The Big Gig: Wembley 2015

The Big Gigs have become a regular fixture in Girlguiding’s calendar. Originally, they happened at Wembley once a year – maybe even once every two years – but they now seem to happen at least a couple of times a year and they’re spread around the country. As far as I can see, there have been two this year, one in Sheffield earlier in the year and one at Wembley Arena, last weekend.

Hello Wembley!
Hello Wembley!

I don’t like the Big Gig. It’s too big, it’s too loud, it’s too much. But my Rangers wanted to go and I am a good leader and I do as I’m ordered, so I applied for tickets and was disappointed when we got them. Only the three of us – I’m the only leader and only two of my five Rangers are really into that sort of thing, so the actual day out wasn’t going to be too arduous. I asked around about transport, specifically whether there are any rules about putting a sixteen-year-old in your own car and parking in your dad’s favourite cheap car park, and in the process, discovered that our sister Guides were going as well. They had a dozen girls going plus three leaders and with the three representatives from Rangers, it wasn’t worth hiring a coach or minibus so we took the train up to London for a Big Day Out.

The train was fine – we got on near the beginning of the line, squished in all together, scared off a few people (the girls were pretty well-behaved but the fact is that it’s fifteen or so overexcited ten- to sixteen-year-olds on a train and they’re going to make some noise. We got the Tube fine, disembarked at Green Park to eat our lunch in a pleasanter setting than the steps outside Wembley Arena and the Rangers ran over to Buckingham Palace for selfies.

Let’s get this one out the way – we’re doing the South West Region Senior Section Centenary Challenge – that is, we’re celebrating our hundredth birthday with a badge. There are ten challenges, one based on each of the eight Octants plus any two others of our choice and we’ve chosen our Creativity Challenge to be “take 100 selfies in 100 different locations”. This left me as referee in “does ‘on the train’ count as a different location to Green Park and Wembley Park stations?” and queries like that.


Although it’s a non-uniform event, I’d asked my Rangers to wear their neckerchiefs so I could easily spot them (in reality, a tall gangly Ranger is easier to spot than the not-very-well-tied neckerchief half-hidden under her coat) – I went in 2009 and was quite taken by large groups of Guides in neon tutus all wearing matching neckerchiefs and in this case, we got spotted on the Tube by a woman with a young daughter due to start Rainbows at Easter who had a chat with us about where we’d come from and where we were going and “I remember being in Brownies” and “you don’t see Guides in central London”. I assured her they’re definitely there – a colleague of mine was a leader in one of the apparently-hundreds of Guide units around King’s Cross, I think – and the Guides were great at entertaining the little girl. When we reached Wembley Park, we came across lots of Guides – I don’t know why they kept taking me by surprise or why I was so delighted to see them, Wembley on Big Gig day is exactly where you’d expect to see Guides. A leader striding down the steps did alarm me by bellowing “Did you go to Waddow or Foxlease?!” before I realised she wasn’t asking about our journey here but which Wellies & Wristbands I went to – I was wearing the t-shirt on the grounds that it’s very bright but it’s also Guide-related.

Wembley Arena is huge. It holds about 12,500 and it absolutely dwarfs Hammersmith Apollo, which is where I was the next Saturday, and which I regard as quite a large comedy venue. Despite us having booked tickets completely separately to the Guides, we were about four rows behind them and separated only by the stairs, which made meeting up with them at the end very simple. I daresay it’s always loud in there; 12,500 pre-teen and teenage girls screaming at the top of their lungs is a horrible sound, although I have to say they weren’t as bad as they were in 2009, when JLS – at the height of their powers – headlined. All the same, two and a half hours of screaming over music I don’t know… it’s not my thing. But the girls loved it and that’s what matters. They knew who the performers were, they knew the songs, they were joining in the screaming.

What I did enjoy was the lights in the dark. I love lights in the dark. A lot of units had brought light-up things – flashing bunny ears, bobbly ears, little crowns, things like that worn on their heads, and they were selling LED foam tubes. I really enjoyed sitting in the dark looking around at little pockets of matching lights – there was a little group opposite us but lower down all wearing something that flashed red-purple-blue, there was a group higher up all wearing red lights that almost strobed, there was a group of purple lights in the stalls near the front and the whole place was decorated with these foam sticks waving. It was glorious, and then they added to it during some of the slow songs with slowly-waving phone lights. Oh, lights in the dark are wonderful.

Would I go again? Not by my own choice. Would I go again if my girls asked me to? Yes, because I do what they tell me.