Betrayed On Entebbe


Radio WeekI should be in Africa right now.

In May I got an email from a bloke called “James” asking me how much I would charge to speak at “Radio Week” in Uganda. Apparently it’s a three day conference for people working at radio stations in East Africa. It’s taking place right now at the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala.

I almost deleted the email at first because it did have the look and tone of the famous email from the Nigerian Prince, who wants to give all of his money away. I did some research and found out that a British radio consultant I’ve met a few times spoke at the same event last year, so I emailed him and asked him how much I should charge. He said he’d done it for free. That should have been a red flag. I made up a fee that would cover what it would cost me to take a week off work and emailed James back.

James replied with an email that said they were happy with the fee and, “We will wire it to you a month before the conference. We will take care of your flights (I will personally pick you up from the airport), accommodation, plus airport transfers. You can go ahead and confirm the dates”.

So I booked this week off from the Breakfast show at BOBfm and my Sunday morning show at BBC Radio Merseyside.

James said they wanted me to talk about how to get people to call in to radio stations. I presented a talk on that at Next Radio at the Royal Institution in London a couple of years ago.

That talk was only eight and a half minutes long, James said they wanted me to do 45 minutes in Uganda, so I prepared a speech and illustrated it with audio examples. For the past few weeks I’ve been rehearsing it at home every day in front our two cats.

About six weeks ago I had vaccinations for typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, cholera, yellow fever, rabies, meningitis, and influenza. That cost me over £300, then I had to spend another £50 on malaria tablets and insect repellent. I forget what it cost me for a visa but a couple of days after applying for one online, I got an email saying my application had been deferred because they needed to see a copy of a letter inviting me to the conference to speak. That’s when things got interesting.

I emailed James and asked him to reply with an invitation letter attached. A week later I emailed again and he replied saying he’d send it the next day. I heard nothing for another week so I called him and left a message. A couple of days later I rang again and left another message. A week later, I got hold of James on the phone and he assured me I was still booked and he would send the letter asap. I heard nothing for a week so I emailed again asking if the flights from Heathrow to Entebbe had been booked. Another week of unanswered emails and voicemails later I eventually got hold of James on the phone and he assured me I was still booked but a different “James’ was now handling things and I had to email him. I emailed “New James” and heard nothing. By now it was less than a month before the conference and there was no sign of any money being wired to me.

I noticed on the Radio Week website that an American consultant I’d met at a conference in Chicago a couple of years ago was booked to speak, so contacted him through Linkedin. He said he had just got an email from “New James” (who he’d never dealt with before) saying he’d been cancelled because they couldn’t afford him. He’d already booked and paid for his flights. After cancellation fees, vaccinations and his visa he lost over $1000.

I contacted another American speaker who was shown on the website. He’d been told they couldn’t afford him either and asked him if he could do his talk via Skype. This morning he said he hasn’t heard anything from them and I noticed he’s disappeared from the website now so that’s the end of his involvement in Radio Week too.

A couple of days ago I tweeted, “Two days to go till @radioweekug in Africa. I haven’t heard from the organisers for weeks, don’t have a visa or plane tickets. Looks like I took a week off work for nothing. They still have my picture on the website though”.

Bizarrely, not only did @radioweekug “like” that tweet, they re-tweeted it!

Then I got a Twitter message from a bloke from another African country who was booked to speak. He said, “Am in Uganda stay at a horrible hotel”. I messaged him back, told him I wasn’t going to be there and how one speaker lost over $1000 and got this, “Oh my word explains why we are staying in a shity hotel was made to pay 40 dollars”.

Then I got a Twitter message from a radio consultant in Australia. He said he got messed about by Radio Week last year and so did another American radio consultant and neither of them ended up going.

So I it turns out that I was right to be sceptical when I got that first email. It looks like the Nigerian Prince may have a couple of mates in Uganda and they’re both named James.

If you are reading this in a country where you have typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, cholera, yellow fever, rabies, meningitis, and malaria and you’d like me to speak for 45 minutes about how to get people to call into radio stations, let me know. I don’t want to waste these vaccinations, would love to flaunt my immunity, offset the £350 I’m out and get a better response than I’m getting from these cats!


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