In the spotlight: Cliff Stonestreet

With the meetings and events industry full of exceptional talent, it's important to recognise the valuable range of insight we have available within the mia network. We caught up with FTF Worldwide Event Management's Cliff Stonestreet to get his thoughts on the industry and events in 2020.

Describe your day-to-day duties

I do not think that there have ever been two days the same in the 25 years that the company has existed! In essence my day could be in the office handling the day to day running of the business or I could be working with my team on designs and plans for events or other elements of the business.

Depending on where we are in the year, I could be on the road for meetings, working on projects or at events or in China, Spain or Italy watching hour after hour of firework demonstratons and choosing or designing products for the following years shows. 

Alongside this we are always working on integrating more and more elements into our ventures to deliver our ‘one-stop-shop’ philosophy.

Of course in 2020 everything is different and I’m now, more often than not, on Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings about 2021 and 2022 events or webinars with other business owners looking at support options and how we make Government understand what type of help the industry needs.

Hopefully, I (and others) can go back to creating unique events in the UK and overseas as soon as possible in 2021.

How did you get into the industry?

You could say that I was born into the industry as my father was Entertainments Officer in Scarborough so I grew up going around the various council-run theatres, boating lakes, putting greens etc – bliss for a non-conformist child! I also worked a couple of summer seasons there in the Ents department during my A-Level years.

I left school and went into the travel business working in, and ultimately setting up, tour operations for worldwide and European destinations. It was an interesting time as I was responsible for non-standard travel in the operations department. This often entailed bringing passengers back from holidays on crutches, stretchers and, now and again, in coffins.

The random and complex nature of this role stuck with me when I expanded my interest in firework displays to go into that industry full time.

What inspires you?

Delivering the clients project on time, on budget and listening to the applause at the conclusion has always meant everything in my professional career. Whether it’s a wedding, corporate function or Royal party every event has to be handled in the same way so that it runs smoothly. After all, in these days of instant media coverage, we are only as good as our last event - so it had better be a good one!

From the early years it became clear that I had a talent for the obscure or out of the ordinary and saw every clients ideas (however random) as an opportunity to overcome the obstacles and deliver their dream. In the early years flying fireworks to shows in Pakistan, Sudan and the UAE stretched the boundaries of the industry but we delivered those shows for many years, as well as in other destinations such as Libya, Bangladesh, Oman, Qatar, Nevis and many EU locations closer to home.

Over the years we have developed a wide-ranging team of experts in all fields for work in the UK and elsewhere so that now, whatever we are asked for, we can create and deliver it.

My heart still skips a beat when the telephone rings as you never know what that call might be and where it may lead.  

What is your favourite meeting destination?

Having worked in the UAE and Europe I’ve been fortunate to enjoy some incredible venues and destinations including “staying” in the Burj Al Arab – well sleeping on the Ballroom floor after an overnight rig for Hewlett Packard, but it still counts in my book!

I have also enjoyed all the delights of the Cunard Queen Mary 2 when we chartered her for clients for the weekend but having said that my ultimate destination for the experience would have to be Nevis.

We were booked to provide a firework display for an American Insurance company but as there were not that many flight options in those days we had to stay at the Four Seasons Resort at their expense for a week! As many others reading this may agree we are not necessarily the greatest group at relaxing but that was definitely somewhere to switch off and accept some downtime. 

In light of COVID-19, what do you feel are the greatest challenges the industry is currently facing?

Like most in the industry, it is a matter of survival this year, as well as for the first half of 2021, until we can reach the contracts already in place.

In the meantime, being adaptable and creative is essential to find ways of earning something from this year. We’ve run drive-in events and planned others that were called off due to lockdowns and council action, but we keep looking at other options.

We’ve opened an online firework shop at www.hexfireworks.co.uk delivering fireworks in England and Wales and also the Scottish lowlands and we’re adding more items such as clothing and coffee to the online range as the weeks go by.

We are also providing broadcast facilities for weddings and funerals so that those that cannot attend can log in and at least watch and listen. Clearly, this is not a perfect solution but for families that want to be a part of these special moments it is a solution that at least helps them to feel part of the event.

How can FTF Worldwide Event Management help the industry overcome these challenges and support with its recovery?

It looks as if it will be mid-2021 before mass gatherings may be possible but, of course, we need to have some knowledge in advance of this to plan and prepare. We have managed thus far to keep our team on board so that we be ready to react quickly once mass gathering events are permitted again.

In the meantime, we’re using the time to train in as many areas as possible and update personal skills. We have expanded the range of technical services that we offer and finally had time to learn some of the more intricate elements of programming on our lighting, flames and lasers so that the shows that we provide in 2021 have the ability to be more complex than in the past if required.

Where can people go to find out more about FTF Worldwide?

To discuss any event planning or technical special effects ideas please contact cliff@ftfworldwide.com or call me on 01462 817640.  Of course, if you’re interested in quality coffee delivered within 72 hours of roasting or retail fireworks please have a look at our retail site #HEXHero coffee & fireworks   (www.hexfireworks.co.uk)

Let’s hope 2021 is better for us all.