Bus passengers in Teesdale don’t seem to be mourning the loss of their Arriva bus service – as they are now being driven around the dale by a close friend of the stars.
Local independent Scarlet Band took over a number of services previously operated by Arriva, who had been subject to criticism from local residents over its poor timekeeping and who eventually walked away from the services saying they couldn’t operate them profitably.
Scarlet Band's replacement service has been greeted with praise – especially as one of its driver’s appears have brought a touch of glamour to the Dale.
Driver Andy Pounder, who hails originally from the East End on London, turns out to be a long-term friend of comedian Paul O’Grady, the man behind the loud and lairy drag queen Lily Savage.
“My partner is a singer but used to be a very successful drag queen and performed with Paul as Lily Savage,” he recently disclosed to his local paper, the Teesdale Mercury.
“Paul is a great friend, and his partner works with the EastEnders cast and crew so we are friends with a lot of them. June Brown, who plays Dot Cotton, and Jessie Wallace, who play Kat Moon, are brilliant fun.
“Paul recently rang us and said, ‘Get the kettle on girls!’ I asked him where he was and he told me he had just landed his helicopter at Durham Tees Valley airport!”
Scarlet Band stepped in when Arriva abandoned its services in Teesdale and are hoping to have their contract made permanent when Durham County Council conducts a review of bus services in the spring.
In the meantime, they appear to be winning lots of new friends by going that extra mile for their customers.
Andy gives an example of a woman who used to catch the bus each morning from her home, which is near the company’s depot in West Cornforth, each morning into Darlington but who complained that she had to get three buses.
Scarlet Band’s owner told her that if she came into the depot early enough in a morning, she could get a lift into Darlington on one of their empty buses. She is now a regular customer and enjoys her very own personal bus service every morning.
Now I doubt I whether Arriva would be able to offer a service quite as personal as that…