Cruise Memories with Bill Panoff: The Tom Jones Years

Welcome to the second installment of cruise memories with Bill Panoff! Yesterday, we asked Bill about his first memories of cruising on board TSS Carnivale where he worked as a magician. One of the events on board the ship was a talent contest and that’s when Bill decided to try his hand at impersonations, specifically Welsh pop singer Tom Jones. He did so well, it became a running event on board the ship!

Cruise Memories with Bill Panoff

What made you decide to impersonate Tom Jones?

Growing up my mother used to watch Tom Jones on tv and I was forced to watch with her. When I was younger I wasn’t a fan of his gyrating and women throwing their unmentionables at him…. but when I got older I eventually decided to learn it.

Onboard we had a passenger talent show and I just came up with this idea that I’d imitate Tom Jones. Every sailing I would start a rumor that a special guest star was coming on, and the waiters would play in, the room service, everyone. So by the time the talent show started everyone was excited for Tom Jones and absolutely beaming!

How did the crowd react? 

They really thought it was him when I came out! It was dark, the band knew the tunes. It was pandemonium! It was done so well I would have two security guards. After the first time, we decided to make it a regular thing. I think some people were really let down when they noticed it wasn’t Tom Jones. They would come early, some would skip dinner… it was a big deal.

Did you ever give a bad performance?

I did actually, the whole act started as a serious magic act but I was such a bad magician. Everything would go so wrong. I would constantly fumble and everyone laughed all the time, so I decided to embrace it and become a comedy magic act. I’d come on stage all serious and then fail. Later on when I worked on the Carnival Festivale I had my act fine tuned and I had people laughing so hard they were crying.

Bill’s act developed into a comedy show

How do you feel about performers and how their techniques have changed?

Now acts are so much more sophisticated. It’s much more spectacular now than it once was, but I think people were entertained then just as much as they are now. I think the smaller cruise ships made a difference in that the passengers could interact with me all day long and we had a relationship with our guests because we were with each other all day long. So it’s just a different dynamic of entertainment. Seeing someone you know perform is just a different experience than seeing someone you don’t know perform.

If you have any questions for Bill or want to share any of your own cruise memories, let us know in the comments below! You can also follow Porthole Cruise Magazine on Twitter and Facebook to share your stories there. If you want more Bill, and who wouldn’t, make sure you check out Cruise Control will Bill Panoff on YouTube