SWINDON town centre will be officially lit up tonight signalling the start of the Christmas shopping season.

Britain’s Got Talent winners Ashleigh and Pudsey are top of the bill for the evening’s entertainment, which gets underway at 6.30pm.

Revellers are advised to arrive early, leaving plenty of time to get into town while taking into account the current roadworks in the area.

There will be lots of fun games and entertainment taking place ahead of the big switch on, plus the chance to meet Ashleigh and Pudsey on the upper level of the Brunel Plaza from 5pm to 5.30pm.

The late night shopping season also kicks off tonight, with shops extending their opening hours every Thursday from now until the big day.

Steve Fawke, chairman of inSwindon and general manager of The Brunel, said: “The town centre lights switch-on is always an exciting evening and signals the start of the Christmas shopping season – and late night shopping – for us.

“There will be a lot of fun for all the family happening in The Brunel starting at 4pm, with our helpful elves and music from Elfis, as well as a sneak preview of Ashleigh and Pudsey before they take to the stage in Wharf Green to do the Christmas honours.

“The Swindon town centre light switch on has become a much anticipated part of the festive celebrations and this year is sure not to disappoint.”

Di Powell, from inSwindon, added: “We wanted to make the light switch-on a real family show this year.

“We encourage everyone to get in early to get a good spot.”

Crowds are expected to gather from 5pm, but during the day, visitors are welcome to browse the festive market or take a peek in Santa’s Grotto.

Visitors can also enjoy live music and dance performances from the likes of Swindon Samba and the choir from the Great Western Hospital.

There will also be street characters, stilt walkers and a town crier.

At 6.30pm, Heart FM will officially launch the celebrations with a performance from Swindon Dance. This will then be followed by a performance from The Brunel’s Elf Act, before crowds are wowed by an aerial hoop performance by Emily Smith.

A live link-up to Wyvern Theatre panto star Nigel Havers will then take place before Ashleigh and Pudsey take to the stage, performing to the family audience before officially switching on the lights.

The evening will end with a firework display.

Last year, an estimated 28,000 people were wowed when rags-to-riches X-Factor runner-up Jahmene Douglas returned to his home town to switch on the lights.

Follow our live blog from 6pm at swindonadvertiser.co.uk and tweet from the scene using #swindonlights

Anyone driving to the town centre is reminded that Brunel West car park is open 24 hours, whereas Brunel North closes at 8pm.

The firework display will start at 7pm and should be finished by 7.20pm.