Cardiff Bay’s iconic Red Dragon Centre is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion they are sharing stories from some of the long-standing employees who have spent their working life there over the last quarter-century.
Someone who has been at the Centre since the early days is Dave Hewitt who joined Hollywood Bowl when it opened in 1997 and has spent the last quarter century moving up the ranks from technician to chief technician. His favourite memories over the years all centre around events held in the mall, from the Balloon Art Fiestas to the renaming concert in 2005 which saw artists including Liberty X take to the stage.
Dave said: “The Red Dragon Centre is always evolving, with new brands moving in and out and different events held so regularly; it’s great to see people getting involved and enjoying themselves. My favourite memory is seeing Hollywood Bowl mascot Bumper joining a group of other mascots for the 15th anniversary event, Mascots Got Talent, back in 2012, everyone’s faces lit up.
“Even though so much has changed over the years I don’t think there’s anything I miss, as all the new tenants and workers who join us are so fantastic, and I enjoy experiencing the new things alongside our customers.”
Kristy John started at Red Dragon FM in 2002, as an account manager, her first job in radio. Now station director for Capital FM, Kristy has named new tenant Volcano as one of her preferred places to eat, and remembers Rosie’s Bar as a firm favourite for post work drinks with clients and colleagues.
Kirsty said: “The Centre has been a great place to work over the last 20 years, having moved with the times and offering something for everyone. There’s always so much happening – you could never get bored!
“My favourite memories are when Capital FM held a premiere for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and we built a giant popcorn installation that looked so real people tried to eat it, and when Red Dragon FM ran a Valentine’s Day competition called The Love Room in 2007, where a couple won £5000 after spending a week living in a tiny cube in the middle of the mall!”
Previous Red Dragon FM overnight host Matt Lissack also recalled the madness of The Love Room, and labelled it a mix of Big Brother, The Cube and Love Island.
Having started at the Centre in 2006 as a fresh faced 21-year-old from Devon, Matt moved his career in a different direction by becoming Capital FM’s content director in recent years. He’s seen the Centre change a lot over the 16 years he’s been there, highlighting the recent introduction of the ambient lighting in the evening as great modernisation and remembering the Dr Who exhibition.
Matt said, “The original Dr Who exhibition was located at the Centre for years and only closed when the larger experience was opened across the Bay. It stood where Five Guys is now, and I believe the creator and writer Russell T Davies once visited us to see it, which was incredible!”
Moyra Thomas has especially poignant memories of the Centre, having worked here for 21 years, and meeting her late wife, Julia, here in July 2002.
Moyra held a technician position in Hollywood Bowl for 20 years, where she used to occasionally dress up as mascot Bumper and join in the fun. However, after her wife, who had worked as a cleaning operative in the centre for 13 years, passed away last year, Moyra decided to move into the cleaning team, taking over Julia’s role.
Moyra said: “The Centre holds many memories for me as I’ve spent so much of my life here. The people I’ve met over the years have been some of the nicest, from colleagues to customers, always appreciating the work we do.
“Of course, having my wife working alongside me over the years is a great memory which I now cherish; I can picture her in her high-vis vest waving at me from the other side of the Centre every day, just popping her head out to say hello. It was a pleasure to be able to step into her role after her passing last July and work alongside her teammates, and they’ve done a lot to keep her memory alive. This year, a rainbow bench with a plaque in her memory is being installed, which is a lovely gesture.
“I can’t imagine working anywhere else as the last 20 years have been some of the best, even if they have flown by!”
Francesco Schiavoni also reminisced on the Dr Who exhibition, citing it as one of the most popular attractions ever held at the Centre. Currently a waiter in Bella Italia, Franko has held his position in the various restaurants housed in Bella’s location since 1999, including Mamma Amalfi and The Dome.
Speaking of starting his role in the Centre, he said: “In 1999 there wasn’t much around the Bay, it wasn’t fully developed and was not an attraction. As soon as the Centre opened it became a focal point for the area and it has continued to be a destination for visitors.”
Having started at the Centre in 2002 as a projectionist for UCI Cinemas, Louise Millar left for 13 years before returning in November 2021 to ODEON, which has south Wales’ only IMAX cinema, as cinema experience manager.
For Louise, the Centre holds an extra special place in her heart as she went on her first date with her now husband there. They went to the cinema followed by Old Orleans (now Cardiff Bay Tavern) for dinner in 2001, and he also worked in the Centre, in Hollywood Bowl next door.
Louise said: “The Centre is definitely a special place for me and my family, from my husband and I having our first date here, to both of us working here, to taking our son for days out here. It was so nice to return in 2021 as it felt like returning home, especially during such a time of upheaval.”
Emma Constantinou, Marketing Manager at Red Dragon Centre, who has herself worked at the Centre for 16 years, said: “There is just something about The Red Dragon Centre that staff and visitors love. It is somewhere people come to share good times and I really think that that rubs off on you. I loved reading everyone’s memories of the last 25 years, it brought back so many fun times and lots of events that I hadn’t thought about in years.
“Hopefully as we celebrate our 25th anniversary, especially over the Bank Holiday weekend when we’ll have face painting, a giant ball pool and workshops with artist Nathan Wyburn, more people will have the opportunity to make happy memories here.”
The Red Dragon Centre, Cardiff Bay’s leading entertainment venue houses a multitude of interactive, lifestyle and food and drink venues including Odeon Cinema, the home of Wales’ only IMAX screen, the Hollywood Bowl, Grosvenor Casino, Simply Gym, Bella Italia, Five Guys, Spice Route, Volcano, Cardiff Bay Tavern, Cadwaladers and Zaika.