With the advances in home entertainment in recent years, it is easy to draw the conclusion that kids today can only be tempted from their sofas by costly high tech attractions. The Future of Free Time, a report by the Future Foundation and lastminutetravel.com looked at leisure time in the UK and highlights the risk that the “I Generation”, children born after 1995 who have never experienced life without the internet, might “find out-of-home activity too ‘action-poor’”, and speculates that “as in-home entertainment becomes even more engaging, a group of young people will emerge who do not go out any more.”
As theme parks strive to push technological boundaries to deliver ever more thrilling high octane rides or venture into a fifth dimension to astound their visitors, it is easy to forget that the essence of great entertainment lies in the quality of the experience. Even in today’s digitally enhanced world there is still a place for talented, charismatic performers who can offer an audience a truly captivating show.
Sam Heath, professionally known as Samsam Bubbleman, is the UK’s foremost bubble expert, and currently holds 6 Guinness World Records for bubble feats including the world’s largest free floating bubble (500 cu ft pictured right), the most bubbles in a bubble (66 pictured below) and the most people in a bubble (50 pictured below). With his team of “bubbleologists” Sam provides performances to amaze a wide range of audiences at venues from festivals to science shows, amusement parks and corporate promotions to art installations.
The history of our fascination with bubbles goes hand in hand with the use of soap, the earliest bubbles being attributed to the Etruscans in northern Italy about 2500 yrs ago. Children have been playing happily with soapy water ever since. Chicago based ChemToy began selling bottled bubble solutions in the 1940s and bubbles quickly became big business. With an estimated 200 million bottles sold a year, bubbles remain our most enduringly popular toy.
Having attended a particularly damp outdoor music festival last year with three children who were steadfastly uninterested in listening to any music and had no common interest other than seemingly to want to do three different activities at different corners of the venue at any one time, I can vouch for Sam as a modern day Pied Piper and bubbles as the holy grail of children’s entertainment. Dressed in a black top hat and tails Sam’s entranced us with unbelievably enormous bubbles, often filled with children. After the show we rushed, still possessed, to Bubble Inc’s Victorian side show style tent to buy bubble making equipment and giant bubble solution. This proved to be the wisest purchase of the summer as my kids, then 4, 9 and 11, as well as it seemed every other “child”, including teenagers, spent every waking hour of the rest of the weekend either blowing bubbles or popping them. Children whooped, the bands played, parents relaxed, hundred of bubbles shimmered in the watery English sun and there was not a Nintendo in sight.
Blooloop caught up with Sam between engagements and world records to try to find out the secret of huge bubbles…
How did your interest in bubbles begin?
It started in 1989 when I was 17. I had a bubble epiphany whilst sitting in a field watching a bubble float by. I looked at it with fresh eyes: a beautiful ball of colour and light, magical. From then on I began to collect solutions and toys and when I was at College I began making giant bubbles.
When did you start making bubbles professionally and how has Bubble Inc developed?
It was a hobby until 2000 when I formed Bubble Inc.. I had a stall on Portobello Rd [London] selling solution and toys which went well. Because I became so knowledgeable about the solutions and blowing bubbles I was asked to perform.
My first performance was at Chessington World of Adventures [Merlin Entertainments Group]. I was asked to try a world record attempt to promote the Bubbleworks ride. I gave it a punt and did it [19 people in a single bubble, March 2006] and continued rolling on from there. The bubbles are getting bigger and I now have 6 Guinness world records and 3 Blue Peter* badges! I’ve performed for the Royal family of Dubai, the remaining Beatles, science shows, adverts, promotions – I’ve got the cleanest hands in the business.
Bubble Inc has grown too. We have a team of bubbleologists and we do 5 minutes cabaret, walkabouts, kids’ parties, festivals, football stadiums. We adapt the show to the surroundings and audience. We’ve been to Thorpe Park and Alton Towers; generally outdoor venues suit a walkaround. We can make square bubbles and I recently made frozen bubbles.
I would really love to work on the Olympics and have a vision of me and a team of Bubbleologists filling up the stadium with a billion bubbles of every shape and size during the opening ceremony.
What’s the appeal of bubbles?
Mark Twain said, “I wonder how much it would take to buy a soap bubble if there were only one in the world”.
I find there is a mass universal appeal. There’s a bit of a stumble for teenagers when they’re trying to be grown up but once past that age it’s a rediscovery of the great beauty, magic, colours and art in bubbles. Bubbles seem to have the ability to open a door into our childhood.
Some places like traffic jams need bubbles. We once made bubbles on the M1 [one of the UK’s busiest 3 lane motorways] in a traffic jam. I had a “bubblemobile”, a van with waterproof speakers so that we could play music and also make bubbles. People got out of their cars and started popping the bubbles. It was the happiest moment on the M1 ever.
Tell us the secret of making giant bubbles
The act of making a bubble is wonderful. I would encourage everyone to make a bubble. For giant bubbles the key is in the solution. Big bubbles need giant bubble mix. I’ve spent 21 years perfecting and experimenting. The recipe is secret. You can easily make bubble making equipment for example from coat hangers, but you need the right mix for a giant bubble.
I was recently in Abu Dhabi for the Grand Prix. You need different solution and tools for different conditions. You’ve got to get the right mix for dry or windy conditions. I experiment in my garage.
So is your garage like the bubble equivalent of Willie Wonka’s factory?
Yes, Chris Evans [DJ and UK TV personality] said I was the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of bubbles. I do have a warehouse as well. We sell bubbles for cats containing catnip, bubbles for dogs, ultra violet bubbles, fire bubbles, edible bubbles, everlasting bubbles, coloured bubbles and of course the regular bubble solutions and Supapop, for huge bubbles.
Is there a lot of competition amongst bubbleologists to break records?
There is a small network of us and we’re quite friendly. When I see someone doing something else then I think it’s great. The more people making bubbles the better.
Do you do educational shows? There is a lot of science in bubbles, does that interest you?
I like doing science shows for kids. I love the Q&A. It was at the Science Museum that I broke the world record by putting 50 people in a bubble at the opening of the interactive Launchpad gallery in 2007 (see picture above).
The surface tension properties of bubbles are well known; bubbles are just water really, the soap adjusts the surface tension to allow the drop of water to inflate. A more recent discovery is sonoluminescence which is what causes ships’ propellers to deteriorate. The churning of the water forms tiny bubbles which when they pop create incredible temperatures as hot as the surface of the sun for just a fraction of a second (see false color image of gas bubbles excited by ultrasound waves that emit flashes of light due to extreme temperatures inside the bubble – Photo credit: K. S. Suslick and K. J. Kolbeck, University of Illinois). Just think if we could harness that energy we would have bubble power, bubble cars…
You’ve done some amazing shows, what are your recent favourites?
I was recently flown to Hong Kong by Sony for a camera launch. People were able to experiment with the cameras taking pictures of the bubbles and the colours in them.
That kind of thing is fantastic but on a personal level I love it when adults get into bubbles. With kids it’s a given that they will enjoy it but there is something extra special about watching an adult find what a wonder and a joy bubbles can be.
My motto is that I find my inner bubble and help others find theirs. Happy Bubbling!
*Long running UK children’s TV programme