We were lied to. Heineken lied to us. Over and over again. And we loved it.
It all started when we were sent this itinerary for a press trip to Barcelona to watch Barcelona v Bayern Muinch in the Champions League semi final second leg:
04.00: Pick Up
06.25: Gate Closes
06.55: Flight departs
11.30: Hotel Check in
12.00: Lunch in the hotel restaurant
14.00: Meet in the lobby for coach pick up
14.30: Guided tour of Barcelona
16.00: Beer tasting session!
17.00: Visit three of Heineken’s key concept bars in Barcelona & entertainment
19.30: Arrive at stadium
20.45: Kick off!
23.00: Dinner/Drinks – Optional
So far, so ordinary. But 20 minutes into the guided tour of Barcelona and our Heineken emblazoned coach began to splutter, and stall. Pulling over, smoke bellowed from the undercarriage. Everybody off.
We began to smell a rat when our unfathomably stunning "tour guide" sprung into character, panicking that we were going to be late for the big game and frantically making phone calls for a replacement bus.
It never came.
Fortunately she managed to flag down a coach. It wasn't the luxury travel we had become used to. Designed and built, it appeared, in the former Soviet Bloc, it was donned with circus paraphernalia and was packed to the rafters with clowns and contortionists, a ring master and an entire mariachi band.
The trip was about to get surreal.
(The ringmaster speaks to our tour guide.)
Boarding the bus we were instantly resigned to the old adage that if you can't beat them, you had to join them. With the ringmaster roaring insanities about having lost his midget (the poor little fellow was apparently on the roof of the coach but he had lost him some three miles back) the band kicked into life with some Bob Marley. We joined in. This was no time for shrinking violets. Besides, cold Heneikens were being handed out.
Some 30 minutes of insanity ensued. Literally, it was beyond description. Although we should try: Burlesque harlots paraded the bus while a mute clown plodded about playing silly buggers. A driver wearing full biggles pilot outfit, who spoke not a jot of English whizzed us through the Barca streets as locals tooted and whooped. A guy from Maxim USA turned to us and said: "I only had two hours sleep on the flight over here. I can't begin to tell you how hard I'm finding this."
(ShortList.com's Tom Cullen - far right - sat next to the poor guy from Maxim)
We felt for him but we were having too much fun to help, too much fun that is until "the police" pulled us over.
The ringmaster sprung into action, handing out licenses to all the members of the press on board. A license to sell alchohol here, a license to perform weddings over there, one guy from GQ was even handed a license to kill. The thinking was, and at the time it sort of made sense, that the police needed to see documentation to allow us to continue travelling on the bus with these fools. To get to the game we needed to show them some sort of ID. "Anything will do" claimed the ringmaster, "just wave it under their noses, they never look."
(Pulled over by The Feds)
Needless to say, it didn't work. The genuine performers showed their "genuine" performer licenses and were allowed to go free, but us members of the press were detained, and bundled into people carriers.
The FC Barcelona-obsessed cops were wonderful. Actors, obviously, but wonderful fun. "What's your name?" He ordered, and we told him. "Messi" he said scribbling down the name of his favourite Barca player. "And your name?" he demanded of the poor guy from Maxim, who told him. "Messi" he repeated back, completely ignoring what any of us were called.
Eventually, through questioning, we told the cops that we were there to watch the big match, that evening. Taking sympathy they said they'd let us go if we could beat them in a penalty shootout. Guess what? We did.
And here's where (as if it hadn't already) it gets very weird.
Wandering across a beach in the direction of the nearest bar for a well earned lager (probably Heineken) we were confronted by a full scale wedding ceremony, with over 100 guests. Patrolling the area was a Russian oligarch at his wit's end because the wedding party was stuck in some airport in Moscow. He was the father of the bride and they were short of a best man, a bridesmaid, some ushers and worst of all, no priest to marry the happy couple, who were in tears. Wait! No priest, you say?!? This guy here has a license to marry! We can all step in and save the day!
And so it was that in the presence of over 100 extras - we mean guests, 100 guests - and over 200 locals watching on, we journalists stepped in to play the roles of every major part in the wedding. It was utterly bizarre. Almost Truman Show-esque.
(Genuinely, the host of 'Romania's Got Talen't stepped in to marry the couple. Like we've said - weird.)
From here, things went from odd to outstanding. Overjoyed and unquestionnably grateful that we stepped in to save the day, the oligarch began to flash his faux-cash, insisting that he wouldn't let us be late for the match - which to be honest we'd all forgotten about. We boarded his luxury speedboat and were whisked to a local helipad where his chopper awaited. Within an hour of playing the part of the best man at a staged wedding we were flying over the Nou Camp, baffled, bemused but loving it.
(The speedboat - ShortList.com's Tom Cullen, bottom right)
And sure enough the helicopter landed us next door to FC Barcelona, just in time for kick off.
Once the match was finished we went to bar for a bite to eat. One-by-one, everyone who had played a part in the day arrived, out of character, to introduce themselves. You know like in The Game, starring Michael Douglas? The final scene? That.
Bravo Heineken. Bafflingly brilliant.
As it turns out the entire trip was inspired by an ad you may have seen: www.youtube.com/heineken