Former Merlin chief says knighthood shows ‘importance’ of hospitality sector

Sir Nick Varney has been knighted (Chris Radburn/PA)
Sir Nick Varney has been knighted (Chris Radburn/PA)

The former chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, which owns Alton Towers, Legoland and Thorpe Park, has said his knighthood shows the “importance” of the hospitality sector to the UK.

Sir Nick Varney, of Sturminster Newton, Dorset, has been knighted for services to the visitor economy in the King’s Birthday Honours.

He said: “I’m incredibly humbled and proud to have been awarded this accolade.

“Having worked in the tourism and leisure industry for over 30 years, I have had the privilege of helping to build Merlin from a small British business to the global company it is today.

“This enormous honour is shared with all those at Merlin both past and present, who were part of that amazing journey.

“Following the difficulties the hospitality and tourism industry experienced during the pandemic, this knighthood reinforces the importance of our sector to the UK, one which contributes more than £130 billion each year to the British economy.

“I’m proud to have played my part in that and will continue to champion and support this amazing industry.”

Merlin runs more than 140 attractions across 24 countries, with its well-known theme parks including Peppa Pig World, Madame Tussauds and The London Dungeon.

In 2015, Merlin and Sir Nick came under scrutiny when two teenagers needed leg amputations after a 90mph collision with an empty carriage on the Smiler ride at Alton Towers.

The firm was fined £5 million after the crash for health and safety violations.

Sir Nick retired from the position in 2022, having helped Merlin bounce back from financial difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesperson for the firm said: “Nick played a vital role in building Merlin Entertainments into the incredible global success story it is today.

“Our family of 30,000 staff around the world feel proud that our founder has been recognised for his amazing achievement – not just for our company, but the wider industry sector.”