicated to the NHS, emergency services, keyworkers and the community, followed by more bubbles of silhouettes appear.
A fire show was provided by the Fandangos beneath the Isambard Kingdon Brunel statue in Havelock Square provided.
The town centre Christmas lights will feature until 6 January as part of Swindon’s Illumina and visitors will also be able to enjoy a Luminary Business Window Trail, which will see a variety of stars illuminate windows across the town centre.
A virtual Christmas market will also take place via the BID’s social media channels to promote businesses across the town centre to visitors looking for gifts and seasonal shopping, and there will be a selection of competitions.
The latest information about Swindon’s Illumina can be found at www.swindontowncentre.co.uk or via social media channels @inSwindon.