Secrets behind the ‘world’s biggest game of hide and seek’ unveiled

Thursday 1st August

How does a top tourist attraction teeming with visitors and staff smuggle in two of the UK’s best-known radio presenters and hide them for more than 25 hours?

That was the challenge facing BBC Radio 1 and the Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare, which was chosen as the secret destination for DJs Nick Grimshaw and Greg James.

The pair announced last Tuesday morning that the world’s biggest game of hide and seek was on for a second year.

Listeners were given a series of cryptic clues which ended when the pair were eventually tracked down to the boardroom at the top of the Grand Pier’s South Tower, nearly 26 hours after going on the run.

Lucy Graham, Group Marketing Manager for the Grand Pier, was one of just eight members of the Pier’s 150-strong team who was in on the prank; and all eight of them had signed Non-Disclosure Agreements.

Once the Pier had been chosen, following a site visit by a team of surveillance experts, a month of meticulous planning began.

Lucy said: “The plan was to bring everything in on the Sunday night; engineers would work all day on Monday setting up the temporary studio in the boardroom; the radio crew would arrive on Tuesday lunchtime, followed by the presenters, ready to go on air from the Pier at 4pm.

“One original thought had been to smuggle Nick and Greg onto the pier hidden inside large flight cases, but in the end, they arrived in the back of a van which we said belonged to some contractors.”

The biggest challenge for the Pier was how to prevent its own staff from finding out what was going on.

Lucy said: “We had to create a restricted area, which involved four offices - including the two directors’ offices - the staff kitchen, the accounts office and the IT office. A whole day was taken moving them, computers and all.

“An email went to staff stating that, ahead of the Pier’s 10th anniversary next year, contractors had to survey and monitor the movement of the building, what with the infamous mud underneath and the extreme tidal range.

“Staff were assured that there was nothing to worry about, and there were no fears about the structural integrity of the Pier; it was a routine element of such a major construction project.

“Staff were told nobody could disturb the highly sensitive equipment that was set up in the restricted area, and that monitoring would take place around the clock, so contractors would be on site all the time.”

Radio engineers masquerading as contractors arrived on the Sunday to start setting everything up.

Lucy said: “On Tuesday afternoon the production crew turned up in plain sight, dressed as contractors, with high-vis jackets and hard hats. They could even be overheard talking about building regulations as they freely walked around the Pier.”

Later that afternoon, after being ‘spotted’ in different places nationwide to throw people off the scent, Nick and Greg arrived and were smuggled up the stairs and into their make-shift studio.

Lucy said: “They were on air between 4pm and 7pm on Tuesday and all day Wednesday, broadcasting hints to their location.

“At around 5.45pm, Greg was going to put on the Grand Pier’s donkey mascot costume and walk around the pavilion, encouraging unsuspecting guests to have photos taken with him.

“This was cancelled because seekers were getting close to finding the location.

“I think Greg was quite relieved not to have to put the donkey costume on during what had turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year.

“Seekers had been pleading with people to be extra vigilant in their own workplaces; was there an area that was locked off which is usually open, for example, and we were worried that this would make our own staff suspect something.”

The Pier’s Events Manager Hollie Otley was also in on the secret.

She went home at lunchtime to look after her cat and was returning to work when her phone rang.

She said: “Someone asked if Radio 1 were coming to the Pier. Lucy had already arranged for BBC Radio Bristol to do a broadcast from the Pier on Thursday lunchtime, so I told the caller they must have confused this with Radio 1.

“I started to worry that I was not going to be able to keep everything a secret from my colleagues for much longer, so I had to be ‘bundled away’ out of sight for a while!

Lucy continued: “One member of staff was looking at Radio 1’s social media channels, which had photos of the presenters, and thought he recognised a door visible behind a curtain backdrop.

“He said ‘tell me Radio 1 are not in the accounts office?’.

“Rumours were spreading as the clues on air were narrowing down the location, and then a listener called Scott Holtby guessed correctly.

“They did it very well, bringing Scott onto the Pier at the same time as someone was at another suspected location in Brighton.

“They two were wearing headsets and were in contact with the studio, who were directing them, and then asked them to knock on a door.

“Scott opened the door at the Pier and discovered Nick and Greg.”

The presenters were able to escape from the makeshift studio and, with the production crew, enjoy many of the rides and attractions at the Pier.

“They did a meet and greet with fans, as word had spread quickly and quite a crowd had gathered,” said Lucy.

They broadcast the breakfast show from the Pier the following morning, before a car arrived at the Pavilion.

Lucy said: “I asked them if they would wave to a member of staff at a donut stall as they drove past, as he is a big fan of theirs.

“But they did better than that; Greg got out of the car, went into the donut hut and helped staff member Ndumiso Mabasa make some donuts, which made his year!”

She said: “It was a very exciting event to be part of, but quite nerve-wracking too. I became very conscious of my own behaviour, as I didn’t want to give anything away.”

Alex Demetriou, Grand Pier Director, said: “The DJ’s and the entire radio team were fantastic, and it was a pleasure to work with them.

“The team here did an excellent job, especially keeping it a secret from other members of staff, who were becoming a little more suspicious as time passed by.

“Some of them had gathered outside the ‘restricted’ area as they started to wonder what was really going on.

“It’s a great example of what can be achieved when a talented team works together, and I’m proud that our staff were able to demonstrate their professionalism and ability to deliver a hugely sensitive event, overcoming a number of logistical challenges, without any information leaking out publicly.

“So, if any other organisation is looking for a venue for their next covert prank, then the secret is out, the Grand Pier is the place to come.

“This was great for us as an attraction as we were able to reach a nationwide audience of millions – despite being sworn to secrecy!”

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