We spoke to the viral Oompa Loompa girl about the Glasgow Willy Wonka experience

By Jack Ramage

Published Mar 11, 2024 at 11:27 AM

Reading time: 7 minutes

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Kirsty Paterson has involuntarily found herself at the centre of internet culture over the past two weeks. If you’ve logged on to any social media app, you’ve likely seen the now-viral photo of Paterson dressed as what can only be described as a Poundland Oompa Loompa—wearing an Amazon green wig and bright orange face paint to match—seated behind a concoction of chemistry kits reminiscent of a meth lab.

Although other photographs (albeit less viral) have emerged since Glasgow’s bogus, AI-generated Willy Wonka disastrous scam, this particular one has stuck with us, and the internet. Judging from Paterson’s expression, it somewhat perfectly encapsulates the whole scenario: the sinking feeling of being sold an acting gig at a high-budget pantomime production, only to find oneself salvaging to make the best of a worst-case scenario in a bare, industrial factory somewhere in the arse-end of Glasgow.

@screenshothq

The "Willy Wonka Experience" in Glasgow has been an absolute disaster and videos from the event are going viral on social media, with people pointing out the random characters jumping out of nowhere that aren't even in the film 😭 The event was advertised as a "journey filled with wondrous creations and enchanting surprises at every turn". But one visitor told BBC Scotland News that it was little more than "an abandoned, empty warehouse" 🍭🍫 Police were called to an event described as a "Willy Wonka Experience" in Glasgow as angry families demanded refunds. #willywonka #wonka #willywonkaexperience #timotheechalamet #viral #fail #scotland #glasgow

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I reach Paterson through a spotty WhatsApp call from her mother’s house. The actress explains that she’s just emerged from what she described as a “heavy week,” and, assumingly, that’s an understatement. After being thrust into the limelight, through no fault of her own, Paterson is now trying to turn this around—taking to TikTok to share her story and engage with her fans, and she’s doing a good job at it. In addition to acting, Paterson is a performer, a fire dancer, and a yoga instructor, having recently quit her 9 to 5 to pursue her passions.

I entered our conversation with a desire to unravel the mystery surrounding the Scottish Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory Experience (spoiler alert: there wasn’t a hint of chocolate in sight, not even a bar). But I left with much more than that: a nuanced understanding of the mental toll unwarranted internet fame can have, and, above all, a greater respect for someone who, in the face of an online tornado, has taken the situation into her own hands and is making the very best out of this not-so-sweet chapter. Collect some reading sweeties and settle in for our full interview below:

Hey Kirsty, thanks for chatting with us! First things first, how does it feel to be a meme?

Initially, when it first came out, I didn’t take it well, to be honest. I really didn’t. It was too much. I don’t even use social media, so I found out through my friends—they were genuinely concerned for me and my mental health.

I just turned my phone off for two days. That’s why it took me so long to say something about it or talk about it—it was so detrimental to my mental health at first. I think it’s also a blessing that I wasn’t on social media because the comments I did see initially were horrible and would deteriorate anyone, to be honest.

Now that I’ve come out of this a week later, I’ve decided that I want to put myself out there in a positive way. And I can use it as a way to grow as a person. To be honest with you, I have had a lot of support from a lot of people.

That’s what’s driven me to come out and show people that I am good at what I do; I am actually talented. It’s just been a heavy week, and I’m coming out of the other end of it now.

Do you think the internet had any misconceptions about you when that photo was shared?

Well, first, I don’t look like that picture. But I’d say I’m going through a change in my life where I have to do a lot of rubbish jobs. I’m self-employed and trying to focus on my passion as a yoga teacher, as well as a fire dancer. I’ve always done kids’ entertainment on the side, but I was taking on other jobs to build on myself. I think everyone can empathise; we’ve all done a rubbish job that we hate, just because you have to do it. I think the photograph represents a lot about that situation.

How did you find out about the Oompa Loompa gig? And have you been paid?

I saw it online, I applied for it and got it. Simple as that.

As for pay, I haven’t been paid the full amount. I was paid £200, but I haven’t been paid the other £300. It’s been hard when this came out and we haven’t been paid. It makes you feel like you’re being exploited—on the biggest social media level I’ve ever seen, to be honest with you. So it’s been a lot.

And was there any chocolate at all at the chocolate factory?

No, there wasn’t a single bit of chocolate. But bear in mind we did not know this on the Friday [before the event]. We thought it was going to be set up, that we’d walk into something amazing.

There wasn’t even any chocolate; I think the most chocolate-resembling thing in the whole building was the chocolate cardboard river. It was quite shocking.

What were your feelings running up to the event? Did you suspect it would go this badly?

My gut’s always right in these situations. On the Friday night before the event, they gave us the script—that never happens. We were told we were supposed to be performing this huge pantomime experience—that takes weeks of work, training and practice. That’s not something you can do overnight. That’s when my gut told me something was wrong.

The script was obviously AI-generated, too. It just didn’t look right. That night, I remember when I was talking to one of the other actors and expressed that I wasn’t feeling right about it.

Considering the amount of money they charged for tickets, I thought they’d be dressing us up all wacky. That wasn’t the case at all; they just handed us these cheap outfits—but at that point, the kids were walking in, and we hadn’t even run anything through. I know people say, ‘Oh why didn’t you just walk away?’, but it’s not that easy when kids are coming in and they’re all dressing up. I know I’m good at my job and I’m good at what I do, and I didn’t want to let the other actors down, so I just tried to make the best out of a worse situation—but it was really hard.

And how did it feel to actually be there? What was running through your mind?

At the time, a lot of kids were crying because it was so bad. Kids were also confused because it was nothing at all like Willy Wonka, nothing at all.

At that point, I was just overthinking my life. I made a big change; I had a secure job beforehand, and I made a big risk changing jobs to do the other stuff I love. It was challenging; at that point, I was asking myself what I’d done and whether it was worth it. The kids and the parents were supportive towards me; I think they understood that this wasn’t my fault. I was just overthinking life and what I was doing, and that’s exactly when the photograph was taken!

I’m glad the other photographs were shared of me looking happy and actually interacting with the kids; I was trying my best—I wasn’t just standing there like that!

In the viral photograph, it appears as if you’re standing behind a meth lab. What exactly is that?

Oh gosh, I failed chemistry at school so bear with me, I was much more into theatre. I’d say it was chemistry equipment they bought off Amazon and just put it on the table. To be fair, compared to everything else, it didn’t look that bad!

Yeah, it was just test tubes, with some jelly beans, it was uncreative, to be honest, if I’d known about it I would’ve made it amazing. The set had nothing to do with me though, I’m just an actor that had been hired. If I had the chance to do something like that, I would’ve done it completely differently.

@screenshothq

Kirsty Paterson is the viral Oompa Loompa turned meme from the Glasgow Wonka experience 🤡 @KirstyPaterson1994 spoke to SCREENSHOT about what it was like being an actor working the day 😩 #glasgowwonka #willywonkaexperience #oompaloompa #viral

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Can you tell me more about the one jelly bean per child rule?

The funny thing about this. The room I was in was called the jelly bean room, so you’d think that in the jelly bean room, you’d have an infinite supply of jelly beans—or at least more jelly beans than what’s needed.

At first, I knew there wasn’t much, so I started giving three out to each kid. We ran out, and I thought they had more in the back. I went to get more jelly beans, and they told me there weren’t many left, and that I should ration them.

This was an hour in, I was then told to ration them out; one jelly bean per kid. How was I supposed to ration out one jelly bean per kid? It was just frustrating and impossible.

People say ‘Just walk off’, but it’s not the same when you’re there. You feel a lot of pressure from the kids and families—I’m someone who doesn’t like to let people down either. It was one of those situations where you just had to carry on and push through it.

If you could say anything to the kids and families that came to the event, what would it be?

I hope we all get our money back from all this. Refunds have not been issued, it’s not small amounts of money. I know myself, going self-employed during a cost of living crisis, it’s a big risk. I know the money that they were spending is a lot for everyone.

It was over £100 for families. I just hope everyone gets a refund or finds a way of getting their money back. It’s shocking what’s happened. It really is.

Any advice on going through a similar situation to what you’ve been through?

I’ve ridden through the storm in quite a full-on way. I have been able to turn this around because of the nature of the meme, I think if things were different and there wasn’t a positive light to it, it could’ve gone a lot worse.

If there was any advice I’d give someone, I’d say don’t feel afraid to seek help if you feel a certain way. Make sure you’re aware of your own boundaries. Nothing is more important than your mental health—take a step back. That’s what I did initially. Your true friends and family will be there for you and help you through it.

So, what’s next for you?

I still love kids entertaining, and I still love working with kids. So, I’d love to do more jobs like that. I’d like to work with charities, too. It’s all been a bit fast for me, but I am planning on doing something positive and meaningful from this, and also creating awareness for certain causes off the back of this as well. It’s been crazy, but it is something I want to grow from in a positive and meaningful way. If I can do that, then, amazing—from this disaster!

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I’d say, I’ve said everything I have about the event. I maybe haven’t gone into the details of the effect this situation had on me, but I don’t feel ready to talk about that yet. I’m just trying to ride the storm and make a positive out of this.

The thing that’s been difficult for me is that I’m someone who’s just had their first Instagram account—being on TikTok, Twitter, and all that, it’s all a bit much, I don’t know how to use it all. So it’s taken me time to set up platforms, and I’m not used to all this. It’s going to take me some time to get into the swing of things, but I plan to make a positive impact. That’s my goal.

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