Reading about the Wellcome Collection’s stunt to promote research into the science of the freak show, featuring contortionist Delia du Sol, in the Evening Standard yesterday, I was reminded how, in the dark days of the recession before the big one, I met an extraordinary contortionist called Hugo Zamoratte.
Zamoratte was an Argentina exile who was able to stuff himself into bottles; he had discovered a natural talent for dislocating his joints after he accidentally dislocated his arm in the Argentinian National Guard. After 20 years of practicing his art in South America, training in yoga and gymnastics all the while, he illegally crawled into the US from Mexico through a tiny sewer outlet.
On his arrival in America, Zamoratte’s extraordinary skill was quickly exploited and showcased by the Ringling Brothers. He became a national sensation in the USA. My client at the time, Gerry Cottle’s Circus, were impressed by his ability to stuff himself inside bottles that held as little as ten litres and booked him for their annual season at Wembley Arena. I was handed the task of generating media interest.
I spent weeks researching the great contortionists and, in the course of my research, I discovered the Art of Enterology. Escapology we all knew about – Houdini escaped from things whilst the great Enterologist squeezed into tiny spaces. The art had died out thanks to the more immediate thrill that escapology presented – both took weeks of preparation, but the escape happened in minutes, whereas the enterologists had to take their time getting into the right shape to enter a bottle. Audiences naturally inclined to the flashier, more immediate art.
I stole the idea of this long-lost practice and applied it to Zamoratte, dragging him through all the media hoops available at the time, from Jonathan Ross’ The Last Resort to the Wogan show, presenting him as the missing link in the art of Enterology. Ross still mentions Zamoratte when I see him – his impact was enormous. He garnered a great deal of attention for the Gerry Cottle Circus and went on to become a true international phenomenon.
And then he vanished, like Mickey Rourke’s wrestler. For all I know he is trapped in a bottle somewhere like a genie, wishing he’d spent more time practising escapology. In the meantime, I was fired up with the art of Enterology and, when Britvic asked me to help them launch their new design of bottle a few years later, I returned to the idea, setting up a series of auditions to find a new enterologist who could fit themselves inside an outsized version of the new Britvic bottle.
There was only one person who could do it; Delia du Sol, who is now working with the Wellcome Trust. She was a brilliant eneterologist – the only one who could enter Britvic’s bottle. She had only one flaw – she could never close the little door in the side of the bottle and would have been left exposed, like the overgrown Alice in the White Rabbit’s house, if one of my team hadn’t been on hand to shut the door behind her.
Wellcome’s stunt has no connection with me, I should point out. They have clearly imitated the stunt, recreated it now that some time has passed – very flattering it is too. I’m of the opinion that my book, Improperganda, inspired them to do so. Secondhand copies of the book have been flying off the shelves in the wake of the release of The Fame Formula. Perhaps it’s time for a reprint of Improperganda?
More to the point, I wonder what other stunts of mine that appear in the book will be imitated in the coming months as companies find that they need more interesting ways of communicating their brands and celebrities over the fog of the credit crunch.