From The Ashes.
A blog post by Felicity
Sometimes in life it is far too easy to get absorbed by things and to lose sight of what is actually important. This is especially true, I feel, when (thanks to a virus which has seemingly infected the whole world and resulted in many of us having our lives and livelihoods turned upside down and seemingly put on indefinite pause…) you have little else to focus on and push your energies towards.
This year has been, for the aforementioned reasons, a very strange year to a varying degree for everyone. Ordinarily I am a relatively busy person, guiding fossil hunting trips, attending events with my performer husband or planning and making our travel documentaries. After a promising start filming our Romania travel video in late-February, that went on hold this year due to the virus.
This gave me more free time than normal and as a result I spotted what appeared to be a fun photo competition online. As we didn’t have much else to focus on, I decided to give it a go. The competition worked on a daily ‘public votes’ system and encourages you to ask your friends and family to vote for you to get you to the top. Greg and I decided to do this and, of course, posted about the competition on our Facebook pages.
The competition was due to run for about three weeks, and everybody was allowed (and indeed encouraged) to vote daily. To keep it interesting and make it more fun over that time, we decided to do an amusing video and photo based campaign to attract attention and gain more votes.
It worked a treat. By the end of day one we reached the top position (there were about eighty other contestants from around the world involved). We were thrilled and encouraged by this.
As the days went by, our campaign was well received and we were getting some lovely support and encouragement from our friends. The competition started to hot up a couple of days in and we quickly found that three of us were well in front of all the rest and leapfrogging each other for the top spot. This added a sense of excitement and the fun of competition, and made us push even harder with our ‘campaign’!
Our campaign spread further still to various online friendship and worldwide community groups one or both of us is a part of. Our votes continued to increase at a steady pace, day and night, and messages of support came pouring in. It was wonderful. We stayed in the top spot, closely followed by one other contestant, leaving the rest far behind as our votes increased. A fair amount of our time each day went into either making more promotional material for the campaign or to thanking everyone for their kind words and support – we are used to promoting our travel videos and shows, so we were lucky that we already knew what we were doing on the promotional side of things!
Then at 2:30 in the morning, exactly one week into the competition, our rival for the winning spot sent us a threatening email.
I’ll repeat that, because you are probably as shocked as we were by the sudden turn in what was for us an enjoyable competition filled with love, fun and community spirit.
At 2:30 in the morning, exactly one week into the competition, our rival for the winning spot sent us a threatening email.
She accused us of somehow cheating as she witnessed our votes increasing in the night even though we are UK contestants. She threatened to report us to the competition organisers as well as to slander us in various online community groups. We were horrified. We had entered the competition expecting a light-hearted bit of fun (with a lovely prize if we won, but one with no monetary value) and enjoy a healthy bit of competition while we were at it. Now we were being falsely accused and threatened!
We photographed the threat. As she had threatened to report us to the organisers, and knowing we had done nothing wrong, we immediately reported the situation with the competition organisers ourselves, wanting it resolved but not wanting to be baited by her and end up pointlessly fighting with this deluded woman.
As she had also threatened to slander our names in communities which we are a part of, we also privately told our supporters on Facebook, many of whom are members of those communities, exactly what was happening. We requested that they ‘fight fire with love’ (as is our community’s way) and not to retaliate in any way, but merely continue to vote. We also asked people to leave a comment in the comment section on the voting website letting everyone know if they were voting for us from other countries, in the hopes that she would believe how we were getting the nightly votes if she saw it with her own eyes.
In the meantime, of course, we continued our campaign with the sense of fun which we had carried into it throughout.
Our supporters were (and are) fantastic and did exactly as we asked.
This did not satisfy our rival however. We then received evidence from friends that the woman in question was now posting hateful comments about not only us but our kind supporters as well on her Facebook page. Her friends were joining in with the nastiness too.
It baffled me that these people were turning a fun competition into something nasty. They were accusing anyone who wrote something nice about us of ‘being nasty’ (although all they had done was say nice things about me, they hadn’t mentioned anyone else), they were being unduly horrible about our entry picture, they were attacking our personalities and honour and the competition suddenly didn’t feel fun and competitive anymore. It felt dark. It felt cruel.
All due to this one bitter woman and her unpleasant friends, criticising people they don’t know, have never met or even had any form of contact with.
Everything about it seemed wrong to me and to Greg, it was so opposed to everything that we are used to given the people we have chosen to surround ourselves with in our everyday lives. We had put so much energy into this contest, had become so full of enthusiasm and happiness due to our supporters and the sense of loving community around us. It was those supporters who lifted us up again, told us to keep going, that it would be fine, that they will push even harder for us and to ignore her bitter jealousy. So we did.
Then the competition organisers came back to us. They too were full of reassurance and kind words, telling us not to worry and that they would put a pause on the voting while they figured out what to do. We felt better that morning, knowing we had done the right thing.
Then a statement went on their website which made it sound like something bad was going on between two contestants and involved cheating.
They messaged us to say that the slander and threats were not their concern and that they suspected that both of our votes were too high to be genuine and so were changing the competition to be a private judges vote instead of a public one (to be clear, we are talking an average of about 300 votes per day – we are not talking about millions of votes here!).
We were once again horrified, disgusted and quite honestly gutted. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. The certainty we had done nothing wrong, that we had been victim to threats and unfounded accusations and responded only with kindness and by reporting it to the people in charge. I felt like an innocent child accused of wrong doing only to be told by the teacher or parent that you turned to for reassurance or help that you are just as bad and that they don’t care.
I had a couple of hours of this feeling, this darkness in my core and the unfairness of it all circling round and round in my head. Greg too seemed to be experiencing the same emotions and turmoil as myself. He felt defeated and so distraught.
After the initial shock, however, Greg had a performer’s response. He felt the need to immediately turn on a camera and speak to our audience, our supporters, our friends. We recorded a private message to all of our supporters explaining the situation, thanking them from the bottom of our hearts for all they have done for us and requesting that they take that love, that support and that community momentum we had all built up together and to put it somewhere that actually matters.
We wanted to help the marine charity we have been fundraising for.
The world virus situation and lock down had so far prevented us from being able to raise money for the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit this year and so we had set up an online interactive show intended to celebrate the end of the contest, have some fun and do some good by raising some money for them. Now we saw this as a chance to really spread the word and to use this opportunity to turn something bad into something wonderful.
Our friends’ goodness and love continued to shine, as the community got behind this idea. Within the first twelve hours they had helped us to raise £423 for our charity.
In a time of uncertainty, a time when many people have lost their jobs, so many have died, so many are struggling with money as a result of this terrible virus and yet so many people have taken up our cause to save the sea and help the creatures within.
Fliss the mermaid has been unable to swim this year, unable to perform, to raise awareness and until now had been unable to raise any money to help the cause close to her heart. Today her heart is singing, full of the love and joy that being part of a loving, kind and giving community can instil. That may sound a bit twee to some, but it is the honest truth.
I am so grateful to my husband, our family, friends and supporters and every good person out there who would rather spread joy, happiness and love than spread nastiness and cruelty. Despite the damage that humans inflict on each other and the world around us, I find myself surrounded by the caring, loving and considerate sort and it gives me such hope.
From the ashes good things really can and do grow. By the time we are releasing this blog post, our incredible supporters have now raised £700 for the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit – a situation which leaves us all in the mood for a happy dance… but we’ll leave that to Baby Bonnie, ANY, and the Lavender Dodos…
Thank you all, for everything you have done for us and the charity!
Stay safe, stay glorious and be splendid to each other.
P.S. If you would like to help the charity, you can find our fundraiser HERE.
P.P.S. In the end they changed the rules of the competition so my entry was no longer in contention (they made it about makeup and props when we had chosen a more ‘natural’ look to stand out in the original competition). This means I didn’t get the main prize of having myself drawn as a vampire by an artist.
P.P.S. Luckily, one of our incredible supporters even took care of this!