How Charlie Sheen And Twitter Helped Guinness World Records stoop to a new low

Posted on /by Natalie Sisson/ in Media and PR Tips, Social Media / 16 comments

Apparently crossing the English Channel in a dragon boat in 2007 and smashing the previous Guinness World Record is not as important as Charlie Sheen gaining the most Twitter followers in the least amount of time.

I was stunned to read this article on Mashable today – so stunned I had to write this post. What the heck has happened to what we place importance on in this world? What do achievements we value as far as world record breaking levels are concerned?

I used to think the Guinness World Records awarded people who had achieved monumental feats of greatness, ingenuity, craziness or people who were just incredibly tall or freaks of nature.

But gaining a whole lot of Twitter followers in record time, just because you’re a talented actor with a major drug addiction who’s gone off the rails, isn’t exactly what I’d call world record worthy.

It screams of popular celebrity trash and self serving media attention that’s not related to anything worth celebrating in my mind, and it’s not exactly setting a great example for the young ones in this world is it?

“I know young Jonny, when you grow up don’t bother being a firefighter, a politician, a human rights activist or a health professional, become a celebrity and do really stupid stuff, get in the media for all the wrong reasons and become hugely popular and rich.”

“Alright mum, sounds like a great plan”.

When I joined a bunch of amazing women as part of the Sisterhood in 2007, we were on a mission to break the Guinness World Record for crossing the English Channel in none other than a dragon boat.

Paddling on the Thames – Hello shoot

If you’re not familiar with the sport of Dragon Boating that originated in China over 2,000 years ago, then picture a human powered boat, traditionally made of teak wood that you’d typically find in Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands, made for sprint races of 500m or less over smooth waters.

Instead we trained for hours, several times a week, over many months so that we could cover a distance of just over 19 miles and we did it in 3 hours and 42 mins – a whole 4 hours less than the previous record holders!

Even though we smashed the record I was devastated when, as the liaison between Guinness World Records and the Sisterhood , I was told we were not granted the record because our boat did not have the standard head, tail and drummer that were required to classify it as a dragon boat.

Could you imagine paddling across one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, where ships speed along and could easily smash our boat to smithereens in an instant, and having a fancy dragon head and tail while some small person sat at the front beating a drum?

Insanity. Regardless of that `minor’ detail we still feel victorious, as do the Brotherhood, a group of equally great guys who completed the challenge with us (and just a little ahead) setting off from Shakespeare’s Beach, Dover to Wissant Bay, France.

Not only was it a grueling and epic journey, it was an adventure in pushing the limits of your mind and body and ensuring life long bonds of friendship with those who you had trained with all that time.

I’m still immensely proud of our efforts to this day. It seems the media though, are more interested in another angle of our journey. In case you’re not an avid fan of the English Royal Family, then you may like to know that Prince William is finally getting married to Kate Middleton.

It just so happens that Kate, through some connections with fellow sisters in our boat, came and joined us for a few training  sessions with us as a potential new Sisterhood member. In reality it was a clever PR stunt for both her image in the media and for our visibility.

I can still vividly remember the press frenzy that ensued as Kate stood at the helm of the boat on our early morning practices looking lovely and poised, while we sweated it out in no makeup and grimaces on our face, powering the boat along the river Thames.

The amount of press Kate and the Sisterhood got in that short period was unbelievable to me. Suddenly we were front page of this and that major newspaper along with many shocking articles that dug up as much dirt as possible about the Sisterhood crew and Kate’s involvement.

The English press are brutal and only interested in celebrity hype and political chaos.

I recall getting on the London Tube one morning and seeing myself on the front page of the Metro, the daily newspaper read by millions of commuters, in a photo snapped by the paparazzi of one of our training sessions.

I wasn’t sure whether to shout out in excitement and announce to everyone in my carriage that I was in fact that person on the front page being partially blocked by an inset of Kate’s face or not!

Half way across the Channel 

This press attention did help us immensely in raising more money, over 100,000 pounds in fact, for the two charities we were supporting, and we got sponsorship from HELLO! and a spread in their famous magazine.

Now with the impending wedding of Kate and Wills the media are in yet another frenzy. Turns out they’re even featuring a remake of our Channel crossing in a film.

Thanks to my rather obvious online profile, and some charitable body painting shots on the BBC website that I’ve never been able to shake off the Google rankings, it seems I’m a prime target for being contacted by by several international TV stations asking to interview me about my `friendship’ with Kate.

I even had the major network ITV, who will be putting out a program to be seen my millions, approach me this week. I’m not sure whether it’s a blessing or a major missed PR opportunity to be based in Buenos Aires right now as it seems that’s just a little too far for them to fly out for an interview with me. One in which I would tell them I spoke to Kate just a handful of times and no, I don’t know William at all…..

I’m sure this is not the first time, nor will it be the last, when celebrity status overshadows the efforts of mere mortals to achieve remarkable things.

The solution? Keep on being remarkable and making a difference, for your legacy will live on well beyond the life of a tweet or yesterday’s front page news.

Oh and congratulations Kate and Will. I am actually truly happy for you and am awaiting my invitation in the mail.


  • littleunred

    Hi Natalie – this is so funny because the other day I saw this featured on a newspaper website and it’s so interesting to get the inside story to it. There is something sad about the tabloid hunger, and it’s a double edged sword as, like you say it helped your cause immensely. An amazing feat though and something to be incredibly proud of!

    • NatalieSisson

      @littleunred did you just. Yes they’re dredging up everything and I find it fascinating too – the lengths the media will go to to get a story – no matter how unrelated (in this case it’s totally related but the people they’re reaching out to are not the type to spill the beans or say anything bad). And yes it was an amazing feat – loved almost every minute, aside from around the 3 hours when the muscles started screaming out

  • You’ve got a great point Natalie. Celebrity news has always been at the forefront of the media. People love hearing about it (not everyone), and it gets ears and eyeballs, simple as that. Congrats on the big achievement, can’t believe Guinness did you all like that. You’re winners at the end of the day 🙂

    • NatalieSisson

      @mikestenger I get why celebrities are at the forefront of the media, and some deserve to be there as positive role models, it just urks me that this act would even warrant a world record for anything – aside from the sadness of drug addictions. But thanks Mike – we are all winners – so true!

  • I don’t really follow celeb stuff so I’ve been happilly ignoring all mentions of Charlie Sheen. 😉

    I did want to give you a huge congrats to you & the Sisterhood for the amazing work you did on your dragonboating adventures. The photos, the description, it all has me in awe. Guiness World Records can focus on whatever they want, you ladies deserve more than just a title in a book. 🙂

    • NatalieSisson

      @NathLussier oh thanks Nathalie, indeed you’re right. I don’t follow celeb stuff either but it’s hard to miss it in all the Twitter streams and the blogosphere and there’s always a lesson to be learned out of any fascination with a celebrity that the general public has – good or bad.

  • KeriH

    It is true that the world doesn’t seem to value what it should anymore. It is also sad that people don’t feel they have truly achieved something unless they become famous from it. I do think you have a valuable point at the end though, Natalie. I do not remember any of the “buzz-worthy” people from by-gone eras, but I do remember the women who wrote literature, the people who discovered new realms in the field of science, and the people who dared to invent new technology. The wealthy/famous/status -oriented people seem to not last as long as those who dare to defy convention or dream of new ways to operate our world. I think in 200 years, no one will remember who Charlie Sheen is. (Lucky them.)

    On a happier note, kudos to you and the women in your boat for going out and achieving greatness! (Who cares what the GBWR says… they’re just there to make money off of people achieving greatness anyway.) I dare say that those who participate in the sport of Dragonboating, as well as those who participate in other boating sports, admire your achievement for what it is – a display of grit, determination and athleticism. Who cares what Kate Middleton thinks? (Though I, too, am glad that the Royals are getting some new blood.)

    • NatalieSisson

      @KeriH sadly I think they will remember Charlie Sheen but I’d like to say it’s for all the laughter he brought people thorugh his shows not because of his antics. Thanks for the kudos too. It was a pretty rocking time for all involved and I guess it did help the sport of Dragon Boating to get more exposure for sure.

  • Suzanne

    Congrats Natalie and the Sisterhood! I had no idea of your dragonboat history, which is super interesting to me as I was a former competitive paddler (& drummer for the Canadian National women’s team). The other thing I find disappointing about celebrating great achievements is the importance of “winning the gold”. Our team won 2 silvers & 1 bronze at the world championships, but not winning the gold meant little or no press. (I also feel for the athletes that don’t medal at the Olympics, after having spent probably a decade or more on their chosen sport.) What you gals did was huge, and the social impact of your charitable activities was equally amazing.

    Proudly holding up your own head high, and using our community (online & IRL) to acknowledge the accomplishments of our collective sisterhood (as you’ve done in this post) is really what matters. We need to be reminded that the measure of our worth or success should not depend on recognition, awards (or infamy!) but with the positive and lasting impact we have had on each other. Here’s to more air time to our fellow sisters (and brothers). Charlie Sheen can go crawl back into a hole.

  • caroljsroth

    Amen, Natalie. Well said. We need more people like you willing to lead by examplea. I am one that sincerley hopes we will stop rewarding atrocious behavior. Thanks for doing what you do.

  • Congratulations Natalie! On so many points. It really did hit home with me yesterday all these celebrities and their messed up view of what’s right and wrong and the influence they are having on our children. Somehow we need to figure out a way to have the real role models – like yourself, what incredible accomplishments! – be in the forefront of the media. When did all these celebrities become gods anyway? What makes the world so infatuated by their messed up lives? More importantly, how can we change this?

    I encourage everyone to put on your thinking caps and figure out how to remind our kids there are real accomplishments to be made!

    Well written Natalie! Thank you!

    • NatalieSisson

      @KairosBusiness oh thanks so much Maureen. I agree there are plenty of unsung heroes that never get the attention and credit for the work they do because they’re overshadowed by ridiculous celebrities doing stupid things that are not worthy of any mention (btw there are many that do very worthwhile things such as contrinbuting and working with charities and using their status to bring more attention to real world issues).

  • Oh Natalie – this hit such a chord with me. I heard a major media analyst in Australia say last week that “Good News is No News”. I’ve turned to Social Media to get my ‘Good News’ but the Charlie’s of this World still fascinate many.

    It is interesting for me as a no CNN (Constant Negative News) zone – how neagative or sensatinalised messages spread so readily through all forms of media. Thanks for doing your bit to even things up with inspiring, positive, upliting messages.

    Have an Awesome Day – Zoe 😉

  • newcharliesheen

    Natalie, if you don’t like @charliesheen perhaps you will like the @newcharliesheen.
    Unfortunatelly he does not have 1 mil followers, not even 10.

  • newcharliesheen

    Not only do I have tiger blood but I also have the eyes of a tiger.

  • NatalieSisson

    @zdeluca thanks so much Zoe for your comment. Yes it’s always baffling to me how people seem to feed off the negative and bad news or completely useless news that serves no purpose.

    I very rarely read the newspaper and instead figure out what matters most to people through Twitter streams, Facebook updates and what’s being talked about on the street, usually you get the right mix of what’s happening around the world that deserves your attention, support or opinion.

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