Chaotic, Contemptuous and Dangerous: An Open Letter About Digifest UK
Dear Digifest organisers,
Yesterday I flew home to the north of Scotland with two devastated teenagers.
Oh, it could have been worse, and I was shaking more with relief than with anger as I boarded the plane. But I’ll get to that part later.
I can’t begin to describe how excited my daughter and her friend were to be attending Digifest UK. They had been talking about it for months, planning what to say to their idols, growing more and more nervous and excited as the weekend approached. I bought their expensive VIP tickets almost as soon as they went on sale, because they begged for them and assured me that it would all be worth it when they finally met Acacia and Matt and the rest. I also paid for flights, accommodation – and for what turned out to be an even more expensive weekend than I’d expected, since I felt I had to buy them treats to make up for their awful disappointment. (Needless to say, nothing I could do made up for what you did to them.)
If you have children, you will know how terrible it is to watch their hearts being broken when there is nothing you can do to make them feel better. But no, even that isn’t the worst part.
We turned up in plenty of time for the 12 o’clock doors-open. Yet after the girls gained entry and queued for an hour and a half, they were turned away by security because the stars had to prepare for their performance. I believe the meet & greet was actually cut short. And especially to add insult, it seemed, they were told it was their own fault – for not showing up even earlier.
I was among many parents who begged for their children to be given another chance, so you set up an extra meet & greet. Once again the queue was huge; my girls eventually met a few of the stars, but not the ones they had actually come to see (and to whom they had spent lots of time and agonised care writing letters). Because of the length of the queues, they (and many others) missed most of the actual performances in the auditorium.
I was angry that you showed such contempt for all the fans, but again, that’s really not the worst of it.
I witnessed blatant queue-barging by some fans, yet there was almost no policing of the queues. Some of the yellow-shirted staff were kind, and they tried their best to be helpful, but they were completely overwhelmed. At one point I had to intervene myself to try to regulate the queue. And given the attitude of that minority of badly-behaved fans, I found myself not just angry but genuinely scared.
I’m going to emphasise this in the strongest terms: You are incredibly lucky that there was no major emergency. The crush was bad enough, but in a fire situation you’d have been left with hundreds of charred teenage bodies. I witnessed many young fans leaning over the railings of the upper foyer in a desperate attempt to catch a glimpse of their idols. The staffing was inadequate, your preparations and research atrocious, and some of the nastier fans would, I am perfectly sure, have trampled my girls and many others if they’d had to escape.
I’ve been reading the Twitter threads about Digifest, and it is clear that you let down many, many fans. For some of them this was a special birthday treat (as it was for my daughter’s friend – she used all her birthday money to pay me for her own ticket). I certainly wasn’t the only parent who came from a long distance, only to be let down by your contemptuous attitude and your cavalier disregard for our children’s safety.
I believe that the YouTubers themselves genuinely care about their fans, and I do think some of them were upset at the way this debacle unfolded. You’ve let them down, too. One of them – Jason – was caring and concerned enough to come outside and mingle with fans afterwards. I believe he has now been banned from Digifest for his actions, and that is beyond belief. Or it would be, if I hadn’t witnessed the whole car-crash of an event for myself.
Do not be proud of yourselves. Be very ashamed. You’ve earned even more contempt than you showed for the fans. I acknowledge receipt of your mass email of initial apology. “Sorry” is cheap in the circumstances. And I am sure “[you] too were very disappointed” – but let me assure you, you were not as disappointed, angry and downright scared as any parent who witnessed your dangerous chaos.