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8.12.09

Swindon, the maligned place that brought us the Magic Roundabout becomes first town twinned with Disney World

Disney World in Orlando, Florida
Dream come true: Disney World in Orlando, Florida

One is a magical world where children's dreams come true.

The other, is Swindon.

You would be forgiven for thinking someone was taking the mickey, but the much-maligned West Country town whose main attraction is a surprisingly elaborate roundabout, has been twinned with Walt Disney World in Florida.

It is the first time the enormous theme park which opened 38 years ago has ever been twinned, and its judges applied a stringent vetting process for candidates, turning down entries from 24 UK hopefuls including Cambridge, Brighton and Aberdeen.

The unlikely partnership  will be officially announced at a 'twinning ceremony' in Swindon next month which will include Disney representatives who will enjoy a celebratory party.

But last night tourist officials in Swindon, widely known as a depressing concrete metropolis, were already toasting the good news.

It is all thanks to resident Rebecca Warren, a building society clerk who made a promotional video and poem in homage to her hometown which impressed Disney's judges.

Miss Warren, 20, will fly to Florida to unveil a plaque emblazed with 'Walt Disney World twinned with Swindon' at the theme park next year, and a similar sign will also be on display at the multiple roundabout in the West Country town.

Swindon's mayor David Wren said last night: 'We are delighted the judges decided that Swindon's magic complemented that of Walt Disney World. Rebecca did a great job promoting our town and we look forward to linking up with Disney over the coming year.'

A special Swindon exhibition will run throughout next year at Disney's Epcot theme park, although it is not known what the display will contain.

Disney bosses may have been struck by Swindon's own piece of architectural fantasy, the Magic Roundabout - five mini roundabouts arranged in a circle around a large central one, which was constructed in 1972.

An aerial photograph of a roundabout in Swindon known as the Magic Roundabout
Landmark: An aerial photograph of the 'Magic Roundabout' in Swindon

It featured in her video, which was intended to extoll the virtues of the much derided town of 200,000 people. 

Who could forget the excruciating moment in Ricki Gervais's comedy The Office when he jokes with his new employees from Swindon: 'I heard they dropped an atomic bomb on Swindon?...and it did about £15 worth of damage'.

Last night she said: 'I still cannot believe that my entry has been selected - it's fantastic. What a great opportunity for Swindon.' 

The town was put on the map when it was chosen as the starting point for the Great Western Railway, Isambard Kingdon Brunel's great project to link London and the West of England which was founded in 1833.

Since then things have deteriorated somewhat for Swindon on the international stage, but it does boasts a few well-known exports - in the shape of glamour model Melinda Messenger, Dr Who star Billie Piper and silver screen legend Diana Dors.

Honda plant, Swindon
Industrial: The Honda car plant in Swindon

More than 500 people from across the UK nominated their home towns for the competition, and he winning entry was selected by a team of judges including Disney bosses and TV star Angellica Bell.

Hugh Wood,of Disney Destinations International said they had selected Miss Warren's entry for its creativity, sense of fun and the way  it showcased elements of Swindon which reflect aspects of the Walt Disney World Resort in the sunshine state of Orlando.

He said: 'Her local pride and creative approach, coupled with her obvious knowledge of Walt Disney World just made the difference.'We’re looking forward to building a friendly and magical relationship with our new twin, Swindon.'

Children's programme 'The Magic Roundabout' with puppet characters Florence and Zebedee
Namesake: Children's programme 'The Magic Roundabout' with puppet characters Florence and Zebedee 

The Walt Disney Community Relations team will also embark on a 'community outreach programme' devised in collaboration with Swindon’s officials to teach people in the sunshine state about their West Country twin following the official ceremony in January.

Bryn Jones, of the Visit Wiltshire Tourism Partnership, said last night: 'Now I know its not a wind up I think this is brilliant news.


'The town of the magical roundabout has been twinned with the magical kingdom and that is very fitting. There's a lot going on in Swindon which has been much underplayed.'

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