Breaking a World Record

By Mungo Dension — January 24, 2018

For me Record Breakers will always be Norris McWhirter, the inimitable Roy Castle and the quest for that sometimes elusive world record. Most forks in the face, world’s biggest marrow or who can eat the most baked beans in a minute.

Growing up it was a must watch. Norris McWhirter doing his level best not be outwitted by guests from the young studio audience with Roy attempting a number of records himself, bookending each show with song…

I watched enviously, wishing I had thought of a particular record attempt, hugely admiring of those on the screen in front of me. One day… maybe?

Fast forward to 2014 and we receive a call from Josie Da Bank at Bestival music festival. As calls go it was one of the stranger but yet music to my ears. “We need to make the world’s largest disco ball. Can you help us break the world record?” Yes! Finally and most unexpectedly, a shot at a world record. And not any world record – a shiny, disco-tastic world record.

As a team we jumped at it. First thing was to understand the current record – and there lay the first challenge. A Russian company held it with a disco ball measuring 9.5m in diameter. A beast of a thing. In order to secure the record and give us some daylight we proposed 10m – the size of a three storey house!

The next challenge was the fact that our attempt was to be activated on the Isle of Wight at Bestival, on a site surrounded by thousands of festival goers. We needed a demountable, truck-able solution with the lightest touch possible. Inflatable quickly became the obvious route to go down.

Our team set about detailed design working closely with Josie and her team at Bestival. In order to meet the strict conditions set by the Guinness World Records we had to devise a way of replicating the mirror tile effect proportional to the size of the ball. This is where it got interesting. Through a process of R&D we devised a solution that effectively saw the constantly blown inflatable skin socked in industrial mesh netting onto which we could attach styrene mirror tiles. This product was perfect as it allowed for flex, was hardy whilst scaling perfectly to give the right tiled effect.

2,500 tiles and 11,000 zip ties later we had a very large disco ball. We couldn’t however call it a record breaker – not until official adjudication. Ahead of moving to the festival site we deflated it, complete with tiles and craned it onto a flatbed. After a few strange looks at the ferry terminal we departed for the Isle of Wight. Once on site and hooked up to the 110T crane we inflated the skin and mesh corset – a challenging task ensuring at all times it was correctly tethered and secure. Once up we set about remedial tile replacement moving round the structure section by section. Test lifts took place in the evenings with the ball being rotated by a team of wranglers on the ground using tether lines.

Then show day was upon us. Nile Rogers & Chic were headlining the Sunday night finale. The theme that year was desert island disco and we had the opportunity to play our part in securing a new world record. An official Guinness World Records’ adjudicator – resplendent in his branded blazer and with clipboard in hand – arrived for the ceremonial measuring of the circumference. I resisted the urge to pop the valve and give it a few extra puffs of air just to be sure. It topped the tape at exactly 10.33m and we edged ever closer to that entry in the book…

To complete the qualification criteria it had to rotate at an event where people were dancing. Easy. Then the bombshell – it had to execute a minimum of four full rotations without human manipulation. In short no to wranglers… This wasn’t in the script, triggering a quick huddle. If we could safely get the ball up to a certain speed then it should rotate on the master swivel of its own volition. In theory…

Showtime. Up the ball went to 15m and the wranglers began to turn the ball. An expectant main stage crowd watched via a live camera feed as the ball gathered a gentle pace. On cue we released the ropes and the ball continued to turn: 1, 2, 3….4 times.

A thumb’s up from the adjudicator triggered a roar from the crowd, as the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest disco ball was officially set. Cue Nile Rogers and Chic. Cue Good Times and 30,000 people singing along. Actually more like 29,999 as one person was definitely singing “If you wanna be the best, If you wanna beat the rest, Oh-oh dedication’s what you need” albeit quietly to himself.