There are lots of children events at the Henley Literary Festival this year including ‘Don’t You Dare’ by Sharky & George. Fiona Bradley-Watson met up with the authors recently and thought that they were the older brothers every child would want…
An invitation to one of Sharky and George’s parties is as in demand as Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. Mock kidnappings, laser guns, car chases, spying, freeing hostages, helicopters, button-hole cameras, and SAS training, are the order of play.
Ahead of their Henley Literary Festival event I headed down to Sharky and George’s headquarters in Battersea to meet the well-spoken, impeccably mannered, 30 year-old party-planners mothers are falling for.
Sharky and George are more than just the cartoon crime busters of the sea. They are Charlie Astor and George Whitefield, two best friends who met at Eton, studied together at Bristol University and then ended up in corporate jobs in London. It wasn’t long before they escaped the rat-race and headed back to the playground. In 2007, a year out of University, the boys quit their roles in marketing and financial head-hunting and began putting on children’s parties full time.
Over a cup of tea in a café near their office, Charlie explains the initial apprehension that his family felt for his career change: ‘My parents weren’t massively impressed when I sat them down and told them that I was giving up my nice safe job to be a clown for the rest of my life. They were like, really?! Are you sure? But we showed them our business plan and talked them round.’
George’s parents were more forthcoming. His father is an entrepreneur himself as a chocolatier.
Six years down the line, their business plan has come good. Charlie and George throw an average of 60 parties a week, employ six full-time staff, and have 80 part-time staff. They’ve flown to Gstaad, Monaco, Sardinia, Corsica, Venice, Florence and the South of France to put on parties. And they’ve entertained the children of Paul McCartney, Ewan McGregor, and Bear Grylls.
When money is no obstacle, Charlie and George pull out all the stops and throw what they call a ‘mega party’, which is a fully tailored bespoke event. The birthday girl at a recent event was taken by Cadillac to a recording studio where she took part in her own X-Factor style competition. The whole event was filmed and the boys hired professional dancers to teach the guests new moves. Another group were picked up from school by helicopter, landed on Battersea heliport and sent on a mock mission through London with actors and actresses.
But it’s not just about the party lifestyle for Charlie and George. Beneath the fun and games, they hope to bring about real social change.
Charlie explains: ‘Where Jamie Oliver did the school dinners and encouraged children to eat well, we would love the opportunity to get people active and outdoors.’
‘The next stage is to create a bit of a movement,’ adds George, ‘to really encourage families to do more together and get outside, rather than relying on TV and computers… It doesn’t cost anything to go out to the park and play stuck in the mud.’
Charlie, who studied Politics and French at University, brings the focus to the big picture: ‘Childhood obesity is at the top of the Government’s agenda and we are ideally placed to help out on that.’
They already do a lot of work with schools as part of The Exploration Society, which is the outdoor education side of Sharky and George, and they hope to expand on this. Working with private schools in London, they take students out on adventures to the Norfolk broads, Osea Island, canoeing in Sweden and to Kenya. Charlie and George are hoping for Government funding and subsidies from the private schools they work with to allow them to offer state school pupils a similar experience.
Charlie explains: ‘we would like to take children out from the poorer areas of London who might not ever have seen the seaside, who might not ever have camped out in the woods, and give them that experience.’
This summer Charlie and George published their first book ‘Don’t You Dare’ which is full of creative games and pranks to pull on parents. They have been approached by a high profile production company to front their own TV show. ‘It’s going to be a prank workshop,’ Charlie promises me. ‘There will be lots of games and lots of water balloons. We’re going to turn the literary lectures on their head’.
Sharky and George will be at Henley Festival to discuss their book ‘Don’t You Dare’ on Sunday 6 October at 11:30am.
Would you like to win a family ticket for four for Clara Vulliamy ‘Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane‘ at the River & Rowing Museum on Saturday 5 October at 10.ooam? To be entered in to the prize draw all you need to do is agree to write a short review and send your name, address and contact tel. number to firstname.lastname@example.org
For more details and tickets visit http://henleyliteraryfestival.co.uk/childrens-events/or call 0118 9724700.