UPDATED: 19th August for clarity. Like thousands of other young girls my daughter became a big Tom Daley fan during the London 2012 Olympics. I’d seen a few brief interviews, some of his dives, the documentary, his Facebook page and have now seen him in action at a book signing. His reaction to an request from a fan that was denied by the team around him spoke volumes. He’s the real deal, a great person as well as a world class athlete.  With an A* in Photography too!

Sadly some of the people he relies on can let things down, hence this post in which I’ll make a simple request to anyone organising such an event.

After the chaos at Waterstones Bluewater the day before, my wife and I were determined to get Sophie in the queue at a position that guaranteed the book being signed. Having taken the Friday off I was free to do whatever it took, so phoned the shopping centres management team number in the evening and did some research and planning. Friday AM Sophie was #9 in the queue for W.H.Smiths in Bristol! 🙂  The reach of social media was so visible. The queue grew like an exponential curve, a BBC Radio Bristol reporter having to tell listeners “If you’re not here already, don’t come, you won’t see Tom“. I must give Amy Tout, Communications Executive of The Mall at Cribbs Causeway and everyone else who works for The Mall a massive shout out, they did a brilliant job. From what I’m hearing about Tom’s signings what goes on in individual stores isn’t under the same teams control each time, each store brings in it’s own staff or outside help, so lessons learnt from one signing don’t necessarily follow on to the next. Overall the WHS team did a very good job given the insane numbers of people they had to deal with. If issues can be captured and passed on the next will do even better, especially if it’s done by using some of the same people each time.

Dannie and Elle were the next to join the queue. We all saved places for each other as we went for food and drinks. One of the staff had confirmed that we wouldn’t be able to get posed photos as Tom would be seated behind the table, but that photos were otherwise fine. All of the girls in the queue wanted to give him a hug, not just hug his book and Elle was clearly determined to get one.

Sophie, Dannie and Elle had been joined by a few others and formed a small group.

I said I’d stand back and take photos for them all, Sophie would get the books signed. I’m the sort of photographer who takes cameras from tourists to ensure they get in the shot with family, not end a trip being behind the lens and out of shot all the time. I’d happily have taken photos for everyone there given the time and opportunity to do so.  These are the sorts of events that you look back on in later life.  What happened next started well but ended with tears and a somewhat angry father.

Elle had gone in for the hug and managed to get one, Tom looking very pleased. Beth had also asked for a hug and someone in the team around him had said no. The look of disappointment on Tom’s face said it all. I’d got photos of the rest of the group where I could but not Sophie. I couldn’t see her. One of the security people was getting agitated that I was still there taking photos. I explained that I hadn’t seen my daughter come through yet, that she was part of a group and called out for her. No answer. The security guy said she must be with the others. I couldn’t see how that was possible and called out again, still no reply. As the rest of the group had vanished and the large security guy was pressuring me to move I went looking for her. A bad mistake on my part, I should have stood my ground even if it meant some friction from security. Sadly it turned out Sophie had been pushed further back into the queue behind me due to not having the books open and ready. She’d used the book jackets to mark the page so would have had them open to the right place in a flash but this apparently wasn’t good enough. She either hadn’t heard my calls or felt she’d embarrass herself to call back over the high noise levels. With the girls excited and under emotional stress it’s understandable, there was lots of shouting from behind the signing area from girls that had not made the queue.

Having a photograph of my daughter with Tom would have been priceless but was denied.

3 hours driving
3 hours sleep
7.5 hours queueing
Seconds for it all to go wrong

Rejoining the insanely long queue would likely have been a waste of time as Tom’s time at these events is limited. Had the store manager taken us to the front of the queue and explained things to his team the day would have ended better and it would have only been a few extra seconds in front of Tom. We’re all human and make mistakes or have ways in which we can improve on what we’re already doing.

So here’s my request to anyone organising a book signing these days.

  • Expect social media to have taken the number of people wanting to take part to extreme levels and have enough staff there to cope, try and ensure they’re experienced and do a dry run with everyone beforehand.
  • Think groups! Ask people if they’re together, see if one will be taking photos and let people go through as a unit, even if they’re going to the table one at a time.
  • Don’t split a group up. If you see an issue bring the next group forward or fix the issue there and then.
  • Expect a lot of noise and use radios to communicate with each other. If you don’t have radios but can see each other use hand signals. It’s worked at race courses for hundreds of years.
  • Ask staff to be aware of where they stand and not block the photographers view.

My daughter will no doubt remember what Tom said to her for the rest of her life and be glad she met him for those few seconds.  Having gone to such lengths to make it happen I wish I’d seen them together and got the shot.