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Mr Brunel with 'x factor', boards ship

Brunel’s ss Great Britain is announcing its new ‘Mr Brunel’ (April 28) – following a gruelling selection process.

Actor Simon Strain has demonstrated he has the ‘x-factor’, impressing judges at all stages from the initial audition, to his ability to get inside the mind of the great engineer, generate public votes and rise to the challenge of a live performance.

Simon stressed throughout the competition that he was a ‘younger, taller and more handsome’ Mr Brunel – a claim which Trust staff and volunteers are leaving to visitors to decide, as good looks did not form part of the job specification.

Recruitment materials stated that the Brunel ‘x-factor’ was more important than strict authenticity, stressing there would be no height restrictions (the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was five foot two inches). Engineering skills were also optional. 

The ‘Mr Brunel’ role includes welcoming visitors to the multi award-winning museum attraction in Bristol and developing a detailed knowledge of Brunel’s achievements, attending promotional events, and undertaking media work and events on board ship.

Staff and volunteers at Brunel’s ss Great Britain were impressed by the quality of all the applicants, but especially those who made it through to the final stages including performances at The Mall in Cribbs Causeway and by the Dockyard Café Bar, next to Brunel’s ss Great Britain. And the recruitment campaign provided staff with a few surprises such as a ‘Mrs Brunel’, who arrived for audition in full Victorian costume. 

The two candidates with the least number of public votes were knocked out last week. Judges, including staff from Brunel’s ss Great Britain and presenter Ian Downs – better known as ‘Downsy’ – off Jack FM’s ‘That Morning Thing’ have reached their decision based on the performances and ability to meet the demands of the role.

The ss Great Britain Trust’s Director of Museum and Educational Services Rhian 

Tritton commented: “Judges reached their decision based on the actor’s positive visitor-oriented attitude, his ability to meet challenges, and willingness to learn about the engineer and the ss Great Britain. 

“Having a sense of fun and being a team player were also important selection criteria. Being young and handsome, it has to be added, were not requirements of the role.”

Downsy, a great admirer of the engineer I.K. Brunel, said: “The campaign to find a new Mr Brunel for Brunel’s ss Great Britain has been great fun. Simon certainly impressed me when I saw him in action as Mr Brunel. He demonstrated that he had the ‘x-factor’, injecting fun and humour into the role. I am looking forward to seeing Simon on board ship as Mr Brunel entertaining visitors.”

Simon Strain, whose acting work to date has included performing Terry Pratchett’s ‘Johnny and the Bomb’ at the Edinburgh Fringe, commented: “It is a chance to embody a true British hero, to perform, to educate, and to entertain. Like the man himself I am dynamic, passionate and dedicated to spreading the story of this amazing ship and her fascinating history.”

He added, with some modesty: “Of course when I referred to myself as being younger, taller and more handsome than the other Brunel candidates I was being somewhat mischievous, and was speaking with tongue firmly in cheek.”

The ss Great Britain Trust, which cares for Brunel’s ss Great Britain, is a registered charity which receives no funding from central or local government. All funds required to conserve and maintain the Victorian ship and Bristol icon are generated through visitor admissions, café and shop sales, venue hire and fundraising.