Candy says nothing is more satisfying than watching the first guests running up, getting on a ride and hearing their screams of delight Image Credit: Supplied

We want a job dreaming up roller coasters, Candy – how do we get into it?

I work for a company called Merlin Entertainments and our creative team come from a range of design backgrounds from product design to architecture – anything with a creative thread and particularly with an awareness of dimensions and guest experiences. I started in the world of theatre where there are a lot of similarities to the theme park industry because it’s all about 
storytelling, entertaining people, using your imagination and creating inspiring, unique experiences. Theatre is also good grounding for working within time and space parameters. While working in theatre I was asked to work at the company that would become Merlin for a couple of weeks. A few weeks became a few months and 20 years later I’m still here.

Do you have a favourite part of the design process?

I love all of it, but especially coming up with ideas at the beginning: you have the chance to imagine all sorts of crazy things that initially don’t seem possible and the fun bit is then working out how to make them a reality. After that it’s very exciting to see a design come to life, but my absolute favourite part is when the attraction opens. Being there to see the first guests run up, get on the ride and then hearing their screams of delight is fantastic. It’s good hearing guests’ comments because we always aspire to be better.

If we wanted a ’coaster for our back garden and had $1 million (Dh3.7 million) to spend, what might we get?

Not a lot! Health and safety is right at the top of the list of essential requirements so that means the quality of the design, manufacturing and engineering needs to be very, very high. You can buy a small, kiddy-coaster that doesn’t do much more than go round for that kind of price.

Is $50 million more like a typical budget for a roller coaster?

Not $50 million, because we like to think we can be more creative and clever for far less than that. You could spend $8 million and you could easily spend up to 20, although a theme park typically consists of a wide variety of experiences, and it is not always the big-budget attractions that are the most captivating. For example, a simple, immersive Lego brick-building experience within a Legoland resort may only require a budget of around $150,000, but still deliver a fantastic experience for a family with young children.

Do you think that superlatives like ‘world’s fastest’ – such as the Formula Rossa roller coaster at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi – will always pull in a crowd?

There will always be a place for them and I think the F1 brand is a huge part of the Formula Rossa’s draw, but we’ve done a lot 
of research into future trends and found that people want more than just ‘most inversions’ or ‘world’s tallest’; they want unique, immersive experiences that engage them physically, emotionally and psychologically. They want a fully-engaging experience, and good attractions are often about bringing people together. Very few people go to a theme park on their own.

With the right project and financial backing, do you think the UAE could open a park that would steal Disney’s global theme 
park crown?

Absolutely – although instead of stealing the crown, why not create a new kind of hat altogether? There’s a market for a different type of experience.

What can you tell us about Legoland Dubai?

Well, construction is well under way! Attractions include Lego cars that kids can get in and drive themselves, along with 
riding on the back of a dragon through a castle on an exciting roller coaster adventure. It’s all about kids being heroes, and being encouraged to learn new skills, try new experiences and adventures.

Are no two projects the same?

No – they’re always different. You might be creating something cute and fun one minute and then the next it’s a terrifying roller coaster where you’re trying to make teenagers scream. One interesting ride to work on was called Saw The Ride (Thorpe Park, UK), which was based on the Saw horror films. 
By the end of the project my colleagues and I were pretty disturbed having had to watch so many of the movies in the name of research!

Finally, what theming opportunities leap to mind if someone wanted to add some kind of ride to the Burj Khalifa?

Ooh! Depends on who it’s for. If you’re going for pure adrenaline then maybe something to do with base jumping; if it was for five-year-old kids then space and flight or having special superpowers come to mind.