The Hundred Thousand Pound Hula Hoop


It’s 1996. The Spice Girls had just burst onto the scene to tell us what they really really wanted, Jarvis Cocker had just got his bum out live on TV, and Terry Venables was about to take England to the semi finals of the Euros. Obviously I only knew about one of those at the time, and frankly that last one I only learned just now, but the point is that it was a big year. Less of a big deal than those three cultural phenomena, but no less a thing that happened, was the launch of a marketing campaign that was set to change the course of my life.

The people at KP Snacks had triggered an initiative to boost sales of Hula Hoops by creating a sort of treasure hunt. The buried treasure came in the form of differently shaped corn crisps at the bottom of just a few bags, the finders of which would win a cash prize. Just how much cash one was to win was dictated by the specific shape of the Hula Hoop: a curly one, for example, was worth ten thousand pounds. Find a square Hula Hoop, and you’ve got yourself one hundred thousand.

As the competition blazed on, people around the country went on living their lives, many of them unaware that a kind of Golden Ticket was only a snack away. Sure, the prize wasn’t a meandering trip around a maniac’s Chocolate Factory only to be gifted the factory itself at the end, but a lump sum of cash never goes amiss I think we can all agree. Anyway, normcore wasn’t in yet so a trip around the Hula Hoop plant would have left a lot to be desired.

Amongst those casually bopping around unaware of potential windfalls was five-year old-me. I actually had a lot on my plate at the time already, what with roller skating club and the Pokémon card racket I was running out of the secret pocket in my school blazer, but I was still managing to find time for Thursday night swimming club, which was chaperoned by my grandmother. It was at swimming club that Fate made her attempt to give me a head start in life.

It goes like this. My grandmother gives me 50p as she did every Thursday after an hour in the pool to buy a snack of my choice from the vending machine. I choose Hula Hoops, but you know that already because you’re not an idiot. I take my time with them, first sliding each one onto my skinny fingers because they are priceless rings and I am a queen whose wealth knows no bounds and whose golden jewellery complements her iron fist. At the bottom of the pack lies my Golden Ticket: a square Hula Hoop. The hundred thousand pounder.

Naturally, five-year-old me is irked by the presence of this little imposter in my bag of snacks, not least because its shape is not conducive to my game and is thus thwarting me in my attempts to be elegant. Frustrated and in character as a capricious ruler, I brandish the offending Hula Hoop, presumably say something like ‘More like Hula SQUARE am I right or am I right, granny???,’ huffily demonstrate its uselessness as a ring, and eat it to show it who’s boss. 

One hundred thousand pounds - gone. Fate had tried to give me a leg up, and I’d shaken her off like she was a dog humping my ankles. The Golden Ticket was wasted. I’m not Charlie, I’m Augustus Gloop, my opportunities squandered by delusions of grandeur and a pathological love of snacking. The Hula Square was delicious, but the knowledge of what was lost in that moment is even now a bitter pill to swallow. The things I could have done with all that money! I like to think I would've paid my parents back, shared some out amongst my friends and donated the rest to charity. To be fair though it’s more likely that I would’ve gone to pay off my student loan at twenty-two only to realise I’d spent my fortune years before on Refreshers, strappy tops and hoodies from Quicksilver. In many ways you could say I saved myself from myself. 

I tell you what though; never again will I waste such an opportunity. I live now in a state of constant vigilance. You never know when the next opportunity will come a-knocking. If you want to take that as a metaphor for life then go ahead but I’ll be here ignoring emails about pay-rises and job opportunities on LinkedIn because I’m meticulously examining each and every snack I ever eat because as we now know that’s where the real money comes from. There's no moral to this story, but if there was one it would be to always check your crisp packet.

Find Anna on Twitter at @annaerichmond