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How health and safety sank lights launch by SpongeBob

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

SpongeBob Squarepants was unable to take to the stage for Wolverhampton's Christmas lights switch-on ceremony because his large costume meant he could not climb a set of steps, it emerged today.

And health and safety fears meant he could not be lifted into position on the back of a vehicle because of the huge crowds that turned out to see him.

Thousands of young fans were left disappointed and unable to see the cartoon character over the huge crowd at last week's event because the children's favourite remained on ground level.

But it can be revealed today that his huge yellow costume restricted his movement and meant he was unable to be elevated above the throng.

The character was able to meet and greet fans in both Beatties and Market Square, but could only spend two 40 minute sessions with fans due to health and safety rules.

It cost £1,845 to hire the children's favourite for the grand event, where he appeared alongside Coronation Street actress and Wolverhampton panto star Sherrie Hewson.

It is also the second time a costumed children's star has proved a let down at the city's Christmas lights extravaganza, with Peppa Pig having to restrict meetings with youngsters over fears she would overheat in her suit.

Around 2,000 turned out to last week's event in Market Square, which council chiefs today declared a success.

Mark Blackstock, Wolverhampton City Council's outdoor events manager, said: "The Christmas lights switch-on was a great success with huge crowds turning up to Market Square to enjoy the free event.

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"Unfortunately, the character actor playing SpongeBob Squarepants was unable to climb the stairs on to the stage because of his costume.

"Health and safety considerations meant we were unable to lift him on to the stage using the tailgate of one of our vehicles because of the high numbers of people around the stage.

"This meant that SpongeBob Squarepants was unable to appear on stage during the event. But he did spend an hour and 20 minutes meeting fans both in Market Square and Beatties House of Fraser.

"As the actor could only be permitted to stay in his suit for 40 minutes at a time, again for health and safety reasons, we arranged the two 40-minute meet and greet sessions to enable the public to see him close up.

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"During this time, he met as many young fans as possible at both locations, though we of course apologise to anyone who couldn't see him on stage and was unable to meet him in person."

Just two years ago, Peppa Pig caused a similar stir when she appeared at the city's Beatties store to meet and greet families after helping light up the festive decorations.

Many youngsters were however unable to get close to meeting Peppa after the woman in the novelty suit halted the visit, saying she had gone over her time limit in the costume.

Beatties staff even offered to don the suit themselves after the actor said she had gone overtime, to avoid the scenes of disappointed children and parents, but were told they could not take over.

At the time, Beatties said the spontaneous meet-and-greet had still lasted longer than expected, despite health and safety rules intervening.

Jessica Drew, aged 10 and a pupil of Woodfield Junior School in Penn, went along with her guide group to watch the lights switch on in Wolverhampton last week.

Jessica, of Coton Road, Penn, said: "The fireworks were really good and we enjoyed it but we were disappointed that we didn't see SpongeBob. We just thought that he hadn't turned up because we never saw him once. There was no sign of him on stage at all."

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