How did Glasgow’s Willy Wonka experience descend into viral disaster?

How did Glasgow’s Willy Wonka experience descend into viral disaster?

It’s fairly safe to say that Willy’s Chocolate Experience didn’t go all that well for the event’s organisers (Picture: Facebook / SWNS)

The plan was to rent some unused warehouse space, get a pile of inexpensive props made up, hire a few students looking for a bit of part-time work and create a cheap ‘n’ cheerful ‘experience’ to amuse kids and make a couple of quid. That was the plan, anyway.

The reality of Willy’s Chocolate Experience was decidedly different.

Instead of being a fun little money spinner that kept the kiddywinks entertained for an hour, it ended up being a viral sensation and the basis, no doubt, of memes for years to come. And not in a good way. At least for those parents that forked out £35 for tickets. For the rest of us? It was one of the best things to have happened in a considerable while. Such is the state of the modern world.

So how did it all go so wrong/right (depending on how you look at it)…?

The black and yellow tape means ‘DANGER! Do not pay £35 to enter this terrible event’ (Picture: Stuart Sinclair/ LOCAL NEWSX / TMX / MEGA)

What was promised

According to Willy’s Chocolate website, the event promised ‘a whimsical place where chocolate dreams become reality’ and ‘a journey filled with wondrous creations and enchanting surprises at every turn!’ 

There was to be ‘an enchanted garden, with giant sweets, vibrant blooms, mysterious looking sculptures and magical surprises’, plus ‘mind-expanding projections, optical marvels and exhibits that transport you into the realm of creativity.’ It was also, apparently, to be ‘an exhilarating and immersive adventure’.

Willy’s Chocolate Experience bosses didn’t look hugely surprised when refund demands were made (Picture: Facebook / Sharon Falconer)

What was delivered

One promise was kept: that Willy’s Chocolate Experience would be ‘a heart-pounding experience’. It certainly was – just ask any of the irate customers who got into stand-up rows with the organisers and ended up calling the police. Their heart rates must’ve been through the poorly-decorated roof.

Eager parents paid £35 per ticket to take their families to an ‘enchanted’ warehouse on a Glasgow industrial estate, with ‘magical surprise’ small cups of lemonade and exhibits that transported them into the realm of negativity.

Event organiser Billy Coull in happier times, before he was known as That Rip-Off Willy Wonka Event Bloke

The organiser

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The event planners were a firm called House of Illuminati. According to its Companies House record, one Billy Coull is the only director of this limited liability company.

Coull has form for not really delivering on his promises. Not only has he self-published 17 AI-written novels on Amazon in the past year, he faced backlash in 2021 for calling off a Santa’s grotto event at a community centre at the last minute, following a donation drive of toys and presents.

Coull said this to STV News last week: “I’m really shocked that the event had fallen short of the expectations of people on paper. My vision of the artistic rendition of a well-known book didn’t come to fruition. For that, I am absolutely truly and utterly sorry.”

Going off-script

Part of what made the whole event so ludicrous was that so little of it was based on any Willy Wonka film or any of Roald Dahl’s original book. Most of the theme was made up and, according to the actors hired, the scripts were AI written too.

For example, there was a terrifying competitor chocolatier called ‘The Unknown’ who was attempting to take Willy’s famous Anti-Graffiti Gobstopper. The character does not, in any way, feature in the original text. Roald Dahl, it turns out, never felt compelled to write in a rival for Wonka that looked like Diana Ross at an Eyes Wide Shut party.

Into the Failure Hall of Fame

Where does Willy’s Chocolate Experience fit in the pantheon of dreadful event failures? Of course, nothing can come close to the mind-numbing calamity of 2017’s catastrophic Fyre Festival.

This bonkers Wonka madness sits somewhere below that, but slightly above the Lapland New Forest, a truly dire winter wonderland that haunted Hampshire back in 2008 and, almost certainly, continues to haunt the psyches of anyone who attended to this day.

The positives that could come of it

This whole ridiculous shebang may well have alerted parents and guardians as to the existence of unscrupulous event organisers and encouraged them to be slightly more wary when buying tickets to things with no track record or positive reviews. That’s a good thing.

Perhaps the biggest positive is that we’ve all experienced the joy of just how terrible it was. Willy’s Chocolate Experience has amused a fair amount of the planet for an entire week. And that’s with very few of us even appreciating how ridiculous its name is.

The negatives that could come of it

Could this cynical cash-in usher in a new world of intentionally bobbins events? From people keen to replicate its odd form of ‘success’? The last thing this post-modern world needs is ironically rubbish events, with hipsters shelling out half a day’s wage to get into something called ‘Stranger Fingz’ based out of an old printworks in Clapton so that they can live-stream themselves scoffing at papier-mâché Demogorgons.

Although, thinking about it, I probably would go to that.

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