Blinded by the hype: Adam Baggs attended the Peaky Blinders festival in Birmingham, which received a barrage of complaints, and threatened the organisers with dissolution

When I recently spotted a post on Facebook for an “immersive Peaky Blinders festival” in Birmingham it sounded like a chance for an unusual night out with my girlfriend. An opportunity to get dressed up, enjoy the themed pubs, food, 100 plus actors and entertainment. In the country where we consistently deliver some of the best events in the world, what could go wrong?

I probably should have started to get concerned by the last-minute change of venue, but as we all know – that happens and we carry on regardless.

The arrival process wasn’t exactly inspiring. As we entered a graffiti covered warehouse with no security checks, and only a cursory glance at our tickets. When combined with the staff member offering a 600% cash discount if we wanted to come back the following day, I started to wonder what was going on.

The “sympathetic recreation of the Rainbow pub” was your standard event bar with some sawdust on the floor.  Not an apron or traditional costume amongst the handful of highly overworked agency bar-staff, who were doing a heroic job of trying to deal with 90-minute-long queues. I’m not saying the experience would have been improved if I had a few beers in me – but it might have helped. However, no chance of that so it was time to move onto the food.

I like street food as much as the next man.  I have seen it used creatively and to good effect at a number of events and was intrigued to see the “Victorian Inspired” dishes.  Correct me if I am wrong but I am not 100% convinced halloumi and chips is authentic 1920s Birmingham fayre.  Also, it doesn’t matter whether you name it after the lead character in the show – a burger and chips is still just a burger and chips.  That said, the Indian-spiced fish, chips and mushy peas was probably the highlight of the day.

About a quarter of the 100 “actors” in traditional dress were actually there – perhaps the others were having a costume change but it meant the entertainment was fairly non-existent and turned the whole immersive experience into little more than a themed bar.

There was even supposed to be vintage fairground rides – but in truth it was a single rickety old Ferris wheel whose only user appeared to be the local junkie, who somehow slipped past security in his leather jacket and jeans.

Traditional music was replaced with modern hits played in a slightly odd 1920s style; the historic talks didn’t exists; the magicians painful to watch; and don’t get me started on the toilets – it was unanimously agreed that a traditional 1920s jakes would have been cleaner and more pleasant to use.

All joking aside the event promised so much and really had the opportunity to deliver.  Instead it felt like a scam, something that is reflected in the Facebook reviews left by many attendees.  Yet even here the organisers got it wrong – instead of responding to negative criticism and attempting to manage the situation they are periodically going online and simply deleting the poor reviews.

In fact, since first drafting this, the organisers have gone so far as to try and wind up their business interests – effectively taking the money and running. Facebook, which was once their friend is now the rallying point for hundreds of disgruntled customers looking for justice.

I am proud to be an event professional here in the UK. We are arguably the most creative, most successful, best practitioners of events in the world.  I and thousands of others were lured in by a cowboy organisation that used the perfect blend of Facebook advertising and celebrity imagery from a cult show to think I was buying into something special.

I guess I should have known better – at no point on the literature did is specify endorsement from the BBC or an appearance from one of the stars… but that is the power of “likes” and “shares” – you see something with tens of thousands of them and make the mistake of believing that adds credibility, which isn’t necessarily true.  Maybe it is my own fault for not doing better research before buying a ticket.

I am an optimist, so the lesson here shouldn’t be about the bad, but the good. If these guys with no idea and a clear desire to fleece the public can put on something so poor and make so much… what can the rest of us achieve when we deliver true quality and value for money?

That said, I am not going to let me optimism get in the way of my support for those trying to get some justice.

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