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“I feel like I’ve been robbed”: inside HelloWorld, the YouTuber event that left parents furious

An event for YouTube fans was billed with the words “nothing like this has ever been done before”. Angry parents agree.

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.”

Via Peter Preston

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.


A post shared by HelloWorld (@helloworldlive) on

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.”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Technology can change the world – provided we have a measure of democracy, too

You could say we need a technological revolution for the many, not the few. 

Over the last five decades, the American Consumer Technology Association’s annual jamboree has grown to become the world’s largest tech show: attracting over 190,000 visitors and 4000 companies, with 7,460 reporters filing 59,969 reports over the course of four days in Las Vegas. In the process, it has achieved an almost mythical status – from unveiling the first-ever home VCR (Philips 1970) to Bill Gates’ resignation from Microsoft in 2006, and has included cameo appearances by the likes of Jay-Z and Barack Obama.

As a fully qualified geek (Electrical Engineering degree, 20 years in tech – before it was cool) and the shadow minister for Industrial Strategy Science and Innovation, I couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity to venture to Las Vegas while on a family holiday to the US’ west coast; hoping, against all hope, to see the progressive future of a technology-enabled, more equal world.

If only.

But I did emerge with a renewed conviction that technology can solve our problems – if we use it to do so.

In some ways, the most remarkable thing about the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the way it demonstrated how technology has taken over our entire world. CES was a car show in the middle of a health show, which happened to be around the corner from a home show, which was adjacent to a sports show that was next to an entertainment show. Just about every sector was represented.

Nissan had a huge stand for their new autonomous vehicle showcasing the ‘Brain-Vehicle Interface’, as did Philips for their new sleep enhancing devices, and Huawei for their connected home. In 2018, technology can be used as an enabling platform to aid just about everything. And in a world where near enough everything is politicised, technology is very political.

But this was not evident from CES: not from the stands, neither the keynotes, nor the participants. There were few speakers from civic society nor governments, and those politicians who attended – such as Donald Trump’s Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao – talked only of their ‘excitement’ at the sunlit uplands technology could guide us to. The show existed in its own, largely self-sufficient world. While Ford created an entire street to show off its autonomous cars, there was no reference to who would pay for the road, pavements, lamp-posts and guttering if only robots worked.

And as a politician rather than an engineer, it is the societal impact that matters most to me. One realisation brought about by my visit is that I have greatly under-estimated the consequences of driverless vehicles: communications, parking, urban layout, and public transport are all likely to be deeply impacted. The automobile industry is working to position cars as your personal moving office-cum-front room-cum-hotel-cum-lecture theatre; where you can work, maintain personal and social relationships, unwind and learn – all while going from A to B. How will crowded, under-funded public transport compete?

At the show, Nissan launched its Brain-to-Vehicle technology, which reads the driver’s brainwaves to determine when the car’s intelligence should intervene. Although I'm personally unsure about the inclusion of brain surveillance in the driving experience, it may well be the next logical step as we increasingly give up our data in return for ‘free’ services. Certainly the anthropologists at Nissan argued that this was the very definition of assisted artificial intelligence.

Fortunately, autonomous vehicles are not the only way to get around. Improvements in battery technology mean that – between electric scooters capable of folding away into airplane carry on, and electric bikes with the power of motorcycles – personal mobility has become a market in its own right.

Personal health and sport were also big themes at the event. Philips has brought back the night cap, which not only looks far more fetching than the Victorian original, but is now also capable of lulling you gently into a slumber before monitoring the quality of your sleep. Orcam’s discrete camera-glasses for the visually impaired can read text and recognise people, whilst L’Oréal’s UV Sense is a sensor small enough to be worn comfortably on your fingernail that detects ultraviolet exposure.

One aspect of the show that has remained largely unchanged is its demographics. Whilst the glossy adverts on the walls depict women and BME people using technology, those actually designing it were, with a few exceptions, male and largely white. As always, there were no queues for the women’s loos and while there were not any ‘F1 girls’, the gender balance was improved largely by attractive women, who were not engineers, being employed to ‘explain’ technological advances.

Weeks later, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos was also dominated by technology, which the Prime Minister used as a fig leaf to cover the absence of vision for Brexit. Lacking in both the CES and Davos, was any sense that the interests of the many had any significant stake in what was going on. We need a Labour government to help change that.

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy.