Ryan Tubridy has promised to “fix it” for the hundreds of ticket-holders who were turned away at last Friday’s Late Late Show London special, as a large oversubscription and “shambolic” scenes of crowd mismanagement led to the show being criticised as a “missed opportunity”.
The night turned controversial as several hundred ticket holders were turned away, many of whom contacted the Irish World in frustration, both directly and via social media channels.
Speaking on his RTE Radio 1 radio show yesterday morning, Tubridy told listeners that he and his team will try to resolve the grievances many have after not gaining entry, although it is not clear what this may entail.
“It was a difficult night for people couldn’t get into the hall. That was disappointing for them, no doubt about it,” he said.
The special broadcast, which has been reported to have cost Irish taxpayers at least €100,000, has been widely criticised as a ‘complete shambles’ and as a ‘missed opportunity’ for its promise to celebrate and make an impact on the Irish community in Britain.
Ireland’s flagship talk show was broadcast live from the Methodist Central Hall in central London on Friday last after the state broadcaster invited members of the Irish community here to apply for tickets on its website.
They were then allocated by lottery, with a reported 15,000 people signalling their interest by applying.
The show, presented by Ryan Tubridy, was deliberately ‘oversubscribed’, said RTÉ, which, it added, is ‘standard’ with events organised by their third-party company.
RTÉ hired UK company Applause Store to manage the crowds and issue tickets, and it stipulated on its terms that tickets alone did not guarantee entry.
It said that because of the high number of ‘no-shows’ for free TV programmes regular ticket-holders were advised to arrive early, prior to 8:00 pm, to improve their chances of entry.
“Tickets were allocated to applicants stating that it was not a guarantee of entry but seats would be allocated on the night on a first come first served basis,” said an RTÉ spokesperson.
Brian O’Connell ran RTÉ’s London office for 20 years and attended the event as an invited guest – but left with his wife before the show started because it was all too “chaotic”.
Scores of aggrieved and confused ticket-holders were left on the streets outside, moved from pillar to post, by equally confused Applause Store employees who were watched by RTÉ staff who did not get involved.
Mr O’Connell, whose office for many years was around the corner from Friday night’s events, said: “I worked in Westminster for over two decades, and I was surprised that the police didn’t turn up after half an hour…people were all over the road.”
Many hopeful punters queued for hours only to be turned away at the door.
The problems, according to Events Consultant and expert in crowd management Íse Murphy, who was there on the night, was that there were no crowd control barriers or queue indicators.
The ticketing system for guests, whereby tickets were exchanged for coloured raffle tickets, was not backed up with designated areas for people to queue, she said.
Those gathered with guest-list tickets were eventually, after much delay, assembled into colour-divided groups.
Invited guests were, too, held back for over an hour. General ticket-holders were admitted much later, seated just in time for the live broadcast’s preamble.
When inside the venue, a number of ticket-holders who had gained entry were seen to be ushered out of the main hall.
Four Applause Store staff were responsible for dealing with over 1,000 people which also led to some communication issues.
“There appeared to be a lack of management of the audience and confusion as to what action we were to take next. People in the crowd were asking each other questions as to what was going to happen next,” Ms Murphy said of the scenes outside the entrance.
She also noted the lack of suitable equipment for the staff to communicate clearly with ticket-holders; they could be seen desperately hollering.
A spokesperson for Applause Store has said that the demand was “unprecedented” and that there was a “higher than normal” turn-up rate.
Mathew First, Applause Store Audience Manager, apologised to those who did not gain entry and said: “We have to oversubscribe our tickets to cover any no-shows as all of them are free of charge and sadly not everyone uses them.”
Almost all of The Late Late Show’s 33 staff travelled to the event, with staff from Ryan Tubridy’s hour-long 9:00 am radio programme also in London on Thursday and Friday.
“A small number of core team members travelled over on Wednesday night to lay the groundwork for the mammoth task of broadcasting live from a central location in London,” RTÉ said.
“This included managing traffic plans as roads had to be closed off in the area to facilitate the broadcast.”
The station said total costs would be “finalised after the show” but, according to the Irish Mail on Sunday, overall costs are expected to exceed €100,000.
Over 40 RTÉ staff travelled to London for the special show, including director general Dee Forbes, head of current affairs and news Jon Williams, and the Late Late house band.
According to the most recent publication of RTÉ wages in 2016, Ryan Tubridy is RTÉ’s highest paid presenter on a salary of €495,000.
Brian O’Connell, who retired from RTÉ six years ago, told the Irish World that both the Applause Store staff and those RTÉ staff at the venue were “completely swamped” and “overwhelmed”.
The invited guests were, after having their credentials checked and a wristband put on after long delays, subject to a lot of “shouting”, frayed tempers and rude RTÉ staff, added Mr O’Connell.
“It became clear that RTÉ and the company they hired [Applause Store] had allowed the situation to get completely out of control.”
Graham Norton, Mick McCarthy, Imelda May, Alistair Campbell and Laura Whitmore were among the guests on the night, which was billed as a Brexit special.
The Late Late Show was last filmed in London fifty years ago.
RTÉ said earlier that the special would be a celebration of “the historic ties between the Irish and their nearest neighbours and the contribution of Irish people to Britain”.
“It was a real missed opportunity on RTÉ’s behalf. To treat Irish people living in Britain that way was appaling. [The show] didn’t reflect well on any of the people I spoke to before or after the event,” said Mr O’Connell.
“For RTÉ, in terms of making an impact on the Irish community in Britain, it was a huge missed opportunity.”