A catalogue of cock-ups. Matt Storey, director – business development at Gallowglass, delivers his take on major event mishaps


I tell you something, I do not envy festival organisers. Is there any sector of the event industry more prone to chaos than outdoor entertainment? A prime case in point being the spectacular collapse of this year’s Fyre Festival – which took place, or rather didn’t, at the end of April, on an island in the Bahamas.

What had been heavily promoted by A-lister models as a luxury experience, with packages of up to $12,000, turned out to be luxury in no respect whatsoever. Reports described the stage as tiny and the “eco-friendly geodesic domes” a collection of half-erected tents. There was inadequate food, shelter, water and medical care. Oh – and the first weekend’s headline band pulled out the day before the festival was due to start. The event was “indefinitely postponed” after ticket-holders had started to arrive, and enraged glampers were left scrabbling to get flights off the island.

You might think this was the ultimate catalogue of event cock-ups. But you’d be wrong. At least nobody died.

Unlike at California’s Altamont Festival back in 1969. Not only did the Rolling Stones appoint the San Francisco Hells Angels to handle security, but they paid them in beer! Indiscriminate violence broke out between festivalgoers and the heavies paid to keep them in order. Four fans died, including one from a Hells Angels-inflicted stab wound.

A certain organisational naïveté was still in evidence in 2002, when Fatboy Slim held his Big Beach Boutique – promoted as Europe’s biggest free beach party – in Brighton. Instead of the anticipated 60,000 crowd, the town was overwhelmed by 250,000 revellers. Blame was levelled at BBC Radio 1 and E4 for over-publicising the event. The police and train operators also came in for some flack – for poor planning and crisis management. Traffic in the town was gridlocked and people were falling on the tracks at the station.

But I’m not suggesting the outdoor events industry holds the monopoly on disasters. Career-wrecking blunders are routinely being made by the most dependable event professionals, and in the most unexpected environments.

Take this year’s bum-clenchingly awful Oscars fiasco, when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope for Best Picture. Accountants PWC accepted full responsibility for the mistake, admitting that they had “failed to follow established protocols and didn’t act quickly enough to correct the error”.

And don’t tell anyone… but there was even one occasion when the Queen’s Guard brought the wrong kind of trumpets for the Royal Fanfare. The PM involved had to rustle-up a CD at short notice and the trumpeters mimed. No one was any the wiser. But these days the incumbent PM carries a spare copy of the fanfare (on the right trumpets) for any royal event.

But my favourite musical screw-up concerns a conference for a major financial institution, which had just been seriously hauled over the coals for mis-selling by the FSA.

The conference was all about turning over a new leaf and rallying the troops. It was fairly chaotic, with lots of changes and long hours. Just before the CEO went up to give his keynote speech, he threw a CD at the sound engineer and said: “Track one as I go up.” The CD was The Best of The Seekers. Track one started, very appropriately, with the phrase “There’s a New World Somewhere”. Unfortunately, the sound bloke, through a combination of being knackered and not giving a toss, keyed in track 11 by mistake – “The Carnival is Over”…

Some of these stories make your blood run cold. It’s just SO easy for a few assumptions or even a moment’s distraction to turn a high-profile, big budget event into a train crash.   Which all goes to show that none of us can afford to be too smug; There but for the Grace of God…

So, the moral of this story, folks, is: do your homework, bring a spare and never hire the Hells Angels!