Initially, Darren Day told his 12-year-old daughter Macy that the family couldn’t afford to go to HelloWorld. Billed as an “immersive live experience”, the two-day event was going to be a place for young fans to see their YouTube heroes in the flesh, enjoy carnival rides, listen to live music, and play games. When Day was given the opportunity to do overtime at work, he jumped at the chance. He eventually spent “just short of a week’s wages” to attend the mini-festival.
“I was almost brought to tears looking at the disappointment on Macy’s face,” he says now, two days after the event.
When Day and his family arrived at Birmingham Genting Arena for HelloWorld, they were almost instantly disappointed. “I feel like I’ve actively been ripped off, I really do,” says the 48-year-old, who paid £171 for three tickets. He is not alone. Peter Preston, a 41-year-old from Bradford, paid over £200 to take his daughter and a friend to HelloWorld for her 13th birthday.
“It became apparent after about five minutes there was absolutely nothing to do,” he says, “You could genuinely see parents in the middle of the room standing around going ‘what on earth are we going to do?’” Preston says the advertised carnival rides weren’t there, and some stages and sets were completely empty of stars. He says a giant arcade game intended for the children to play on was broken.
“Every so often you’d hear a cheer and there’d be hundreds of stampeding children running across the hall,” says Preston, describing children “falling and tripping up” when YouTube stars emerged into the arena. “By the time most of them had got to the person, whoever it was, they had gone.”
HelloWorld was supposed to be different. Over the past decade, YouTube meet-ups have become difficult to manage, with stars needing greater and greater security to talk with their millions of viewers. “We wanted to avoid a standard meet-and-greet scenario where you guys queue for ages,” said YouTuber Jim Chapman on the event’s official website, explaining that the arena would have a “Main Street” of stalls and activities. “You can play games with us, you can do activities with us, we might even get to collaborate.”
Kelly Jones and her 11-year-old daughter Madeline queued for two hours in order to meet YouTube superstar Zoella. “There were a lot of queues and people stood in them because they didn’t know what to do,” Jones says. She and her daughter waited outside Zoella’s “winter wonderland” area, but when they were finally let in, they realised the vlogger wasn’t there. “It was a disgrace, we were being completely exploited,” says Jones. “I stood up to this guy [who worked there] and said ‘You’re sending us in after two hours to look at fake trees?’.”
Jo Harris, a 48-year-old from Bristol who took her 14-year-old daughter Lucy to the event, experienced the same thing. “We’d just stood there queuing, in a crush, for twenty minutes… that was very frustrating,” she says. Harris, who uses crutches, was also disappointed at the lack of disability access at the event.
Since they first announced the event, the team behind HelloWorld were clear the festival was “not a meet and greet”. Yet although ticket-buyers knew there was no guarantee they’d meet YouTube stars for photographs or autographs, Chapman’s video made the possibilities for interaction sound endless. “Along Main Street you might bump into a YouTuber or two,” he said at one point. Then, later in the video: “Maybe we’ll film something together, who knows?”
Sixteen-year-old Abigail Barlow spent £114 of her wages to buy HelloWorld tickets for herself and her younger sister. After earning the money working part time in a hotel, Barlow was amazed when she first entered the arena on Sunday. “It looked amazing,” she says, explaining that she rushed to Zoella’s area, just like Jones and her daughter. “There was a queue there and they blocked it off, so we couldn’t get in.
“Jim Chapman said there would be no queuing, YouTubers would just be walking around, which they weren’t, they were just stood in the corner occasionally,” she says. “It was definitely made out to be something that it wasn’t.” When asked if she regrets spending money on the event, she says “yeah, 100 per cent.”
Olivia Blanch spent over £560 in total to attend HelloWorld. The 44-year-old from Dublin flew over with her 14-year-old daughter Tara, and spent £226 on two VIP tickets. For the price, the family were able to meet and get a photograph with YouTuber Joe Sugg, and got a goodie bag featuring a T-shirt, bath bomb, face mask, and lanyard.
“Had she have not got her photograph with Joe Sugg, it would’ve been a total and utter disaster,” says Blanch. She says Tara spent her own money to buy Sugg a gift, but was ushered away from him almost immediately after she handed it over. “You literally got 20 seconds, get your photograph taken and get out.”
Not everyone disliked HelloWorld. The event’s official Facebook page shows it has been rated 2.4 out of five stars by attendees, and many children on Twitter are happily posting selfies with their favourite YouTubers. Every parent I spoke to praises the event’s security, which they describe as very thorough. Perhaps this illustrates best the differing viewpoints of parents and children, as many now disagree about the event. While parents feel ripped off, young fans staunchly defend their favourite stars. One woman who posted a negative review on the Facebook page said she couldn’t speak to me as it would upset her daughter.
“I will continue to line Zoella’s pockets even though she let my daughter down so very badly,” reads a complaint letter from Julia Maunders, a 34-year-old mother from South Wales. “I however have a very different view to my daughter and there is no question in my mind that my daughter and other children were exploited during this shambles of an event for their money.”
Kelly Jones’ daughter, Madeline, has now changed her mind about YouTubers. “She actually said to me, ‘Mummy, I don’t want any more of their stuff because I feel they just want our money’. She’s 11, and I never put that in her head, I never said any of that,” says Jones. Conversely, Harris tells me her daughter wants to praise one particular YouTuber, Oli White. “He was on the stage two or three times a day, he seemed to do a good job and he was quite a main part of the show, so she was pleased with him.”
Each day of HelloWorld ended with a live show. Promised as a two hour performance by YouTube’s biggest stars, Saturday night’s event ran at one and a half hours. The expected “House Party to end all House Parties*” after the event never happened – though on this, HelloWorld had been clear. “*Subject to change,” announced an asterisk on its site.
Again, many teens enjoyed the show, including 16-year-old Barlow. Parents, however, express concerns that YouTuber KSI rapped swear words, and many YouTubers joked about death and sex. In particular, parents and children alike were upset that their favourite star, Zoella, only appeared on stage for three minutes.
“Hi Jayne! There are some people who feel really comfortable being on a stage in front of thousands of people, however I am not one of them & was never scheduled to be on the main stage for a ‘segment’ on my own!” Zoella tweeted this weekend to a disappointed fan. Day, the man who worked overtime to take his 12-year-old daughter to the event, is sympathetic to Zoella’s anxiety but wishes the promotional material had advertised this fact.
“If you look at all of the advertising that’s anything to do with it, Zoella and Joe Sugg are at the top of the list all of the time… they really sold the show. Don’t get me wrong if she has anxiety that’s fair enough, but perhaps organising a show where thousands of people are expecting to see you isn’t the best thing.”
When questioned about this and the event’s other issues, a spokesperson for HelloWorld said:
“We at HelloWorld want to let you know that we are really disappointed and very sorry to hear that some fans feel they did not get the experience they were hoping for. It is the fans that help make these shows so great and we always want to ensure that everyone has an amazing time. We really appreciate everyone’s feedback and we are taking everything on board.
The Hello World event is designed as a new way for fans to see their favourite content creators on stage and a change from the old ‘meet and greet’ style events. The atmosphere at the event was very positive overall and we had venue and event staff on hand to deal in real time with any teething issues on a case-by-case basis. Anyone who has been in touch with our official email address is being responded to on an individual basis and we appreciate fans patience during this process.”
Laura Mcdougal is a 22-year-old from Birmingham who says she got “nothing” from the event. “We paid 60 quid and we got nothing from it, I literally feel like I’ve been robbed,” she says. Many who attended the event were surprised that in order to meet stars, they had to be VIPs or have won wristbands through social media games. Mcdougal’s sister won one of these, which allowed her to attend a Q&A with YouTuber Tyler Oakley.
“It said on the email we’d have a chance to meet [him] and get a photo… but when it finished Tyler got rushed away,” she says. “There were a lot of people with sad looking faces.” Mcdogual says she had nothing to do for “85 per cent” of the time at HelloWorld, and wishes the tickets had been cheaper at £30 or £35.
One 39-year-old man who wishes to remain anonymous lists everything that went wrong: stars’ sessions lasting just ten minutes, rude security, queuing without being told a star had already left, hour long queues for merchandise, and pick ‘n’ mix costing £2.20 per 100g. But three of the parents I speak to reference one moment as a particular sting.
When vlogger Louise Pentland took to the stage, she opened with a joke. Day paraphrases it as this:
“Hi everyone, thanks for coming. I’ve recently moved, so thank you very much for buying my new house.”