Fyre Festival 2.0: Everything to know about the less than stellar Willy Wonka “immersive experience”

Some families were so angry that they called the police

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published March 2, 2024 11:00AM (EST)

A child looks down at her broken lollipop on the floor (Getty Images/Israel Sebastian)
A child looks down at her broken lollipop on the floor (Getty Images/Israel Sebastian)

A so-called Willy Wonka “immersive experience” in Glasgow, Scotland, was such an epic fail that it left children in tears and inspired angry ticket holders, who anticipated a good time for their families, to call the police. 

Called “Willy's Chocolate Experience,” the Willy Wonka-themed event, organized by the London-based House of Illuminati, used artificial intelligence to generate promotional images that promised “surprises at every turn” as part of “a celebration of chocolate in all its delightful forms.”

Based on the event’s website, attendees could expect the following: an "Enchanted Garden," complete with giant sweets, vibrant florals and delicious chocolate beans of all colors, shapes and sizes; an "Imagination Lab™," where “an adventure that will leave you spellbound” awaits; a "Twilight Tunnel™" that includes a heart-pounding experience through a dimly lit passage; and finally, captivating entertainment in “a paradise of sweet treats.”

Guests paid £35 (about $45) to attend Sunday’s event, according to SWNS and the BBC, but upon arrival, they were shocked to learn that the experience was nothing like it was described. Guests were met with a small bouncy castle, cheap-looking decorations and backdrops scattered throughout what one attendee described was an “abandoned, empty warehouse.” Others said the event, which claimed to last between 45 minutes to an hour, took only five minutes to walk through. Many kids started crying — and several furious parents even called law enforcement, who reportedly offered “advice.”

House of Illuminati canceled the experience midway through its opening day after receiving countless complaints, BBC reported. A cardboard sign announcing that the event had been called off was reportedly put up, angering many families who weren’t able to make it inside despite purchasing tickets. In a now-deleted social media post, House of Illuminati said, “We fully apologize for what has happened and will be giving full refunds to each and every person that purchased tickets.”

Attendees said they have yet to receive their refunds.

The company’s director, Billy Coull, formally apologized on STV News and explained that the botched effort was due to “holographic paper” that failed to arrive on time, preventing them from using the “absolutely fabulous technology” they had in store.

We need your help to stay independent

Families weren’t the only ones who were upset over the Willy Wonka hoopla. Actors who played roles from Roald Dahl's 1964 novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," as well as other made-up characters, shared just how poorly-organized the whole thing was. Jenny Fogarty, who was hired to play an Oompa Loompa, allegedly received a 15-page script the night before the event, according to SWNS. Meanwhile, her costume was essentially a sexified-Oompa Loompa, not the classic, family-friendly version she anticipated.

Stand-up comedian Paul Connell, who impersonated Willy Wonka, told The Independent that he secured the role on a whim.

“I’m constantly applying for more acting jobs and comedy work, then I got a phone call on Thursday saying, ‘Congratulations you are going to play Willy Wonka, we will send you over the script and dress rehearsal is tomorrow’,” Connell said. “The script was 15 pages of AI-generated gibberish of me just monologuing these mad things.”

He continued, “The bit that got me was where I had to say, ‘There is a man we don’t know his name. We know him as the Unknown. This Unknown is an evil chocolate maker who lives in the walls.’ Viral videos from the event show the Unknown emerging from behind a floor mirror, much to the horror of a group of children.

Want more great food writing and recipes? Subscribe to Salon Food's newsletter, The Bite.

Connell said that after delivering his monologue, he was supposed to “suck up” the Unknown Man with a vacuum cleaner. “I asked them if they had a vacuum cleaner and they said, ‘yeah, we haven’t really got there yet, so just improvise,’” he explained. He added that the actors were told to give each children one jelly bean and a quarter cup of lemonade. A chocolate fountain was allegedly supposed to be at the event, but Connell said he never saw it.

Connell played Willy Wonka for three and a half hours straight, despite being told he would get a 15-minute break every 45 minutes. “I was losing my mind by that point," he said.

“We didn’t take any abuse, but we gave abuse to the people running it,” he continued. “The whole thing was disrespectful to the families and us as promising actors.It’s a night I’ll try to forget. Sadly, not only will I remember it, everyone I know will remember it too.”

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.