Last Thursday morning I started braaing in order to break a Guinness World Record for the longest (in time) braai ever held. By midday on Thursday, the interest and support on the social media networks Twitter and Facebook was immense. By the evening it was all over radio stations, by Friday morning it was in every newspaper, and by the time I broke the record on Friday afternoon, the positive support from public and media around the country was so far reaching and overwhelming that it left me speechless. Being speechless when taking the microphone moments after breaking the record meant that I kept it very short. My message was this, and still is: “Thank you for the enormous support over the two days that I was braaing. It feels great that this record now belongs to South Africa. But the important thing is not to hold a record. The important thing is that 50 million people braai on 24 September”.
It all started as few months ago when I appointed Kastner & Partners, an advertising agency in Cape Town to project manage and help me break this record as a PR stunt to raise awareness ahead of Braai4Heritage on 24 September. At the time I don’t think anyone realised exactly how much work this would entail. After talking about it for a while, we registered the effort with Guinness in June. The next thing we did was to purchase 2000 pieces of wood, so that it could age a little before the braai, as braaing with wet wood is no fun. We used Rooikrantz wood. This video explains why.
As the point of the whole exercise was to raise awareness for Braai4Heritage on 24 September, we considered two possible dates: 24 August, which is one month before the time, and 17 September, which is one week before the time and ended up going for the latter. When I say we, I am basically talking about Alan Sherratt and Chad Huskisson (both from Kastner) and myself. The V&A Waterfront amphitheatre and Nelson Mandela Square was considered as possible venues, but as we were all from Cape Town the decision was taken to host it as the Waterfront purely for convenience.
Sourcing sponsors was fairly easy, as the total cost of this party was relatively low. The only sponsor that declined to participate was a famous brand of bread. They did not share my vision of having braaibroodjies as one of the items on the grid. According to Guinness we needed five different items on the grid at all times, and I wanted items on the grid reflective of a typical braai. Freddy Hirsch provided some of their Kameelhout boerewors, Karan Beef the steaks, BRM the ribs and Fry’s the vegetarian patties. There were also chicken wings and lamb chops. Although I braaied with wood for the duration of the record, CADAC gave us a few gas braais for backup. The two drinks most naturally associated with a South African braai, Klipdrift and Castle also joined in. One month before the record Alan, Chad and myself had coffee one morning, and after going over a list of deliverables, agreed that everything was in place. We could literally have gone ahead and broken the record that day.
On the morning of the first of two big days I slightly overslept. Which meant that my Cape Talk radio interview with Aiden Thomas was done from inside the shower. Guinness allows me an official braai assistant to stoke the fire and help me with coal management, but he is not allowed to interfere with the actual braai. My good friend, and professional poker player, Marc Smith, took up this task. Braai4Heritage ambassador Dan Nicholl was the MC who explained to the crowds what was going on, and the Braai4Heritage Facebook page was continuously updated by Amy Bradfield, who is also in charge of the backend of this website. My favourite entry on the Facebook page was when some person asked how many animals were killed during the record attempt and Amy replied: “Don’t know, they were all dead when they got here”. Those of you following me on Twitter will know, I manage that myself. Alan was in charge of the overall coordination. He also studied the fine print of the Guinness rule book in the weeks leading up to, so before I did anything I first checked it with him. Chad, due to his strikingly good looks and natural charm was designated to deal with the Guinness judge and keep her happy.
After a few hours of braaing, my eyes really started to hurt from all the smoke. This situation never really improved, but after switching from eye drops to eye gel, the pain stabilised, and the burn was at a constant but tolerable level for the rest of the braai. Apart from that, I just had to make sure that no-one came between me and the cameras that had to be on me at all times. But even that wasn’t really a big worry, as the brilliant music video director Duvan Durand was in charge of recording the whole effort.
Another rule was that all food had to be eaten. We were slightly worried beforehand about this. But due to all the people that turned out in support, there was simply never enough meat for everyone in the crowd. I think most people got a bite, but my apologies to anyone who was there, and left without meat. The Waterfront management did not allow us to hand out the meat, so we had to sell it at a nominal price. This unfortunately meant that we raised a bit of cash. My thanks to the JAG foundation that kindly agreed to take all of this money as a donation.
To all my Twitter friends and followers who turned up, cheered, stood and sat next to me at times, I really appreciate it. There were a lot of journalists, more than I expected. My plea to them was simple, that when they report on this, they must punt the real message, and that is that all South Africans should braai on 24 September. They did, and I’m glad about that.
Interesting moments was 23:00 the Thursday night when 5fm’s Kim Shultze arrived, straight from the airport. She flew down from Johannesburg, sat around the braai with us through the night and next day, and went back to the airport after the record was broken. At 03:00 the Friday morning, a small crowd arrived mistakenly thinking the record would be broken then. Shortly thereafter, some fairly intoxicated supporters, arriving after a night of clubbing, were playing a game of touchies. They then started doing Mexican waves. During the course of the night word of the braaied food also spread amongst the police of Cape Town, as they turned up in full force during the early hours of Friday.
At some stage on Friday, shortly before the breaking of the record a children’s choir arrived and sang me a song. That was one of two moments that I became slightly emotional. The other whilst explaining to a News24 reporter exactly how important I think having a common national day celebration is to nation building in South Africa. According to rumours the choir in question was the Tygerberg children’s choir, who just returned from some international competition where they won two gold medals. If anyone has any info about those kids, please let me know.
When all was said and done, I took a taxi home, not trusting myself to drive after not sleeping the previous night. A bizarre day was made more so, when the taxi driver recognised me and knew about the braai. When I asked him how he knew who I was, he cheerfully replied that he was one of the guys sitting in the stands during the night eating all the meat that I was braaing.
I never really doubted that the record would be broken, as I think that this record has been broken countless numbers of times by various South African males around the country. This was just about following all the Guinness rules and making it official. Thanks for all the messages. I personally read every tweet, email and Facebook message. I really appreciate them. But I want and urge all of you to now turn your focus on planning braais for this coming Friday.