Pete Neaves is a jack of all trades and he’s mastered most of them too.
This week in our series of articles about the winners of The Visitor Sunshine Awards 2017 - which recognise local heroes in our community - we visit Pete, the winner of our Unsung Hero Award.
During an eventful life Pete has been a London market trader, scaffolder, portrait artist, pub landlord, TV and film animator, run his own garden accessories firm and served as a paratrooper all over the world – and that’s naming just a few of the jobs he’s done!
In 2016 Pete organised the Armed Forces Day events in Morecambe to honour the brave men and women who serve our country.
This earned him a nomination for our Sunshine Awards and in May 2017 at the Midland Hotel, Pete, 67, was gobsmacked to find that he’d topped the public vote.
Pete’s well-travelled life began in Llandudno, North Wales. At the age of three his family moved to London, where Pete grew up during the swinging sixties, rubbing shoulders with the pop stars of the day. He went to the same school as Andy Fairweather-Low from Amen Corner (famed for their hits ‘Bend Me Shape Me’ and ‘If Paradise Is Half As Nice’) and a friend of Pete’s used to go out with Eurovision winner Sandie Shaw.
His dad, who died when Pete was just 10 years old, was part of the London boxing scene, as ‘corner man’ for former world champions Randolph Turpin and Freddie Mills.
Pete didn’t like school and left before he turned 16, looking to earn a few quid pulling out barrow stalls for traders in the famous Petticoat Lane market, working as a scaffolder on such giant structures as the famous Coca-Cola sign in Piccadilly Circus and he also sold portraits he’d painted himself - as Pete’s main dream was to go to art college.
As a sea cadet, he also had ambitions to join the Royal Navy. But when heading to the naval office in Trafalgar Square one day, he sheltered from the rain outside the Army HQ and next thing he knew, was being pulled in to sign up for the Parachute Regiment – being a scaffolder he had a head for heights!
Pete served in Hong Kong and the Caribbean, then Northern Ireland where he met his wife of the past 47 years, Mary. After a stint in Berlin he left the Army in 1978.
He then bounced from one job to another before taking over a pub in Bracknell, Berkshire. At this point some of Mary’s family had left Northern Ireland and moved to Heysham. In the mid-80s Pete, Mary and their children Steve and Sam joined them, settling near Heysham Harbour where Pete got a job, before setting up his own business making and selling garden benches, planters and other accessories.
But he still wanted to be an artist, so he enrolled at Blackpool and The Fylde college and ended up with a degree in graphics and animation, specialising in the kind of stop-motion animation made famous by Nick Park of Wallace and Gromit fame.
Alongside Morecambe’s TV and film stuntman Martin Shenton, he ran film courses. Pete also did work for the BBC, producing clips for news programmes, and created TV adverts including a successful ad for airline company Bmibaby.
Pete also set up his own filmmaking business in 2004 with his son Steve, Anim8 Films in Carnforth.
His varied working life ended with retirement at 60, but as you might expect Pete has remained busy. He still loves to paint and his own work, including portraits of himself and his family, adorns the walls of his home in Bare.
He still sells his paintings and enjoys travelling, especially on motorbike trips into Europe. And now as secretary of the local Parachute Regiment Association, he attends reunions and meetings, organises fundraisers and loves to entertain his fellow regiment veterans in the outdoor bar he’s built at the bottom of his garden.
It has certainly been a packed and fulfilling life, and one worthy of a true Unsung Hero!