• Claire Gell

Disney cast member name tag

This badge is probably my most prized possession; it's the name tag I wore when I worked at Disney's Hollywood Studios for a summer, in 2012, as part of the Disney International College Programme. It's basically my glass slipper of the whole experience, because it's the one physical thing I have that proved it really did happen and I didn't just dream it!

You could have whatever you liked on your name tag, within reason obviously. I decided to get "York, England" on mine rather than my specific town, because I didn't live that far away from York, and I knew York would be more recognisable and relatable for any British guests I spoke to. I also knew it would be a nice conversation starter with American guests, because of the "not New York, but the original York!" conversations it would initiate.

I applied for the programme through a company called YummyJobs. They came to our university to do a talk about it, and I was just like: this is it, I'm going to achieve my dream and work at Disney World! I applied, got through all the different application and interview stages and found myself with an e-mail congratulating me and telling me I would be working at Disney World for the summer. Before the final interview you had to fill in a form to say which roles you would be happy to do, the feeling was that the more roles you ticked the more likely you would be to get accepted onto the programme. When my e-mail came it told me that my role would be in custodial – honestly, I was a bit crushed. Custodial, or Showkeeping as it's often known, is basically the cleaning team, and I was like: is my intelligence not better used in some other department?! – How wrong I was!! Those interviewers must have known what they were doing, because they couldn't have picked a better role for me. (Below is the only picture I have of me in my Showkeeping uniform).

You didn't find out where you would be working until one of the admin sessions we had to go to during our first few days in Orlando. I think we were given an envelope, and inside it one of the forms said "Place of work:…" and mine said "Hollywood Studios". I could have cried with joy, I was so thrilled they'd put me in my favourite park! And Custodial was perfect for me, because I just had to look after two restrooms throughout my shift and when I wasn't neatening up the restrooms I could just stroll through the park, keeping things tidy as I went. A lot of walking between the two restrooms meant that I got to speak to lots of guests, we were easy to spot out and about so guests would ask you questions or for directions, which I was always delighted to help with. Disney was a great company to work for, too, because they were all about making the guests happy. For example, if we saw someone drop an ice-cream, we could just clean it up and then get the person a new ice-cream for free, which would always make their day. I don't think I ever got to create that sort of magical moment, but I did have some stickers that I could give out to kids, which resulted in some lovely interactions with people.

I spent yesterday afternoon reading through the e-mails I had sent to my parents while I was working there, one finished with "p.s. cleaned up my first ice-cream today, felt like a rite of passage lol. It had already been dropped and left though by the time I saw it so I didn't get chance to get them a new one." I was just so thrilled to be there. But, reading through those e-mails also reminded me how tough I found the first week or so. I was quite homesick and to begin with there weren't many people my age working the same shifts as me. Although we had some fun events for the new Programme kids after work (or before work – see the picture here of me, Mickey, and Minnie in our PJs), I struggled with working and living there and found the first weeks really hard. I had to push through and believe that it would get better and also believe in myself – constantly repeating my Walt Disney mantra "We can all achieve our dreams if we have the courage to pursue them."

And I did push through and it did pay off, because over the next few weeks when I'd finished my training I got settled into late shifts with other custodial College Programme people. I made some great friends, became more confident in my role and myself, and as I settled into my routine of working at Hollywood Studios I was able to really appreciate that I was living my dream. Of course I still got homesick seeing the families walking around together, and had to deal with the problems that come with living with new people, but the friends I had on the custodial team and being able to spend nearly every day in my favourite place in the world – learning all of its ins and outs, it's secrets and backstage areas – made it one of the best summers ever.

Me, looking appropriately thrilled, on the day we received our name tags.

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