When the Buncefield fuel storage depot exploded at 6am on Sunday, December 11, 2005, it threatened to halt European travel company Thomson’s corporate sit-down dining event for 5,800 attendees. Set to begin on Wednesday, December 14, the event would be the National Exhibition Centre’s (NEC) largest dining event ever. XL Video, located in Hemel Hempstead where the blast occurred, was to supply “Thomson’s Festive Fiesta” with full video, audio, and lighting production and technical services.
The fire, injuring 43 people, triggered the UK’s largest peacetime inferno and raged for three days. XL’s warehouse–located just 600m from the epicenter of the explosion–was damaged in the blast, and the entire area was sealed off, including the truck full of gear destined for the Thomson event, due to depart that day for a 6am Monday load-in at the NEC which needed to be ready for a 10am show start on Wednesday.
The blast awoke XL project manager Phil Goddard, who lives 22 miles away. Shortly after, he received a call from XL’s John Hooker saying that they had “a problem.” A series of frantic communications followed throughout Sunday. They activated XL’s Emergency Plan (to allow the company to continue working during unforeseen circumstances) when they realized the trucks couldn’t leave the warehouse and they wouldn’t be able to access their premises for an unspecified period.
Even under normal circumstances, it would be challenging to get such a large amount of production in place so quickly for the large event, but the Buncefield fire added a completely new set of parameters.
XL was working for David Davenport’s Form Communications on “The Festive Fiesta,” which took place in Halls 6, 7 and 8 of the NEC. Post explosion, they called in favors from industry friends, colleagues, and even their competitors–all of whom responded to ensure the show went on. Goddard and XL’s Head of Sound Rob Cornish quickly established what kit was available from where to fill the holes on one of the industry’s busiest weeks of the year. Within hours, they’d redesigned the event’s entire sound and video production–which had taken three weeks of meticulous planning–based on what kit could be transported to site in time.
Wigwam supplied a VDOSC sound system, and Cloud One supplied a Martin line array for the funfair area. MCL in Birmingham was able to supply a small OB truck, PPU, 4-way camera system, two 20’ flown screens and four Barco R12s for IMAG projection, which was rigged by XL’s site crew.
SSE supplied all the audio control gear, racks, and comms for the main hall dining and stage area including a Yamaha PM5D FOH console and a Soundcraft 48-channel monitor console for the bands appearing on the 38m-wide stage.
XL Video supplied the site crew and lighting designer Paul Yates, with all lighting equipment sub-hired from Neg Earth Lights (NEL). NEL started the lighting load-in ahead of schedule, while the XL team endeavoured to source enough sound and AV gear to stage the rest of the show to their rigorous standards.
Kenilworth-based Stagepoint supplied the staging to XL as part of their complete technical package, and they too were able work to the original production schedule alongside XL’s overall production manager, Tim Hudson.
Despite everything, the Thompson’s Festive Fiesta production was ready to roll on Wednesday morning.
“There were 62 crew on site working frenetically to make it happen,” says Goddard. “The logistics with the Buncefield factor were mind boggling. It was certainly the largest corporate event XL has ever undertaken, and it’s a true testament to the expertise, determination, and true professionalism of all involved that it came together.”
The Fiesta also entered the history books as being the largest ever corporate event for the UK travel industry. The show was compèred by British comedian Graham Norton, and Liberty X and the Bogus Brothers played live.