INDEPENDENT 2024-02-28 10:34:06

Wonka actor breaks silence on disastrous Willy’s Chocolate Experience

A stand-up comedian hired to play Willy Wonka at a widely criticised chocolate factory experience has spoken out after furious parents demanded refunds.

Willy’s Chocolate Experience organiser Billy Coull apologised for his “vision of the artistic rendition of a well-known book that didn’t come to fruition” and offered 850 people their money back before closing the Glasgow experience on Saturday.

One parent complained of arriving to find a “disorganised mini-maze of randomly placed oversized props, a lacklustre candy station that dispersed one jelly bean per child, and a terrifying chrome-masked character that scared many of the kids to tears.”

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The Wonka-esque impersonator Paul Connell, 31, spoke to The Independent about how he got the gig and how the chaos unfolded.

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

“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.’

“It was terrifying for the kids. Is he an evil man who makes chocolate or is the chocolate itself evil?”

“They even misspelled my contract but I do have a legally binding ‘Coontract [sic]’. But I stayed up all night learning it thinking this would make sense in the dress rehearsal when I see all the tech.”

But at the Friday evening dress rehearsal hours before opening he turned up to find the “immersive and enchanting” Willy Wonka experience was in fact an empty warehouse with a few plastic mushrooms.

“In some ways it was a world of imagination, like imagine that there is a whole chocolate factory here,” he said. “I spoke to the people running it and thought surely by the morning it won’t look like this and then I turned up in the morning and it absolutely did.

“At the end of my monologue I was supposed to suck up the Unknown Man with a vacuum cleaner. I asked them if they had a vacuum cleaner and they said ‘yeh we haven’t really got there yet so just improvise’.

“So I started to cut things out thinking that would be silly.

“All the actors, were lovely people, we gathered together in the morning and said ‘we’re probably not going to get paid for this but kids are still going to come up. Let’s make this as magic as possible for them’.

“I was making jokes but we were told to give them one jelly bean and a quarter cup of lemonade,” he continued. “No chocolate at the chocolate experience. There was supposed to be a chocolate fountain somewhere but I never saw it.

“I was told I would get a 15 minute break every 45 minutes after each group went through.

“But I ended up playing Willy Wonka for three and a half hours straight. I didn’t know where I ended and Wonka began. I was losing my mind by that point.

“The organiser came up to me saying ‘Your spending too much time with the kids we need to get them through as quickly as possible’.

“By this point I was visibly angry. I was like now there’s going to be a lot of disappointed kids.”

The actor said he finally managed to get a lunch break deciding to spend it sitting in his car staring at the floor trying to avoid the sight of crying children being turned away by security.

“When I came back that’s when everything kicked off,” he explained. “There was an angry mob at the door not being let in I had to wedge my way through.

“I was Wonka and it’s my face everywhere. But I am just a last minute actor really I didn’t organise anything.

“People were shouting, people who put on the event were crying. There were arguments, people running around everywhere – the set had been trashed.”

He called another huddle of the two other Willy Wonkas and the nearest Oompa Loompas, adding: “We got all the actors together and decided to just walk away.

“It was actually getting quite dangerous for us. But it was heartbreaking to be honest.

“There were kids in costume better than ours crying. I used to be a teacher and that was triggering for me.

“One thing I want to make clear is everyone has been so nice to the actors in person and on the day the people who were there understand we did our best.

“We didn’t take any abuse but we gave abuse to the people running it. The whole thing was disrespectful to the families and us as promising actors.

“There were three Willy Wonkas but I was the most unlucky because I went first and stayed for three and a half hours doing it through either commitment or stupidity.”

Planning a stand-up tour soon, the Wonka actor originally from Hull said moved to Glasgow to follow his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian after googling what is the funniest city in the UK.

He finished: “It’s a night I’ll try to forget. Sadly not only will I remember it everyone I know will remember it too.

“We as actors were brought in last minute and we just did our best for the kids.”

Stuart Sinclair who travelled two hours to attend the experience with his family told The Independent : “It was nothing short of shocking.

“But all the cast that were there did their absolute best. Unfortunately, they were all sub-contractor actors hired by Illuminati and haven’t been paid either.

“They were in as much shock as us. But it was probably worse for them because this is their job and made them look bad when it wasn’t their fault.”

Organiser Billy Coull, the director of immersive events company House of Illuminati, told STV News: “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.”

Breakthrough paves way for more effective breast cancer treatment

A breakthrough injection could pave the way for a pioneering new treatment for breast cancer, which kills thousands of women every year.

Scientists have found a way to use a new cancer treatment, which targets the cells that help tumours survive, to prevent the growth and spread of breast cancer for the first time.

At least 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer and 11,500 women die from the disease each year in the UK.

Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research, through tests on mice, have found a way to adapt a new cutting edge type of immunotherapy treatment, which traditionally has had limited success in treating breast cancer, to make it more “effective and targeted”. Human trials could be the next step.

The news comes amid worsening waiting times for breast cancer treatment within England. Last year, The Independent revealed a shocking warning from oncologists that breast cancer treatment is facing a “crisis” due to a lack of specialist doctors and nurses to deliver new treatments.

While chemotherapy and radiotherapy target cancer cells directly, immunotherapy works by helping the body’s immune system recognise and kill cancer cells.

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research have now adapted a method of immunotherapy for breast cancer specifically and tested the treatment on mice.

The treatment, called CAR-T, works by removing a patient’s healthy immune cells and genetically modifying them to attack specific targets.

As part of the treatment, T-cells – blood cells that protect the body from infection and disease – are genetically modified in a lab to make them better at killing cancer and returned to the blood.

It has been used to treat some blood cancers but never for breast cancer- which is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the UK.

Last April NHS England announced it would roll out CAR-T therapies to more patients with two types of blood cancer. Around 215 patients with a blood cancer called “Large B-cell Lymphoma” will now be eligible for this treatment each year.

Researchers said the use of CAR-T therapy on solid cancers “remains a challenge”.

To use CAR-T for breast cancer, researchers modified the treatment to target a protein called endosalin. They found this disrupted the tumour’s blood supply and reduced its growth and spread.

Dr Frances Turrell, study co-leader and postdoctoral training fellow at the Institute of Cancer Research, said: “This is the very first study that demonstrates the effectiveness of using endosialin-directed CAR-T cells to reduce breast cancer tumour growth and spread.

She said immunotherapy has had limited success in treating breast cancer but by targeting the cells that support the tumour and help it to survive the study had found a “promising” new way to develop a more “effective and targeted” treatment for breast cancer.

The team, funded by the charity Breast Cancer Now, also tested the treatment on lung cancer tumours in mice and saw similar successful results, indicating it could be used for other cancers also.

Professor Clare Isacke, professor of molecular cell biology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said human trials for the new method would take at least two years from this point as steps need to be taken to make the therapy suitable for human patients.

The findings also suggest that because the therapy does impact cells without the protein endosialin, this could lead to treatment with fewer side effects for patients than traditional immunotherapy.

Dr Simon Vincent, director of research, support and influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said: “This exciting research could lead to much-needed targeted treatments for people with breast cancer, and with one person dying from breast cancer every 45 minutes in the UK, new treatments like these are urgently needed.

“Now we know that the treatment works in principle in mice, Breast Cancer Now researchers can continue to develop this immunotherapy to make it suitable for people, as well as to understand the full effect it could have and who it may benefit the most.”

Research information manager at Cancer Research UK, Dr Nisharnthi Duggan said: “Identifying new targets for immunotherapy could increase the number of cancers that can be treated by this type of therapy.

“While still early-stage, this research suggests that we can target the processes which help certain tumours to thrive, rather than targeting the cancer itself, a strategy that could be applied to a wide range of cancer types.”

Meanwhile, on Monday research from the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership also warned the UK lags behind other countries in its use of two other cancer treatments chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Biden wins primary despite Gaza protest vote as Trump underperforms

President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump won the Michigan primaries on Tuesday, further solidifying the all-but-certain rematch between the two men.

But despite the president’s comfortable victory, Democrats were also closely watching the results of the “uncommitted” vote, as Michigan has become the epicenter for dissatisfied members of the president’s coalition that propelled him to victory in the state — and nationally — in 2020.

The number of “uncommitted” votes has already surpassed the 10,000-vote margin by which Mr Trump won Michigan in 2016, surpassing a goal set by organisers of this year’s protest effort, according to The Associated Press.

Despite underperforming somewhat, Mr Trump once again soared to victory over former UN ambassador Nikki Haley – who has insisted on staying in the contest for Super Tuesday on 5 March.

Ms Haley was beaten again in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday and suffered a further blow in its aftermath when she lost the support of Americans for Prosperity Action (AFP Action), the political wing of the conservative donor network led by billionaire Charles Koch, which announced it would no longer be supporting her campaign and will instead focus on Senate engagement.

Two boys aged 11 and 12 arrested after ‘several’ animals killed at college

Two children have been arrested and released on bail after police received reports that “several animals had been killed” at a college in west London.

A 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old boy were arrested on suspicion of animal cruelty and burglary after an incident at Capel Manor College’s Gunnersbury Park campus.

The Met Police said: “On Sunday, 25 February we received a report that several animals had been killed and animal closures had been damaged at Capel Manor College.

“Officers visited the scene and viewed CCTV footage. A forensic examination was also carried out.”

The two boys were arrested as a result of enquiries and have been bailed.

Police urged anyone with information to call 101 quoting CAD 1639/25Feb.

The college said in a statement: “On Sunday 25 February, Capel Manor College’s Gunnersbury Park Campus experienced a break-in that resulted in damage to some of the animal areas, and sadly some animals died.

“The safety of our staff, students, animals and community is of utmost importance to us. A team is onsite co-ordinating with the police in their ongoing investigation, and additional security staff have also been deployed at the campus.”

The institution described itself as “London’s environmental college”, offering young people and adults the opportunity to help take care of its estates, gardens, farm and zoos.

Following the incident, teaching at the west London campus was held online on Monday before in-person learning resumed on-site on Tuesday.

Principal Peter Brammall said: “This has been a terrible episode and my thanks go out to the dedicated team of staff who worked tirelessly over Sunday and Monday to deal with and restore the devastation left by the intruders.

“Our campus is now back open, student lessons are back on track and the team is working with our partners to bring in new animals over the next few weeks to replace those that were sadly lost.”

The college said its “much-loved” barn owl, Shiraz, escaped as a result of the incident and remains missing.

Appealing for information on the bird’s whereabouts, the college described Shiraz as a “white barn owl with a blue ring on her left ankle” and urged anyone reporting a sighting to call its emergency 24-hour line on 077135 68110 and the RSCPA at 0300 1234 999.

Adele postpones Las Vegas residency dates after voice ‘scare’

Adele has told fans that she will be postponing all of her Las Vegas residency dates in March due to illness.

The Grammy-winning British singer made the sudden announcement in a post to her Instagram page, disclosing that she had been sick at the end of her last series shows and “all the way through” her break between runs at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

“Sadly I have to take a beat and pause my Vegas residency,” she wrote. “I was sick at the end of the last leg and all the way through my break. I hadn’t quite gotten the chance to get back to full health before shows resumed and now I’m sick again, and unfortunately it’s all taken a toll on my voice.

“And so on doctors orders I have no choice but to rest thoroughly. The remaining 5 weekends of this leg are being postponed to a later date. We are already working out the details and you will be sent the information asap.”

In the caption of the post, she added: “I love you, I’ll miss you like mad and I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

Adele had alluded to an impending break from performances during her show on Saturday 24 February, where she admitted that she had suffered a scare with her voice.

“In the middle of last night (I’m sure you can hear it in my talking voice and my singing voice a little bit), your girl was tired,” she told the audience. ‘Your girl was tired. I didn’t sleep very well.”

She added: “I can’t hit my headnotes properly. I didn’t sleep very well and my chest is on fire. Straight after this show I am going on voice rest.”

With all of the 10 March dates of the “Hello” artist’s Weekends with Adele shows postponed, her next performance is scheduled to take place on Friday 17 May. Her Las Vegas residency was due to conclude on Saturday 15 June this year.

Adele announced the extension of her residency in October 2023, telling fans that being “so up close and personal” with an audience again had been a “truly restorative experience” that she would never forget.

“All the hilarious, soulful, wild and heartbreaking interactions we’ve had are banked in my mind for life.” she said. “Mostly though – it’s just made me realize how much I really enjoy being on stage, that I’m bloody good at it and that it is 100 per cent where I belong!”

However, she expressed fears for her voice in December as she prepared for another demanding round of Las Vegas shows in the new year.

“I get nervous about wearing my voice out [at the residency],” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a lot of singing. It’s two hours. It’s a lot. And I f***ing motormouth and chat me ass off as well.”

This is not the first time the singer has postponed shows in Vegas.

Her residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace was originally scheduled to begin in January 2022. However, just 24 hours before the first shows were due to begin, Adele shared a video to social media tearfully explaining that the show was not going to be ready on time.

She later said that she was a “shell of a person” after the “brutal” reaction to the news.

Appearing on Desert Island Discs, Adele said she was “devastated” by the news, adding that she had “definitely felt everyone’s disappointment”.

“I was frightened about letting them down and I thought I could pull it together and make it work, and I couldn’t,” she told Lauren Laverne. “I stand by that decision. I don’t think any other artist would have done what I did, and I think that is why it was such a massive, massive story.

“It was like, ‘I don’t care’ and things like that. You can’t buy me. You can’t buy me for nothing. I’m not going to just do a show because I have to or because people are going to be let down or because we are going to lose loads of money. I’m like, ‘The show is not good enough.’”

The singer had previously been forced to cancel tour dates in 2011 after suffering a throat haemorrhage. She had to undergo a high risk laser surgery, and then teach herself to sing again.

How to help create a smokefree generation

“Some people can just stop and then never smoke again, but for most it’s hard,” says Tim Eves a 45-year-old father of three from West Sussex.

“It’s just getting through those initial tough few months. Once you do the benefits hugely outweigh the stress of giving it up.”

Tim was a smoker for around 12 years, but gave up with help from a local support group who introduced him to nicotine patches and gum.

“I won’t pretend it isn’t hard,” he adds. “The first few months, you have it in your head that you’d love to have just one cigarette. But now, if we happen to be in the pub it doesn’t even enter my head.”

Taking the first step to go smokefree may sound daunting, but quitting smoking offers significant health benefits – and can save you money.

Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK each year.

It causes around 1-in-4 cancer deaths in the UK and is responsible for just over 70 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

Smoking also substantially increases the risk of many major health conditions throughout people’s lives, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease, stillbirth, dementia and asthma.

Smoking increases the chance of stillbirth by almost half and makes children twice as likely to be hospitalised for asthma from second-hand smoking.

And a typical addicted smoker spends £2,400 a year.

Jo Howarth, 52, from St Helens, Merseyside, finally kicked her addiction after 20 years of on-and-off smoking.

“I was quite anti-smoking as a young teenager, but I started when I was 16 because I wanted to fit in with the cool crowd,” she says.

“I knew it was bad for me, but it was so hard to give up. I tried cold turkey, hypnotherapy and at one point I had a staple in my ear, but I never lasted more than about six months.

“After I got married, I wanted to conceive so I cut down to one a day but the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I stopped.

“As soon as the reason outweighed the addiction, I found a reason to stop and as a hypnotherapist I know that pinpointing why you’re addicted is the key to stopping.

“I used to think that smoking calmed me down, but now I realise that’s a myth – it was just the deep breaths I was taking while I did it. Without it I’m so much healthier and I’m determined to stay smokefree for my kids.”

Smokers lose an average of 10 years life expectancy – around one year for every four smoking years.

Smokers also need care on average 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have – often while still of working age.

‘’Smoking is based on addiction and most people wish they had never taken it up,” says Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

“They try to stop and they cannot. Their choice has been taken away. As a doctor I have seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking but they cannot.”

The government is now working on creating a smokefree generation.

The new proposals give citizens more freedom. Smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and the large majority of smokers and ex-smokers regret ever starting in the first place.

Creating a smokefree generation will be one of the most significant public health measures in a generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS and the economy, and levelling up the UK by tackling one of the most important preventable drivers of inequality in health outcomes.

New laws will protect future generations from ever taking up smoking as well as tackling youth vaping by:

Alongside the Bill, there will be new funding to support current smokers to quit by doubling the funding of local ‘stop smoking services’ (to nearly £140 million) as well as £30m of new funding to crack down on illicit tobacco and underage sale of tobacco and vapes.

Even talk of a potential ceasefire in Gaza is a cause for hope

It is hardly a “done deal” – and disappointment may yet transpire – but the very fact that a ceasefire in Gaza, of whatever genus, is being actively negotiated and openly discussed by the president of the United States represents enormous cause for hope.

Too many people – almost 30,000 now, according to the Palestinian health ministry – have died. President Biden has indicated that an end to the fighting could be organised as soon as next week, if not the weekend. If agreed, it would, it seems, last for 40 days during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on the evening of 10 March. It is possible that such a pause in the conflict could then evolve seamlessly into a more permanent end to the war.

Such a situation, which seemed remote only weeks ago, at least creates some of the conditions for something like political progress. Part of that, as the US government has hinted, might well entail recognition of Palestine by Western countries as an independent nation state. That, as the foreign secretary, David Cameron, has made clear, would include the UK – a symbolic move given Britain ruled Palestine for three decades, its mandate ending in 1948.

That is running some way ahead of events, however. First, the ceasefire has to be signed off by enemies pledged to one another’s destruction – Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas. The contribution to the process of the prospective ceasefire made by the United States (especially the well-travelled secretary of state, Antony Blinken), Egypt and Qatar has been outstanding and worthy of a joint Nobel Peace Prize.

What form will the ceasefire take? It seems the outlines of a deal are becoming clearer. Israeli and other hostages will be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Humanitarian aid supplies, so urgently needed, will flow into Gaza, including the isolated north. Shelters can be built; the sick treated; and Palestinian civilians can return to what remains of their homes, bury their dead and trace lost family. The anguish of Israeli families divided from loved ones since the 7 October Hamas atrocities will start to ease.

Obviously – though it cannot be stressed hard enough – a ceasefire has to be implemented by both sides. So not only must Israel postpone, and in effect cancel, the catastrophic ground offensive planned for Rafah, so too must Hamas and its various allies desist from firing rockets at Israeli settlements from any Palestinian territory. A ceasefire logically cannot be one-sided, and so far as Netanyahu is concerned, a breach of it would be met with massive and immediate escalation, probably before the White House has had a chance to restrain him.

The longer the break in the fighting, the more tensions will ease across the region. Provided Iran, a shadowy presence throughout, also tacitly becomes a party to the ceasefire, then the Houthi campaign in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden should also subside. International shipping may then resume.

Iranian-inspired militia attacks on US bases in Jordan and elsewhere will also pause. Just as war feeds on itself, so too can peace create a virtuous circle of diminished grievances and lower levels of violence. The nightmare of direct confrontation between Iran and Israel or America will have been averted.

It also makes it that much less likely that Israel will be found in breach of the orders issued to it by the International Court of Justice, and to have committed acts of genocide.

In truth, the war, as prosecuted by the present government, was not actually destroying Hamas – and it was only going to become more counterproductive the longer it dragged on. Victory in any meaningful sense was proving elusive. It is in Israel’s own interests for the fighting to be wound down.

The consequences of peace, then, will be far-reaching, including across the West. Though hardly the most important part of the story, social democratic parties will be relieved from trying to strike a political stance that balances the right of Israel to defend itself and the need to end the loss of innocent life. The US Democrats and the British Labour Party, among others, will no longer have to contort themselves over what type of ceasefire should be called for, once the guns have gone quiet.

The debate can then turn to what kind of peace there should be, how the new Palestinian nation will organise itself, and how the two countries between the river and the sea can guarantee one another’s security.

Those will be better arguments to have.

What could happen if George Galloway wins the Rochdale by-election?

Soon the voters will go to the polls in Rochdale, in what is proving, without hyperbole, to be the most bizarre by-election in recent decades. The most striking aspect, of course, being that the Labour candidate, Azhar Ali, who had an excellent chance of holding the seat, lost the support of his party in a row over antisemitism. So now the Labour Party is not campaigning at all, and is offering its supporters no guidance as to whom they should vote for – but formally, Ali remains the “Labour Party candidate” on the ballot paper.

Theoretically, he could still get elected. The intervention of the pugilistic George Galloway and his Workers Party of Britain is the other great novelty, though he has done this sort of thing before. In any case, and despite the circus, the by-election may tell us a few things about what’s going on in politics; and the result may have consequences far beyond the town…