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Behind the scenes of the BLE Character Parade

1.5 tons of fluff and foam, 70 timetables, 200 litres of water – we find out just what goes into making the Character Parade a hit.

One of the more unforgettable sights at BLE occurs at 11.00am on day one when, if you’re standing in the central aisles of the show you’ll be met with a tide of life-size cartoon characters heading your way. This cavalcade of costume characters is organised by Rainbow Productions who work closely with the organisers UBM to deliver the mother of all photo-opportunities.

David Scott, md of Rainbow Productions, brings us up to date with the plans for this year’s BLE…

“We start collating bookings for the costume characters from about six months before the show itself. During this period we liaise with BLE who kindly provide a changing area within the tight confines of Olympia, where space is at a premium. The benefit for exhibitors booking through Rainbow is that we manage all the formalities required, including access for the costumes and accreditation for the costume talent and minders, PLI and H&S documentation, so that the exhibitor can concentrate on ensuring they showcase their brands to the best effect possible on their stands.

So far so good…

As well as working with UBM, Rainbow also plans ahead with BLE’s PR company, MWW PR, to maximise group and individual media photo-opportunities, of which the highlight is the costume character parade.

Last year we had a team of well over 100 people on duty for the Character Parade. Not only were there costume artistes and minders for all the costume characters on parade, but we also had back-up staff in the form of wardrobe personnel, in case of any emergency costume repairs, and an event management team to ensure the characters not only participate in the parade, but all appear according to their individual schedules which are worked out in advance in conjunction with their licensors.


This year we’ve created 70 character timetables, each with a full day’s series of character appearances variously timed for them to be present at exhibitor events and photocalls and to avoid character clashes on stand.

What could possibly go wrong?

Then, after the brain-ache of cross-referencing appearance schedules comes the muscle-ache of delivering costumes into Olympia on the Monday prior to the show. Costumes weigh between 15kg- 25kg and are big and cumbersome to carry. That means the Rainbow team have to physically carry in 1.5 tons of carefully hand-crafted fluff and foam plus over 200 litres of water, which is supplied to the artistes to re-hydrate after each costume appearance.

And what goes in must come out…

We stagger the removal of the costumes over the three days of the show to ease pressure on our Wardrobe Department who are on stand-by back at Rainbow to clean the mountains of sweaty underbodies and costume parts heading their way. Welcome to our highly glamorous world…

The result of all this activity is not only increased media opportunities at the show for licensors’ respective brands but also those unique, iconic photos in the media of a multitude of world famous celebrities waving to the world.

In actual fact, the group character photo took some time to develop as costume characters have a standing rule which dictates that characters from different ‘universes’ cannot appear together when out with the public. In the early days some licensors decided to keep this rule for trade shows such as BLE and so the character parade was somewhat smaller.

However, as the media use these group character photos as the signature image when reporting on the show and then re-use them throughout the ensuing year as a shorthand way of summarising the essence of BLE, it is a great way of having your characters and brands feature in the media on a regular basis.

Some Character Parade facts:

  • The parade has evolved from a few costume characters appearing on an ad-hoc basis at the turn of the century to become Europe’s largest celebrity character parade.
  • It takes six months to plan and well over 100 people to manage on the day.
  • While the bulk of the Parade is made up of costume characters manned by Rainbow Productions, all costume characters with access to the show can participate.
  • This year’s Parade will showcase well over 80 characters.
  • Well-positioned photography from above ensures no character is missed out from the final photo – despite many brands vying to be at the front.
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