Way back in the year 2006, when I was a budding young Nickelodeon presenter, we came up with a game for our live summer show based on the Spanish Tomatina Fiesta. I’d dress up as a Spaniard and make bad puns about Spain whilst shouting ole a lot as 4 kids threw the contents of large tins of budget tomatoes at each other. It never even crossed my mind that one day I might be doing it for real.
Since the first brainstorms for this series the Tomatina Fiesta was an event that kept cropping up as being precisely what ‘All Over The Place’ is about. It’s one of the greatest examples of just how ridiculous human beings can be when they’re trying to keep themselves entertained.
Over 40 years ago at the town of Bunol’s annual festival some local grievances resulted in an impromptu food fight with some nearby fruit and veg. This was restaged the following year, and as the years went by tomatoes became the favourite weapon of choice. Fast forward to the last 10 years or so and it has become a world famous event with 20,000 people snapping up tickets for the chance to get covered from head to foot in slightly over ripe plum tomatoes.
We arrived in the town just before 6.30am to see people already queuing in the dark for their wrist bands to gain entrance to the fenced off streets. Knowing that we only had a few hours until the madness was unleashed we rattled off our introduction and a few interviews before being led up the hill by one of the heads of the surprisingly slick operation that the fiesta has turned into. Pushing our way through the crowd you could tell what an international event this has now become, with people form Malaysia, Australia – you name the country, they were there (well, maybe not Chad).
Once we’d passed through the entire town we found ourselves in a lorry park with a crowd of excitable tomato lovers who had paid up to 800 Euros each for the privilege of sitting in one of the 5 large opened topped dumper trucks piled high with loose tomatoes. Iain and I changed into white boiler suits (the object of today being to see who could remain the cleanest), clambered up to the front of truck No.5’s trailer and hooked ourselves on with a harness to some ropes that had been stung across. It was a strange sensation walking across such a large quantity of food (although these tomatoes are grown specially for the fiesta and are not much good for eating), and even stranger to nestle you bum into them and wait for the start. Our truck eventually became as packed with people and the odd tomato began to fly around (our cameraman Geraint, strapped in next to us, was a particularly popular target) before we convoyed our way down the curving hillside road.
Iain and I had been anxious about being on the receiving end of these tomatoes (even though people are asked to squeeze them before throwing them) as a few of our interviews had suggested that we might get quite a pummelling. But we very quickly realised that being in the truck was a powerful position, and in no time at all we were abusing that position quite spectacularly. I wasted no time joining in with the Spaniards beside me in hurling tomatoes at passers by, cars, through open windows, anywhere that represented a target. And this was before we’d even got to the officially cordoned off streets.
Once we arrived the scene was like some sort of alien planet. Our truck slowly trundled its way past crowds of excited tomato drenched people as tomatoes rained all around and residents attacked us from the roofs of the narrow streets with power hoses. It took over an hour to work our way down the street, much of which had been covered in tarpaulin in a vain attempt to protect the shop fronts. Everyone in our truck was single minded in their attempts to distribute the contents onto the festival goers, who all try and get as close as they can to the trucks, but cower from them to protect their faces. You could be mistaken into feeling quite evil as you slop mashed up plum tomatoes down people’s backs or hurl them onto the balconies of cheering town dwellers, but I tried to tell myself that my behaviour was perfectly acceptable as some of these people had literally crossed the world to be here.
Towards the end I could barely stand I was so exhausted. Trying to remain upright in what is basically a swimming pool of tomatoes while chucking them left right and centre is pretty draining, especially as you’re always on the lookout for a rogue tomato that might smack you in the mouth or eyes. By the end there wasn’t a millimetre on either Iain or me that wasn’t well and truly tomatoed. My pants were drenched in tomato juice, my ears were full of tomato pulp and I’m not entirely sure how our fiesta official decreed Iain the less messy. Maybe there was a dry spot between his toes.
As we stood in front of one of the very friendly residents kindly hosing us down in front of his garage I couldn’t believe what we’d been through. It has to be the most extreme experience of my life. Might steer clear of pasta sauce for a while though.