There are few events that leave you deafened. Those that involve a teenage audience fall into that category, and you don’t even have to prompt them to scream – they do that at the mere hint that something extraordinary is about to happen, or when a crew member walks on stage. But cue One Direction fanning BBC Radio 1’s Nick Grimshaw, poised on a chaise longue, and the crowd goes wild. Stand Out doesn’t usually carry earplugs but today I wish I had. Wembley Arena is pulsating with the sound of howling girls and base, as presenter and DJ Grimshaw rises from the B-stage with The X Factor finalists.
The reason for this celeb-fest is to honour the real heroes of today. The BBC Radio 1 Teen Awards recognise the stunning and self-less achievements of three teenagers, who stare difficult issues head on, and their prize – a colourful gong presented by a popular artist, actor or DJ, and a message from someone they admire in the world of popular culture. Also up for grabs is a raft of awards for Best British Album, Best British Single, Best British Music Act, Best British Young Sports Star, Best British TV Show and Best British Actor.
Walking the red carpet are “stars” of music and TV screen – Cher Lloyd, Rupert Grint, Ed Sheeran and The Only Way is Essex’s Sam and Harry – the gathered crowds are showing their adulation the only way they know – marry me posters, incessant screaming and even tears. Their behaviour requires careful management.
A strict entrance policy is in place – only 14-17 year olds are permitted entry to Wembley Arena – only the adults of Teen Hero award winners and working adults are allowed to be inside the building, and so even I am escorted to my seat for the show. The strict entrance policy has been necessary, explains Neil Wyatt, editor, live events, BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra.
“The awards are a non-patronising gig for teenagers. We don’t want adults to cramp the audience’s style and so we’ve worked hard to create a safe environment for those young people. Staff have been briefed so no-one works alone and if they are alone then they are always in the sight line of others.
“Most people associate the hot pass with being backstage but this event’s hot pass gets you front of house,” Wyatt says. “We have four child protection officers working, three welfare rooms and a strict 14-17 year old entrance policy.”
Chaperones and stewards are also visible. Teams of volunteers have patrolled the transport routes – car parks and three train stations – manning junctions and handing out information to parents about what to do in case of emergency.
“It’s the BBC going beyond our duty of care,” he adds. “People travel to this event from all four corners, and for some it’s their first time in London. Parents drop their children off and for some it’s also their first unaccompanied gig and so we give parents information so that they can relax, as they now think their children are in the hands of the BBC.”
The BBC Radio 1 Teen Awards officially began life four years ago – for two years, it was a glorified gig for teenagers called Switch Live that took place at the Hammersmith Apollo, but Wyatt realised its potential and so in 2010 it evolved. The BBC Radio 1 Teen Awards became a true awards ceremony, still taking place at the Apollo but with big plans for expansion. Wyatt continues: “We wanted the awards to be at arena level and so this event fits that scale. Hammersmith wasn’t big enough. We were all working in the car park and so we moved to Wembley.”
In all, 9,000 teenagers have filled Wembley Arena – double last year’s capacity and, for 2011, a red carpet has been introduced. Wyatt describes it as a “challenge” but it has been a necessary move, as he wants the awards to be cemented in the eyes of the press and public as a bona fide awards ceremony.
“We wanted the likes of One Direction and Cher Lloyd to meet their fans so we created a viewing area for 1,000 people who had tickets. We blocked off the red carpet from the street so not just anyone could get a glimpse of the bands. The red carpet was a real step up for us – it’s a culmination of a few years growth and gave us a glitzy and glossy production that was very slick and fast paced.
“I want the awards to be a fixture – I want them to grow and I want them to be of national significance. It’s not just a gig with awards. We want to build on what we’ve got.”