“IT’S NOW or never, be mine tonight, tomorrow will be too late” rang out across the room.

I was a crucial moment. Shrewsbury’s Guildhall had never seen the like before.

Elvis Presley blared out. His words pleading across the room to give the county the showpiece venue it deserved.

But not everyone was convinced. It had been branded a white elephant and almost missed out on getting the go ahead altogether.

It really was that close.

But now Theatre Severn wil be celebrating its 10th anniversary on Monday, with council chiefs saying it has proved a huge success, bringing thousands of people to the county each year,

But it nearly never happened.

It was in the dying days of Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council, mere months before the unitary authority took over.

And Lezley Picton, the woman who has been at the heart of the theatre in two very different roles, said the plan was almost shelved.

Lezley is now Shropshire Council’s portfolio holder for culture – with the theatre coming under her remit.

But back in September 2005, when the decision was made to give it the go-ahead, she was a council officer in charge of the project.

She said: “It very nearly never happened. There were a lot of concerned faces in the meeting where we decided to go ahead with it.

“There were people who were saying they were unsure if it would work in Shrewsbury and I could see the concern in their faces.

“I told now Shropshire Council leader Peter Nutting that I was going to play a piece of music after reading the case for the theatre.

“Some of the older officers and councillors said ‘you simply can’t do that in a council meeting’ but Peter looked at me and said just do it.

“So I read my piece and then pressed play. Elvis Presley’s It’s Now or Never played around the room. And I think it had an impact on people and we got the go ahead.

“It was really emotional and I do not regret it at all and I am so proud of what the theatre has become today.”

Work began in November 2006 and with it came a more modern look for the Frankwell Quay area of Shrewsbury.

It opened in March 25, 2009 and sold its millionth ticket in November 2015. Two million can’t be far away.

And although, Shrewsbury & Atcham had got it built, the unitary authority took over just a week later on April 1.

Councillor Peter Nutting, leader of Shropshire Council, said: “If we had been any later I don’t think it would have happened.

“I don’t think the unitary authority in those early days would have been brave enough to do it. It was early days and cautious times, but we got it open days before the change to unitary and it has been one of the county’s major success stories ever since.”

Lezley adds: “If the timing had been just a little different, I don’t think it would have happened at all. It was that close.”

So how did she make the move from one side of the table to the other?

“I am now poacher turned gamekeeper. Or possibly the other way around,” she said.

“I was delighted to be running the theatre as a council officer. It is in my blood and I am very passionate about culture.

“People laugh and call me the ‘minister of fun’, but I don’t actually like that.

“Culture is so important. Without it, you would have more mental health issues, you would need to spend more on looking after our children and our elderly, it is absolutely vital for people’s quality of life.

“I loved running it as an officer and I am so proud of the team there. They are absolutely awesome and deserve all the praise as we celebrate 10 years.

“The telling thing for me is that so many of the original crew are the same now. That longevity says all you need to know about the quality of people we have working there.”

Lezley ended up leaving the council in 2012 to work as a games maker at the London 2012 Olympics – a role she describes as “the best feelgood year on record” and says: “Boy we need some of that back at the moment don’t we? We need some pride back in our country and some happiness.

“Travelling on the train in London that summer in my games maker outfit people would come up to talk to you and there was such a good feeling amongst everyone.”

Once the Games were over she found herself back home in Shropshire and sitting in the public gallery at a council meeting.

“I was getting angry at the swingeing cuts and everything that was going on,” she said.

“And I just thought, it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and stand for council myself so I can try and have an influence on this.

“I wasn’t expecting to walk straight on to cabinet and I could see the looks on some faces, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Now I get to have an impact on the theatre in this role and I love it.

“It is doing so well, ticket sales are up again in the last quarter and you almost have to join the friends scheme to make sure you get one at all these days.

“But I think it’s the right size. It’s better to fill it every night of the week than half fill it half the week.

“I also think back to the original plans and I look at it now and it has worked exactly as we want it.

“I think people love. They tend to say, that theatre is magnificent, except for the wooden panels on the outside.

“But generally the feeling has been overwhelmingly positive for the whole decade. I still get what I call a ‘Ready Brek’ glow everytime I drive past it and that a wonderful way to feel about something.”

Some of the big names to have taken to the stage at the theatre include Michael Parkinson, Michael McIntyre, Brian Blessed, Suggs and Ken Dodd.

Countless plays have seen some of the best known stage actors perform, while the annual pantomime is a roaring success, with more than 30,000 attending each year.

And its popularity is continuing. Nic Laurens, who is a councillor for Meole, said: “One of the best presents I’ve ever bought Mrs L was ‘friends membership’.

“We sit down and book four or five shows at a time, have seen some truly brilliant plays and shows.

“Shropshire is so lucky to have such a magnificent facility. Happy birthday Theatre Severn.”

And Sally Themans, a business coach and magistrate from Bridgnorth,, added: “We were there a couple of weeks ago and we love it.

“My daughter has performed in Bad Girls, Evita, Key Theatre Academy etc there – it’s such a fab venue with such a varied and accessible programme – brilliant! Lucky Shrewsbury.”

So what does the future hold for Theatre Severn?

“We have got to keep proving those people who said we would be a £27 million white elephant wrong,” Councillor Picton said.

“We are going to keep attracting big names, keep on putting on fabulous shows and keep on listening to what people want.

“This is their venue and I want people to keep enjoying it and continuing the success. I also want to again thank the amazing team who work there, it is all down to their hard work and dedication.

“Without them we wouldn’t be at 10 years. Congratulations”