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Cardiff wakes up to an invasion of elephants

Blog post   •   Dec 02, 2013 17:35 GMT

Behind the scenes tour blog by Katherine Skinner and Rebecca Ellis-Owen

There are many things you might expect to see on the streets of of Cardiff at the festive end of the year – Christmas lights, festive window displays and carol singers but perhaps not elephants.

But as dawn broke on 13 November, it was elephants that framed the Cardiff skyline. intu had brought Elephant Parade to town for the fifth stop of the national tour it is presenting to 30 million people across the UK.

The elephants arrived at the spectacular Wales Millennium Centre. Three radio stations shared news of the elephant’s arrival as the city awoke and photographers met the elephants, as they were unloaded. First off the trucks in the dawn light were Kiku, a vibrant creation by Chris Chun and Happiness is for Everyone by Irish artist Elaine Maher, a creation that brought smiles to everyone who saw it emerge from the tour truck.

Mega Nova, Party Garden and An Unforgettable Journey took up residence in front of the Wales Millennium Centre and from the moment they were in place social media erupted. After a break for a warm up coffee Rebecca conducted Elephant Parade’s first Welsh language interview. As someone that grew up in Cardiff and was passionate about the cause that elephant Parade backed, the day was a special one for Rebecca, who had worked with intu for weeks to realise Elephant Parade’s debut visit to the Welsh capital.

Next stop was St David’s centre to meet up with BBC Wales for the next interview – en route we were delighted to hear discussion of the elephants on Nation Radio. After a number of tweets from both Rhodri and our friends at Cambrensis we heard a shout out to “Kath from Cardiff Bay” which had us all in stiches. Rebecca was her usual fabulous self in the interview and chatted away as people milled around Alex Jone’s elephant, Spirit. A highlight for the Cardiff expo, Alex had joined forces with Mercy Delta to create a spectacular elephant design that was one of the main focuses of filming later in the day by the BBC and ITV film crews. We stayed at St David’s Centre to listen to some of the vox pops with passers by who were all clearly excited by the colourful presence of Spirit in the middle of the walkway. A real sense of surprise and delight had captured the shopping centre.

We then set off on a hunt to find the rest of the elephants, which had been set up in eight venues around the city centre. As with previous Elephant Parades in places such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, the Cardiff expo captured the treasure hunt feel of elephants popping out of nowhere as you turned a corner or entered a building. We stopped to take pictures of people’s interaction with the elephants as we toured the city centre. No matter where Elephant Parade goes, the interaction is the same, suggesting a universal bond with the elephants and an engagement with conservation through fun art that makes you smile: such a great balance.

Every time we found a new elephant people taking photos and tweeting on their mobile devices surrounded them. Looking back on the day’s activity later that day, the #eletour was all over Twitter as people kept uploading photos, posts and tweets about the elephants. We bumped into the logistics team again at the Cardiff Central Library, where they were positioning two more elephants - Elephants Communicating and Stop the Traffic. The library staff were delighted with their new arrivals and just outside the window there was a young girl desperately trying to figure out how to get inside to see the elephants up close. We captured a picture of this moment, which really captured the character of the whole day on an intimate level.

After visiting all the centrally located elephants we headed back to the Millennium Centre for a quick bite to eat and to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi to catch up on emails and coverage of the launch so far. I checked in with Guy and Harriet who were fielding calls and issuing pictures from our HQ as well as providing the feedback on the reaction on the tour website and Elephant Parade’s Facebook page. Rebecca then prepared herself for her TV interview with ITV, which went well despite the wind picking up just as it started giving her a rather windswept look, which added to the drama of the evening news piece. This concluded our media meetings so we waved goodbye to the Millennium centre, which had become our base camp for the day and went to visit the rest of the statues in situ.

Highlight of the afternoon for Rebecca was visiting Red Arrow and Sunday Best at the Sherman Centre, the Union of Cardiff University as it was just metres from the house she lived in as a university student all those years ago.

Than Ying looked resplendent in the front window of the Royal Welsh Drama and Music Centre. A top creation for the intu-sponsored tour, Than Ying is a modern day princess and has been a huge hit with little girls all over the UK. A better location could not have been picked for this elephant who was in her element surrounded by thespians and musicians alike.

The International White Water Rafting Centre had placed Happiness is for Everyone looking out over the boats in the bay, right next to the indoor surfing facility. While Claudia Schiffer’s Forest design was holding her own standing next to a red welsh dragon at Techniquest, drawing the attention of all the children that passed.

Having visited every Welsh location of the Elephant Parade tour we set off on our journey back feeling sad about saying goodbye to the elephants. On our way out of the city we heard Cardiff artist Pete Fowler on the radio talking about his Mega Nova design and recalling his reaction when a big white elephant arrived at his studio to be painted. Pete’s interview captured everything that has been right about the Elephant Parade national tour. Humour, passion, bravery and the ability to surprise and delight in equal measure. This is a people’s parade and has something for everyone. Listening to Pete we left Cardiff confident the elephants were in safe hands. We stayed tuned in until we lost the signal and then knew we were well on our way home.

The Elephant Parade National Tour is being presented across the UK by intu, owner and manager of many of the best UK shopping centres. The tour is the first Elephant Parade expo to tour an entire country, to involve a nationwide schools programme and to spread the conservation message to more than 30 million people. Many of the tour elephants, each original art pieces, are for sale with proceeds going to conservation charity, The Asian Elephant Foundation. For more tour information visit the tour site or follow the tour on Elephant Parade’s Facebook page.