A MANAGER who has worked at a cinema since it first opened to the public is leading its birthday celebrations.

Helen Reeve, 36, is the only member of the original team remaining at Empire, at Basildon's Festival Leisure Park, which was launched in 1998.

To mark a successful 18 years of business, the cinema, originally called UCI, hosted special showings of classic Nineties blockbuster Godzilla- the first film ever shown there.

Ms Reeve, now a manager, said she has seen many chances over the years.

The cinema started out with 12 screens, but this was increased to 18 in July 2010 with the opening of a new Impact screen and smaller studio rooms.

Another landmark opening took place last June when Empire Basildon became the only cinema in Essex to get a state-of-the-art Imax screen- showing the highly anticipated Jurassic World as its first film.

Ms Reeve said: “It is fantastic to be celebrating 18 years of Empire Basildon, and celebrating years of delivering films to the big screen.

“Over the years we’ve seen some amazing developments to the cinema including the popular Imax screen, and along with our great offers and prices, we are now the 10th busiest cinema in the country.

"Here’s to the next eighteen years.”

She added: “For the big birthday celebrations we aired a special showing of the film Godzilla, because that we the first film that was ever shown here at the cinema when it opened as a UCI back in July 1998.

“We have seen a lot of changes over the years here, we now show a much wider range of films and I think that has encouraged a brand new audience to come to the cinema

“We now show opera and theatrical shows, which is not something people necessarily expect.

“I think that going to the cinema has always been more of a younger persons idea of a good evening or night out, but now with the more theatrical type of films and shows on offer we have definitely seen an increase in older people coming to the cinema for an evening out."

Ms Reeve said working at the cinema has become much more than just a job for her thanks to he people she has met.

She added: “For me the cinema has become my life. I met my fiancee while working there and we now have two children. I have also met great friends while working at the cinema."

Phil Peirce, Empire Basildon manager, said the staff have been key to the success of the cinema.

He said: "As well as celebrating the cinemas eighteenth birthday, we have two staff members turning eighteen in July, meaning the cinema had just opened as they were born!

"The rest of the year is set to be huge for us with an amazing selection of films for 2016 yet to arrive, and we look forward to welcoming visitors old and new.”