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When: June-July 2016
Where: King George V lock, River Thames, London Eye

At the start of July, Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt had the people of London fixated on its famous River Thames.

He wasn’t running across it – although he’s probably fast enough to do that! – but it was all thanks to Virgin Media beaming their new advert, starring the man himself, on a record-breaking 100-metre screen.

The event couldn’t have succeeded without the help of Livett’s Group and its two new tugs. Here’s how Livett’s made it happen…


Back in April, Livett’s were engaged by marketing agency CURB MEDIA on behalf of Virgin Media to assist with the marine coordination of a humongous PR event. As part of their new #BeTheFastest campaign, starring Olympic champion Usain Bolt, Virgin Media were keen to do something that’s never been done before on the river.

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The 100m barge in construction

Soon, the big idea was established: a 100-metre long barge, replicating the running track on which Bolt has made his name, would be created. However, this particular track would be made entirely out of LED screens, allowing it to display their new video advert.

Livett’s came up with the solution, which involved 110 individual linkflotes – all rigged together, five wide and 40 long, thus creating a 100m barge. This would become the longest barge to ever be towed that far up into Central London.

It was integral that what the barge was made from was capable of taking the amount of weight required for the screens, scaffolding, generators and equipment, so planning was absolutely key to ensure this went smoothly, right from the very first step. Indeed, Livett’s conducted many stability checks to ensure it would withstand the weight and the journey up river itself.

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The lengthy barge on the Thames

In total, it took 25 lorryloads of linkflotes and four days of constant craneage work to physically build the platform in our tried and tested King George V lock.

Once the barge was constructed, it was handed over to the rigging team who constructed the screen. This was made out of 100 individual LED screens, and took another four days to put together.

Adding to the difficulty of the build, we were required to frequently move the barge in order to facilitate normal day-to-day tugs and towage through the lock.

New tugs Christian and Felix

New tugs Christian and Felix

The night before the event, we facilitated a trial in KGV dock. We were required to wait for London City Airport to close, before manoeuvring the barge into the dock with our two new tugs, Christian and Felix. The idea behind this was to see how the screen performed out in the open and how the barge would manoeuvre under tow.

The trial proved a success, and at 3pm the following day (5 July 2016), we began our adventure up into London:

The timing was no coincidence; this was meticulously planned by Livett’s to ensure we got up through the bridges at absolutely the correct state of tide, allowing for a smooth journey.

The barge makes its way along the river

The barge makes its way along the river

On the day, the tug and tow ended up being over 180m long, giving no margin for error during the stunt. Christian and Felix were vital, as their hydraulic wheelhouses meant the stern tug had fantastic visibility over the screen. Both vessels are twin screw, allowing for maximum power and manoeuvrability.

As part of Virgin Media’s coverage of event day, we had a helicopter follow us the entire way up river, which took some spectacular images of the tow from above.

The barge alongside the London Eye

The barge alongside the London Eye

The tow up went without incident and was delivered safely adjacent to the London Eye. Virgin Media had hired another of our vessels, the Elizabethan, plus pods of the London Eye that evening, in order to give guests a superb view of the screen while it premiered their new advert. We held the barge in the middle of the river, with the river closed for 10mins to all other traffic, while the show took place.

Once the show was over, we spun the barge around and towed it back to the docks, once again without any incident. It took another week to deconstruct the lengthy barge and get all the pontoons back out on to the river to where they originated, bringing an end to yet another landmark Thames event which Livett’s have played a key role in.

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Watch the #BeTheFastest advert:

For more information about how Livett’s can help your PR campaign, brand activation or product launch, visit our PR & Consultancy page.


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