Birmingham was brought to a standstill on Saturday, with motorists abandoning cars and the city gridlocked for hours after thousands of teenagers flooded the city centre to see a 19-year-old YouTuber make a 30-second public appearance at a cosmetics store.
Many shoppers were forced to cancel their trips, while parts of the bus network ground to a halt and road traffic was at a standstill, as fans hoped to catch a glimpse of James Charles, who is known for his online makeup guides.
The American was in town to open a shop for Morphe Cosmetics, with rows of police and security guards struggling to hold back thousands of people, mainly teenage girls, who had been gathering at the Bullring shopping centre since early in the morning.
The sheer mass of people and cars heading into the city centre caused havoc, with the BBC reporting that some drivers abandoned their vehicles overnight after giving up hope of getting out.
The teenager from upstate New York has earned more than 10 million followers on both Instagram and YouTube for his makeup videos, with brands queuing up to sign lucrative endorsement deals.
Charles, who was making his first visit to the UK, stepped outside the Birmingham shop for a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4pm before heading back inside for a private meet-and-greet session with 250 competition winners. He later claimed about 8,000 fans were in the shopping centre itself, which had to shut down its escalators for safety reasons and employ extra security staff.
The incident shows how event organisers can be unprepared for sudden influxes of people attracted by YouTubers, who can have far bigger followings than TV and film stars and yet have a substantially lower profile in traditional media outlets.
In one memorable incident in 2017, the YouTube stars the Dolan Twins left thousands of fans disappointed after announcing an impromptu meetup in Hyde Park on 13 November, only to cancel it at the last minute after being told it would clash with a Remembrance Sunday event.
A West Midlands police spokesperson said they had coordinated their response to Charles’s appearance in Birmingham in advance and “no additional officers were requested, no incidents were reported, and no arrests were made”.
One woman who drove for two hours from Sheffield to the event with her daughter and her daughter’s friend told Birmingham Live that it was over very quickly: “We arrived last night so that they could get a good view. But there are so many kids here you can barely see a thing; he’s very clever only doing one event and attracting this kind of crowd.
“I think this is what they call hysteria.”