It’s always interesting to find out about people’s history what makes them tick and when the person has as varied, wild and mad a history as Richard (the founder and owner of APS and DarkStar) you know it will be worth a read!
Our regional paper – the Newbury Weekly News – occasionally interviews local people who have made a difference. Sometimes that difference is how they have grown a business, sometimes it’s because of their charitable work or simply because they have an interesting story to tell – with Richard, it was all three!
RICHARD Alexander is exuberant and energetic and he has more stories to tell than a London cabbie.
He is instantly likeable and it is easy to see why he has made his business out of entertaining people.
Darkstar Discos is his latest response to customers’ longing for something exciting and innovative.
“The events industry is ever-evolving; people are always looking for a new experience,” explains the 58-year-old.
His newly-consolidated company now offers spectacular marquees for hire and a full-service event planning team.
Richard, who grew up in South London, believes that it is the people who make the party, so encourages his clients to concentrate on that one, most important, aspect and leave the rest to his team.
Educated in Winchester, he says he had a series of ‘proper jobs’ as an engineering apprentice and then in computing and project management; spending eight years at PwC.
It was at his next job, with a management consultancy company, that he first got involved in putting on events.
By 1988 Richard had met his now wife and moved to Newbury, where she was based, before buying a house in Chapel Row two years later.
“We got married in 1991 and did our own wedding in our own way, which was great fun,” he says. “We then began helping friends to put on their parties.
“What is really rewarding is being part of something that makes people happy and you get a real buzz out of that.”
But it was actually Richard’s wife who instigated the change in their lives that would lead them to where they are today.
She worked as an engineer at AWE, but was no longer happy in her job.
“We had the conversation about what she wanted to do,” he recalls. “She used to be involved in horses and always dreamt of having a livery yard.
“So we bought a derelict farm in Silchester and set about rebuilding it.
“We bought it very quickly then realised how much work actually needed to be done on it, so I decided to leave my job and get involved in rebuilding the farm.”
Richard recalls a love of music developing while he was at school. “We would trade records and we just loved music,” he reminisces. “We were following bands around London in the late 70s era. It was an interesting time and it was a time in our society when things were quite tough and people were quite angry. Music was an escape.”
He was able to reignite this passion by picking up his DJ-ing again, in his spare time, which he says was a great way to meet the locals in their new village.
He also started AugustFest; which he describes as “a private party all about music”.
“We had Paul Jones, who appeared as Eric Clapton on Stars in their Eyes, playing one year,” he says. “He was local and through him we managed to get a lot of people from the show to come along and perform as well.”
It was around this time that Richard has his ‘eureka moment’.
He was asked by an acquaintance, who played in a band, to go along and work the sound-desk for them at a gig in Fulham that weekend.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Richard accepted with gusto.
He now admits it was “disastrous”, but, after picking the brains of a friend who ran a recording studio in Windsor, he got better really rather quickly and continued to do the sound for the band.
“It was terrifying, but utterly brilliant,” he recalls. “It was such a buzz and so I started getting really into it.
“Any money I earned I bought new kit and everything really started from there.
“I worked with some really great people along the way. You see the best and sometimes the absolute worst of people.
But it did make me realise that I didn’t want to go back to London commuter-land once we had finished the farm, so I needed something else to do.”
That something else was ORA Productions, which he set up in 1996 in order to create a pilot about off-roading for Channel 4.
They didn’t get the TV job but began to build the business from there.
“We started getting more and more business and, therefore, bought more and more kit,” Richard explains. “We worked very closely with marquee companies. Nobody does everything and we liked working with other people.
“The important thing is to do what you know and get someone who knows what they are doing to do the other stuff.
“Events have to work at that very moment. Although you may have already done 35 weddings that year already, you have to remember that for one couple it is their one big day.”
By 2012 Richard’s company had evolved and owned its own marquees. But, as he puts it: “I was getting too old to do that” and so he sold the marquees and closed down ORA. And instead APS was born.
APS supplies event production services and equipment to business and private clients.
It has continued to evolve ever since and Darkstar Discos, launched earlier this year, is the latest new offering.
“We are continually looking at new products and innovative ways to create new experiences,” he says. “There are a lot of regulations to deal with now and we are embracing sustainability and green issues.
“We almost exclusively use LED lights and we only use new generators that are as quiet and low polluting as possible.
“Noise management at an event is standard practice now.”
A current challenge the company is embracing is working with a venue to create an inviting environment within a ‘dark skies’ area – where artificial light pollution is restricted.
Other interesting projects the company has worked on include lighting up the wind turbine at Green Park, Reading, and putting a light installation into the Thames Tower (below) in 2016.
You can see images and video of previous projects undertaken by APS on our website, newburytoday.co.uk
Although he doesn’t like to talk about it too much, Richard has clearly worked closely with a number of charities throughout the history of his companies.
One event he does open up about is the Felix Festival (below), an event to raise funds for the Felix Charity, which supports the soldiers within the bomb disposal units and their families.
“We held the first one in 2015 and so far have raised £40,000,” he says. “I am really passionate about this as they are all such mind-blowingly spectacular people.”
I sit and listen, coffee in hand, to Richard recounting hilarious tales, such as the day the smoke machines set off the fire alarms during a Rick Astley concert.
But time is soon up and I must head back to the office, leaving Richard with the thought that he really should get someone to write a book about all of his stories one day…