Liam Wilson is often described as the finest advertising creative in London named Liam Wilson. He is a Creative Director at Snap London and will exploit personal experiences in order to meet an article deadline which he may or may not have completely forgotten about.
I dragged a dead man out of the Atlantic Ocean.
Must admit, that’s not my usual reply when someone asks me how a shoot went.
But it was my response last November after I’d returned from filming in Barbados.
I had been lucky enough to write an ad that would involve me being in the Caribbean and,
even luckier, it had been signed off. That is the jackpot as an advertising creative.
I decided to make the most of it by flying out a few days early so that I could have the weekend, basking in the Bajan sun.
I arrived at my hotel in the evening, made the most of the complimentary rum punch, and headed off to bed.
The next morning, I got up extremely early courtesy of jetlag and headed to the beach with a book. I was the first one there other than a local guy asking if I wanted coconut or cocaine. A bold breakfast menu, sir.
After a few hours, the sun was becoming too intense for my Celtic skin despite self-applying factor 50 via paint roller.
I was also desperate for a wee.
So I decided on a dip to add to the Ocean’s acidification woes.
Being the considerate chap I am, I waited until there were only a few people in the water.
Three people in fact.
Two women who were nattering ankle deep, and a bloke who was swimming further out.
I was bobbing along like a bloated pufferfish, having a pee, when suddenly a massive wave wiped me out.
It sent me somersaulting and I got caught up in a riptide.
After a few terrifying seconds under water, I popped up to the surface completely discombobulated.
My first thought was “I’ve pushed my luck there. Better go back to my book”.
My second thought was “If that sent me flying, surely the other three took a hit too”.
I looked around.
The two women were still chatting in the shallows, oblivious to my underwater gymnastics.
So where did that leave the other guy?
I looked around and couldn’t see him.
He must be fine.
But my gut told me there was no way he could have swum back that quickly from how far out he had been.
I decided to swim a bit closer to where I’d last seen him because something felt slightly off.
It’s a very British thing to not want to make any fuss or a bit of a scene. Even in an emergency. Besides, the two women didn’t seem bothered and neither did anyone on the beach. Yet.
Then I spotted him with his back to the sun.
Maybe he’s snorkelling?
Trouble is, only a couple of minutes ago I’d had a brief look under Poseidon’s duvet and there weren’t many fish to see. The current was so strong you couldn’t really see anything at all. It was just a flurry of bubbles and sand.
My heart was going now.
I swam closer.
The worst thing was, I think I was more scared of dying from embarrassment if I got there and tapped him on the shoulder only for him to turn round to say “Err can I help you? I’m trying to snorkel here”.
Well, I did tap him on the shoulder.
And he didn’t turn around to say “can I help you? I’m trying to snorkel here”.
He didn’t turn around at all.
I knew what I was going to see when I turned him on to his front.
His face. Big fuss. Huge scene.
I rolled him over. His mouth was wide open. His eyes were wide open. The capillaries were all burst. His eyes red. His skin grey.
Fuck again. And Fuck a few more times after that. I was up shit creek without a paddle. Or a canoe. Or a defibrillator.
Thankfully, I used to swim on Friday nights for a club before I discovered sitting in a park gathered around someone’s Sony Ericsson playing tinny grime tunes and drinking warm beer was way cooler. There we learned basic lifeguard stuff like how to swim a body back (in the local pool, not in a park).
I towed the poor bloke to the shore, screaming for help. The roar of the waves and the occasional mouthful of seawater meant nobody could hear me.
It wasn’t until I dragged him past the two women chatting that they realised.
And they started screaming too because they knew him.
The one screaming the loudest was his wife.
The man was a big lump to say the least, and I struggled to pull him on to the beach. Someone else ran over to help me out.
I remember looking up at the people on the sun loungers closest to the ocean. They just stared back in complete shock, not knowing what to do.
My face was one of sheer terror, like a Tory MP on Newsnight being asked how much a pint of semi-skimmed costs in 2022.
It quickly dawned on me I was going to have to be the one to start doing CPR.
Enter Vinnie Jones.
There can’t be many greater measures of advertising effectiveness than number of lives saved. No accolade sweeter than resurrection. Shiny industry awards can get in the sea, for all I care. Because The British Heart Foundation advert starring former Wimbledon midfielder and Hollywood hardman was all I had to help me. That was where my brain went to first. The Bee Gees’ ‘Stayin Alive’. I’m so glad, in my moment of need, I could recall that advert from 2012. Shout out to Vicki Maguire for that piece of genius. This story may have had a different ending if “Autoglass repair, Autoglass replace” was the only ad my brain served me.
A woman ran over.
“Are you a doctor?” she said in a panic.
“No actually, I’m a copywriter. Well, creative director to be totally accurate. I guess I sometimes say creative but that’s an adjective rather than a noun so I always think I sound dumb saying I’m a creative. It’s like saying I’m a handsome. But no, not a doctor I’m afraid. I make adverts. Have you seen the one where…”
“DO YOU KNOW HOW TO DO CPR?!” she screamed.
Turns out I’d just been singing the Bee Gees without doing the pressy-chest thing.
Luckily for me, and even luckier for the guy I was kneeling over doing karaoke, a man in funky swim shorts swooped in and proceeded to take over.
He pumped away for over twenty minutes.
After what seemed like an eternity, miraculously, the guy’s stomach started moving.
I threw up. The adrenaline leaving my body.
The man started becoming responsive. I had never seen anything like it.
I’ve often found myself wondering before what it would be like to rush into action in a dangerous situation. Hand-to-hand combat with a terrorist on an EasyJet flight to Alicante. Sprinting and catching a thief who had just snatched a pensioner’s purse on Hackney Road. Catching a baby from a tower block window.
Well, I’ve had a little taste and I can safely say I’d rather be safely sat away from the danger. Ideally with a book on the sun lounger I’d deserted 40 minutes earlier, pretending I can’t hear the commotion happening in front of me.
I staggered my way back where I’d been pre-wee.
I was a bit gutted the local guy flogging his wares from earlier in the morning wasn’t about, as I really could’ve done with a line of coconut to take the edge off. I’d even have settled for a chocolate Bounty. Red never blue.
The woman that had been on the sunbed next to me was crying because she saw someone on the beach being resuscitated and had seen my book alone on the sunbed for a while. She thought it was me. Great self-esteem boost knowing she took one look at my physique and assumed I would be the one having difficulty swimming. She had every right to: the book I mentioned I was reading was actually the hotel’s lunch menu.
Then an old American woman came up to me. She had watched me drag the body out and wanted to congratulate me. I could’ve done with some help lugging a dead man, but nice to know she’d sat and watched me.
“You were in that water for a reason,” she said, earnestly.
“I was absolutely busting for a piss and couldn’t be arsed to trek back up the cliff to my hotel room,” I said, silently.
“God sent you here this morning for a purpose”
It was a client sending me here for a 40” TV spot with 30”, 20”, 15”, 10” and 6” cutdowns for YouTube and Instagram as well as stills for press and social assets. But tom-ay-to, tom-ah-to.
And that was it. The guy was stretchered away. Then I just sort of slinked off up the cliff steps back to my hotel. Dazed and confused. It was all very surreal.
Not sure what I was expecting really. I think I assumed the whole beach would salute me.
Perhaps Barbados would make me Mayor of Bridgetown.
Or Rihanna would insist on performing mouth-to mouth with me on Wednesdays.
I had lunch on my own with a beer.
The next day I was returning from breakfast, this time opting to read my book in a hammock rather than somewhere trying to kill people, when I noticed the guy with the funky swim shorts.
“I recognise you. Aren’t you the guy from the beach doing CPR yesterday?” I exclaimed.
“Aren’t you the guy who wrote multi award-winning short film This is English?” he replied excitedly.
Turns out, he was a holidaying Canadian Fireman. He had sprung into action because that was part of his job. His training legally obliged him to perform CPR until a medic takes over apparently. He had been so calm and collected despite having an entire beach watching him work for 25 mins. I had been in awe. I can’t even write copy in a Google doc if I know an Anonymous Badger is watching me work.
A few days later, it was me springing into action mode as our shoot began.
Resuscitating brands is what I do, Mr Canadian Fireman.
Less performing CPR, more converting KPIs.
I know who the real hero is.
One evening, after a full day of filming out and about the island, I came back to my hotel room and noticed the phone beside the bed was flashing. It was an answerphone message asking me to ring room 447. I assumed it must be our producer or someone telling me tomorrow’s call time had changed or something.
So I rang room 447. And a quiet, unfamiliar voice answered.
It was the wife of the man from the beach.
I immediately felt sick again as I didn’t know what she was about to tell me.
But it was good news. He was stable, and after a few days had begun talking.
Apparently, he’d had a mini stroke. They didn’t know if that had been the cause of him drowning, or as a result of him having no oxygen underwater for so long. But he was now alive and had been able to talk to his daughter back home on the phone.
Despite being on a shoot in paradise, I hadn’t really been able to relax the entire time not knowing if that guy was alright. But he was. Phew.
We flew home. Months passed, the edit changed 742 times and I didn’t really tell that many people about the morning at the beach. Sure, I told a few mates.
OK, a few mates and my mum.
Fine… a few mates, my mum, anybody who got in a lift with me, stood next to me at a urinal, or strolled past me in Lidl. My ex-girlfriend (current wife) would bring it up because – I guess – she was proud of me, and it made for quite a good anecdote over dinner. But most of the time, I only recited the incident if someone called me a jammy bastard for being in Barbados while they were stuck in an office. Now I write about it in a desperate quest for seven likes on LinkedIn. It’s also considerably cheaper than a therapist.
The man’s face did frequent my dreams on a few occasions. It was always the moment when I rolled him over. In terms of an edit, a match cut from wading through waves with a dead body in tow, to waking up in a cold sweat at 3am with a sleeping body beside me, is quite the horror film. But not as traumatic as it was for the holidaymakers who had to witness Tony Soprano in a swimming cozzie cast in a Baywatch reboot set in the Caribbean.
Out of curiosity, I googled the story a little while ago. Some geezer had taken all of the credit and even got himself a heroic photo to accompany the article. Apparently, he had dragged the body out of the sea solo and performed CPR all by himself. Impressive. He’d even managed to mention to the reporter that it wasn’t his first ocean rescue. I mean, he was there to be fair, I remember his face because he had been measuring the victim’s pulse. Very strong creative director energy from that guy. Sit in the brainstorm, not say anything particularly insightful, then stick your name at the top of the credits and have a big photo in the trade press. He’ll go far in this industry.
Although I will be pissed if I find out he’s now the Mayor of Bridgetown and friends with Rihanna.
All in all, I’d say the drowning was probably the second most stressful thing to happen to me before a shoot. Only second to the time I had to rewrite an entire campaign the night before filming.
Ok, this has all been a shameless and pathetically transparent attempt at feeding your ego and fuel for you hero fantasy, Liam… but what does any of that waffle have to do with the creative industry?
Well, I guess next time someone in a meeting says “guys, we’re not saving lives here” you can slap them around the face and send them the link to this article. It was because of an ad that I was on that beach, and it was because of an ad that I could play a tiny part in trying to help someone out.
It’s also proof that sometimes taking the literal piss can save lives, too.
But more often than not, it’s a friendly Canadian fireman doing CPR for 25 minutes that will do it.
And ultimately, none of that matters, as someone will steal the credit anyway.
However, if you could take one thing from this article, I’d like it to be: get yourself some CPR lessons as you never know when you might need it. Oh, and a second thing to take from this would be: you absolutely can deliver a serious message by being silly in an advert. Just take a look at the Vinnie Jones CPR campaign.
Fine I‘ll give you that, you sigh. But please explain the topless photo of you sprawled across rocks at the top of this article. Under what editorial guidelines is that necessary?
To that I say: who else will warn of the perils of the Seven Seas other than a Merman on the rocks with ample bosom such as myself?
Also: sex sells, baby. Sex sells. I know that’s true because you, dear reader, clicked on this article.
You dirty little pervert, you.