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CHAPTER ONE – Staring Disaster Squarely in the Face

Yes…ok, I admit it….I was late. However, the very pleasant lady on Manx Telecom’s reception was well rehearsed. I came rushing through the revolving door and just like a rolling Formula One pit stop I was first handed my fully completed identity badge. “I hope I have spelled ‘Jonathan’ right” as she ran alongside me “yes that’s terrific”…. “They are all in the Board Room and I have called the lift for you”…. “Thank you”, I blurted as I zoomed out of the pit lane.

Why does everything take twice as long when you are in a hurry? The lift door took twice as long to open as normal, then it took twice as long to close and twice as long to travel from floor to floor and then again twice as long to open on arrival! Things were much better in the old days…everything worked a lot quicker!! Eventually I escaped the lift and rushed into Manx Telecoms boardroom, with its magnificent views over the wonderful Manx countryside, and as I did so it was on the tip of my tongue to say “lateness due to the wrong type of leaves on the track at Ballasalla Junction causing the 7.43am Port Erin Flyer to be cancelled and thus delaying the Douglas bound Express”….however, as it was now 3.10pm I just said “sorry I’m late” and sat down.

So who was I saying sorry to? Well, there was Voirrey and Andy from Manx Telecom, Terry from Ashgrove Marketing, John from Marsom Radio and Cheryl and myself from Street Heritage(I was doing all the talking and Cheryl was doing all the writing). Why were we there? It was our monthly media partners meeting to agree and report on progress.

We all listened with great interest to Voirrey’s experiences at this year’s Glastonbury festival which she had just returned from. I was keen to learn how much Michael Eavis had used of my ideas from the Peel Bay Festival in 2007! However, somewhat disappointingly, Voirrey had not observed ANY!! So I have told her she has to be more eagle-eyed next year!

Voirrey said that there was a full turnout for Rolf Harris and Tom Jones……mmmm?….and Blur (now if I could get The Verve!)I thought the riffs of Crosby Stills and Nash were infectious and yet The Times gave them a thumbs down – what do I know? Now Bruce is someone who knows how to deliver an energetic and totally entertaining show and ‘interface’ with his audience at the same time…. If only?? However, the cost Michael Eavis £3K for going 9 minutes past his finish time…now I would pay £3K for even just 9 minutes of Bruce next year at the MTBF!

Anyway, after just over an hour, we had finally agreed on our marketing strategy: try and sell as many b****y tickets as we can! So, a very simple strategy really, nothing too complicated.

However, in the meantime, we must try and get as many as possible to register over the next three months as they will be the backbone of this festival and will be able to say “I was there at the birth and played my part”. Just by people registering simply helps to give us the encouragement we need to keep building this. Also, we need to keep creating awareness as people keep saying to me “I see you are doing it again, but when is it? where is it? So please help to keep spreading the word and have a chance of winning FREE VIP tickets.

Anyway…..where was I? Oh yes, so I headed up to the field to be greeted by a very enthusiastic young car park attendant who said: “I am sorry you can’t park here, this is for management”. Just as I started thinking where is my permit one of the supervisors came over and said directly to the young lad “It’s ok”, as he held his lower arm, “if HE wants to park on the main stage it’s still ok”. And I thought with the amount of the equipment The Who had brought with them parking on the main stage was not really a serious option….maybe tomorrow night?

So I walked into the backstage area and Jools, our (Wembley Stadium) Event Safety Manager, came over to me and said “the earlier concerns of the Fire officers were justified due to us being put behind due to transport delays and the stage relocation earlier in the week. However, we have worked the problems and either eradicated or minimized them. I have just carried out a risk assessment and I consider it now to be low. However we have one major and a potentially disastrous problem”…..’oh Gawd I thought’ however I had to ask, “what’s that?” he replied “we are now having to overcome their inexperience of such a major event. And they are now extremely nervous”! He went on to add “and due to that tonight’s show rests on a knife edge”.

And just as Jools finished his last words we were called by the Fire Officers to an emergency meeting in the Event Management office (a metal Portakabin). I was the first to walk in and the two Officers were stood at the top of the cabin looking suitably glum. One stood staring at the table in front of him and the other was staring at the ceiling as if looking for the Sword of Damocles. I tried to lighten the darkened mood with a few throwaways but to no avail.

They refused to start until ALL the senior management had all arrived and gathered around a series of tables. This process of assembly appeared to take forever. Once assembled the senior Officer started by giving us a resume of the days’ events from their perspective and each word sent me further and further into depression. Have you ever seen the film ‘Evelyn’? A wonderfully uplifting film which stretches every human emotion. But right at the end two of the three judges are split about overturning some crazy Irish law which put children into care if the mother abandoned the family even the father was still there. However, it boiled down to the senior Judge giving his verdict either to maintain the Status Quo (now there is another idea?) or to actually apply common sense. Anyway during his summing up his mouth looked like it was in his neck as his chin was on his chest – the usual position when someone is delivering bad news. So in his summing, each “however” brings a complete change in direction. Well, that is what it was exactly like in this metal portacabin.

However I started to realise with every “however” that Pete Townshend was resting in his Winnebago just outside, Roger Daltrey was sat in my conservatory and that there is a REAL chance any minute now that I’m going to kiss goodbye to the massive fee they had already been paid and worse still….I’m going to have to go out and explain to 5,000 Who fans why they won’t be seeing The Who tonight without wearing a flak jacket!!

Anyway as I fell out of the other side of the mental mangle the only words that registered anything with me (as I had switched off and spent the last 5 minutes working out in my head a detailed disaster appraisal) “I’ll let it go tonight but we will carry out a full inspection in the morning!”

The door of the metal portacabin flew open as we all fell out from the pressure cooker we had just been stood in. Unfortunately, the whole day’s events had taken their mental toll on a couple of key people and the last 10 minutes had only served to make them even worse. As the ‘leader’ it fell upon me to try and calm things down and re-focus. Jools instructed security to let in the fans.

However, our problems were still not over. Because of a problem caused by the hurried repositioning of the stage two days earlier due to the Tentmaster being concerned about the canvas flapping on the stage gantry in high winds and possibly causing the canvas to tear the stage had to be hastily repositioned which caused the seat positions to alter (lesson learnt) which meant the Fire Officers (adding to the excitement) insisting certain seats be removed to maintain aisle widths. That, unfortunately, meant we had to reseat certain people before we could get started but fortunately people accepted the slight inconvenience in reasonably good humor.

My wife, Diane, turned up with the girls and said: “how’s it going?” I just looked at her and said: “you do not want to know, you DO NOT want to know!”

And I thought it was exciting enough in 2006 when the then DoLGE Chief Exec was refusing to give me a certificate to use the grandstand seating we had erected on Peel beach for the two tribute nights using one of the stages from Glastonbury. The grandstands were all designed by a firm of specialist UK structural engineers but because we had made it TOO safe, by putting in more supports than shown on the plan, as the scaffolding company just used them up rather than take them back to the yard, the DoLGE Building Inspector said it didn’t comply with the plan. Anyway, 10 minutes before the gates were due to open we managed to convince him that too many were better than too little. Anyway, of course, both nights went ahead without any incident.

So we finally opened the Peel Bay Festival with Back Door Slam who were excellent and then followed by The Who, who were every bit as entertaining as they were in their ‘youth’. I must admit, I never thought when I was a youth growing up in Peel I ever thought I would see one of my favorite bands of all time playing in ‘my backyard’. And even now people still say to me “I had the choice of seeing free entertainment on Douglas Prom (shows how long ago this was) or seeing The Who play in the IOM and I chose the free entertainment. And now I realize I made the wrong decision!” So the moral of that story is don’t be one of those and miss out next June!!

So did we have any problems that first night? Only one incident and that was a poor lady on the disabled platform who suffered mild hypothermia with the cold wind whistling through the tent on that damp June evening as ironically the Fire Officers insisted that we kept up the 6 meter high tent flaps in the event of an emergency!!

So we survived, only just, the first night. So tune in next time for “Good God…. it’s like the Gestapo have arrived”.

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