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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: mdl70 via Flickr
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Childhood mythology is being revamped by digital monsters like Slenderman

The stories the younger generation tell one another are just as rich, and as terrifying.

“I am the spirit of dark and lonely water, ready to trap the unwary, the show-off, the fool...”

The eldritch tones of Donald Pleasance will breathe a chilly memory along the vertebrae of those of a certain age. That 1973 public information broadcast about water safety lingers long in the memory. But why? There was something about the hooded figure depicted beside the river where children cavorted that just resonated. A shadow, a memory, a whisper. It was as if we'd almost heard it before. It wasn't just a warning. It was a story.

Before Donald Pleasance kept Britain's children from its treacherous riverbanks, we had tales of ubiquitous river-hags. Two good examples are Peg Powler, who haunts the banks of the Tees, and Jenny Green Teeth, who stalks Shropshire's waterways.  Both of these terrifying water spirits live to drag youngsters to a watery lair. These monsters pan the world, from the native Penobscot people of Maine, with their child-luring swamp-woman Skwaktemus, to the Inuit's Qalupalik, a green-skinned water witch that reaches up from below the ice to snatch wayward and disobedient children.

These stories are geographically distant but carry essentially the same message: “Stay away from the water”. Predatory creatures embody a very real fear. The unimaginable nightmare of our children in real peril is blunted by the presence of a monster.

Children need stories as much as adults do; stories make sense of reality when reality is hard to understand. Stories are told to be re-told, to be embellished, to raise heroes and to make monsters.

For people of the Dark and Lonely Water generation, including me, it's easy to assume that today's kids have lost the art of storytelling. We say social media has diffused, has numbed, has snuffed the flame of imagination. Yet perhaps it hasn't. Perhaps we just got old. On the contrary, the stories the younger generation tell each other are just as rich. Monsters are still being made. This world of ours is still being understood.

There is real danger out there. There are real monsters. But now they come in new forms, they lurk in new lairs.

Today, the internet is the new hunting ground of the monster. Grooming, trolling, cat-fishing and scamming have become the MOs of the vile in our society and, as if in direct response, legends and myths have sprung from the same place.

Creepypasta, 4Chan and /nosleep are breeding colonies of legend. Forums and social media have taken the place of the skipping-rope chants and the childhood whispers. Young people still know Bloody Mary, yet Black-Eyed Kids and the Goatman have usurped her from her throne. Nefarious rituals and games like Hooded Man or Elevator to Another World have been born of the internet age, submitted as stories and experiences. Like the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water in the 70s, they have touched a common nerve.

The most iconic of these net-dredged horrors is Slenderman: born of a paranormal Photoshop competition, his legend has transmogrified into an internet Tulpa, the power of which played a significant part in the decision of 12-year-olds Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser to stab their friend Bella Leutner 19 times. He is strengthened with every share, every fan image, every account of his being. It is no wonder that he has become flesh in the hearts and minds of those who need him, who want to escape into his world.

The readers of the forums that bear these eldritch fruits know the content isn't real. Yet disbelief is intentionally suspended. As it says on the /nosleep board guidelines “Everything is true here, even if it's not. Don't be the jerk in the movie theater [sp] hee-hawing because monkeys don't fly.”  It's disrespectful to negate the skill or the talent that it takes to write a story or make an image on Photoshop. This leaves space for storytelling. We need stories.

These stories stir something inside us, lend a bellow to the flames of our imagination. Images, anecdotes and instructions - they are monsters we have the power to control. Online, we can pass on the whispers, we have the ability to interact with the shadows. Online we can be the purveyors of this mythology. We can tell each other stories. We can control. If we make a monster, it is ours. Most importantly, we can escape from reality and immerse ourselves in our monsters.

Not just monsters lurk online, there are games and rituals, rich in their own mythology. The illicit Ouija board in the parks and graveyards of my own childhood are dwarfed by the trans-cultural crucible of today's games. With the ingenuity of Koji Suzuki's cursed video in Ring, far eastern influence and technology are pervasive throughout. Japan can boast the ghost-summoning Satoru-kun, and the White Kimono game. Both are alleged to summon spirits, Satoru-kun specifically with a mobile phone. There are many more of these games sprouting up from all over the rest of the world eg.- Mexico's ' El Juego Del Libro Rojo' (Red Book game) and Portugal's Ritual da Televisão (Television ritual) and nearly all carry grave warnings.

These nebulous games, like the internet's monsters carry their own stories. Peruse Reddit and you'll find accounts and speculation from those who claim to have played and been changed or had their lives altered by what they've done. The comments below the hundreds of accounts begging for advice are a mix of sincerity and concern.

“Dude, luck only lasts so long, and even longer less when you tempt things you know nothing of.”

“OP, you messed up big time. You're always supposed to follow the rules of the game as completely as you can!”

“You idiot! Ghost games are not for play! Especially japanese ones, they are dangerous”

“Get some sage. Burn the sage, and wave it into every corner of every room in the house... I would recommend putting salt across doorways and window sills, anything that would be an 'entry' into the house, but it sounds like you may have summoned it inside the house”

Everything is true here even if it's not.

But how can we know for sure? Do we really know that the user didn't summon something terrible from the void they opened with one of these games?

That's what makes them so compelling. That's what makes Slenderman, Smile Dog and Jeff the Killer so iconic. Like that friend of your mate's brother who went mad after he did an Ouija board down the park, we are still whispering, we are still embellishing and interacting.

The internet is open, unchartered landscape, there are no rules of the real world in which to weave mythology and the quest is to be the creator of something that wriggles from our grasp and is embraced, formed and made flesh by a collective consciousness. Are we in some way thankful for these creatures that bring us together over oceans and time zones?

Phones and tablets in the hands of our children are frightening to us: they are the unknown, the window into an abyss. Yet from that abyss, we are like our ancestors, toasting heraldry and horror, and making new myths.

Hydra by Matt Wesolowski, published by Orenda Books is out now.