MacFormat readers queued overnight to be first in Apple's new Regent Street store on 20 November. The store is not only Apple's first in Europe, but it's the biggest one in the world. The grand opening attracted 11,000 people, with 1,000 braving a cold winter night to secure free T-shirts and the chance of buying a lucky bag of mystery Apple gear. As the line grew and the temperature dropped, MacFormat kept a diary of the minute-by-minute happenings...
Friday 19 November: 23.00 hrs
It's the night before the big opening and there are already about 130 people queuing outside the Apple Store. First in line is Stormy Shippy from Dallas, Texas, who has been here since yesterday lunchtime. He had planned to get here later, but after reading a post on his blog (www.stormyshippy.com) that suggested others were already here, Stormy rushed down to Regent Street just hours after his flight had landed in London. "Lo and behold, no one was here and I made first in line - I'm quite proud of myself," he says. Underneath Regent Street's Christmas lights, a constant stream of drunken Friday night revellers pass the line, but the mood remains good-natured, with the front of the crowd answering even the most incoherent of enquiries. With the night so cold, few want to linger too long. Most of the hardcore early queuers have brought along their iBooks and PowerBooks, which they are busily tapping onto. Earlier, a camping store not far from the Apple Store was surprised by the sudden run on survival gear, and most of the line is now snuggled down enjoying its new equipment - brand new sleeping bags, camping chairs and torches twinkle on the pavement.
Saturday 20 November: 02.00hrs
The steady stream of drunken people has dried to a trickle of confused clubbers. With the night so cold, a group of friends begin to burn PC magazines and a plastic Windows mouse in an effort to keep warm and stave off boredom.
Saturday 20 November: 03.00hrs
There are about 300 people in the queue now. As people hop out of the queue to do headcounts, the news spreads online that all the lucky bag places have been taken.
Saturday 20 November: 04.00hrs
Ever thought about spending the night on Regent Street? Not only will you need your thermals, but you'd better take along something to read. And what's better than a copy of MacFormat? Several people in the queue can be seen quietly reading our 150th celebratory issue, which went on sale at Thursday's MacExpo.
Saturday 20 November: 05.30hrs
Queuing can be boring. We can't but stare at the security staff in their black fleeces, rubbing their hands and rocking from foot to foot to keep warm. Dawn is still hours away and the temperature must almost be at freezing point. The people in the front section of the queue are happily chatting to passers-by and updating blogs on their PowerBooks, and the line is almost silent further down - it's a sea of frozen figures perched rigidly on camping stools and more sensible queuers wrapped up in sleeping bags.
Saturday 20 November: 05.32hrs
There's some sort of kerfuffle going on at the front of the queue, but it's difficult to see what's happening over the several hundred frozen necks that are craning to see what all the fuss is about. Two smart young men dressed in expensive woollen jackets and leather driving gloves have broken into the queue and pushed to the front, which has caused quite an upset. The tipsy toffs have started blasting air horns and ranting drunkenly at the Apple fans. They claim to be 'Microsoft supporters' and refuse to leave the queue.
Saturday 20 November: 05.48hrs
Some special constables have just arrived to try to calm the situation.
Saturday 20 November: 05.56hrs
The constables have managed to persuade the disruptive pair to leave.
Saturday 20 November: 07.00hrs
The rag tag queue has spilled out into the pavement so a security firm is here now to fence us off against the wall. It seems that some people have taken advantage of this and queue-jumped to a better position. "I arrived at midnight, or just after, and counted - I was 280th in line," says one queuer, Jack. "I never moved position but ended up being about 400th into the store. The people that push in really spoil it for everyone."
Saturday 20 November: 07.32hrs
Gary Allen of Apple store fan site IfoAppleStore. com is now patrolling the line. A lot of the queuers are concerned that the goody bag mania might tar the experience of making an Apple Store pilgrimage. "The goody bags are a relatively recent phenomenon, introduced at the Ginza store in Japan. Before, people would queue up for the camaraderie, or just to be first in the store, but now there's a sense of 'I've got to be first in line or I won't get my goody bag'," voiced one person.
Saturday 20 November: 08.23hrs
The sun has come up, but the temperature is still biting. Regent Street is beginning to fill with Christmas shoppers. Some Mac fans arrive who'd naively planned to get up a few hours early and nip to the front of the queue. One couple arrive, blink at the line snaking into the distance, and trudge off miserably towards the tube, resolving to return later that afternoon. One couple cause more queue problems when they invite an extra half-dozen people to queue-jump and join them.
Saturday 20 November: 09.34hrs
The last hour or so has seen so many people join the queue that we can't see the end. It's only minutes until the store doors swing open and we can enter the world of Apple. Gary Allen decides to do a quick walk of the line - he counts 1,033 people waiting to get in.
Saturday 20 November: 9.40hrs
Mexican waves are beginning to pulse down the line, with the crowd buzzing excitedly. Police are battling to keep Regent Street moving as the throng deepens around the store, but the crowd continues to snowball as more and more passers-by stop to stare. With the pavement now impassable, Regent Street's central reservation is starting to fill with people perched on the railings.
Saturday 20 November: 09.48hrs
A coach has just pulled up at the back of the line in Hanover Square - it's all the Apple Store employees. The team charges out and jogs the length of the line, congratulating the queuers on the way to the doors.
Saturday 20 November: 09.55hrs
A cheer goes up. As U2's Vertigo starts blaring, the employees start performing a line dance to the track.
Saturday 20 November: 09.57hrs
Steve Jobs hasn't made the trip to the UK to open the store, but Ron Johnson, Senior Vice President of Retail at Apple, has arrived and he's ready to cut the ribbon for the cameras. While we're waiting for the countdown, one woman turns up at the front of the queue begging to be allowed into the Genius Bar with a broken PowerBook she insists contains her "master's thesis" and that the Genius Bar is her only hope of recovering it. The security guard allows her to cut into the queue, which has caused great uproar among the crowd. No one knows whether she joined the queue further up or just came along and decided to try her luck
Saturday 20 November: 10.00hrs
Finally, the doors open - sleeping bags, camping stoves and tents are trampled as the line pours in to the sound of U2's Vertigo. Rows of whooping Apple Store employees flank the glass staircase, cheering and high-fiving the line as it pours up to the first level. Stormy Shippy charges victoriously into the store first, illuminated under a hail of flash photography. He bounds up two flights of stairs, before realising that the coveted lucky bags are being snapped up on the ground floor. Just a minute later he comes out of the elevator and is rushed to the lucky bags.
Saturday 20 November: 10.10hrs
The first lucky bags are torn open. It seems iPods are sparse, with the bags turning out to contain rather more run-of-the-mill contents: an AirPort Express unit, a ProCare membership card, an Apple wireless keyboard and mouse, a D-Link Bluetooth adaptor, iLife '04, Keynote and a 10% off coupon for the Regent Street store. Larger items vary between iSight webcams, On Tour speakers and the rare iPod mini. The contents of the £249 packages value at around £700 and we're sure that by the time you read this there will be some on eBay.
Saturday 20 November: 10.22hrs
As the last lucky bag is sold, we hear that no other Apple Store will be selling them again, making them even more special to those who managed to bag them.
Saturday 20 November: 11.27hrs
Apple staff are still limiting entry to the store to avoid overcrowding - the queue is still 900- people strong. Inside, the queues for the checkouts are almost as long as the queues to get in. In contrast to the supply problems plaguing retailers, the Apple Store is extremely well stocked on its opening day, with iPods, iPod photos and iPod minis all available in abundance. "The queue is enormous - there's a lot of money being spent," says MacFormat reader Kevin Watson. "I've only bought some accessories for my iPod, but I saw Mac after Mac of every description being brought up to the counters."
Saturday 20 November: 14.30hrs
The lucky bags sold out within minutes and the 2,500 free Apple T-shirts have all gone, but there are still about 100 people in line outside. Gary Allen of IfoAppleStore.com spots an exchange between Apple's Ron Johnson and the firm's vice president for real estate, George Blankenship. "Standing on the second-floor skybridge, Blankenship beamed down at Johnson on the stairs and, over the loud music and hubbub of the crowd, raised his hands with two thumbs way up. Johnson returned the gesture with both hands raised in the air, also beaming." The day has been a success.
The Apple Store is at 235 Regent Street, is open between 10am and 9pm Monday to Saturday, and 12pm to 6pm on Sundays. The store can be contacted on 020 7153 9000.