Meet the public school dropout and the American prankster behind the craze sweeping Britain’s playgrounds: Prime has sparked muggings, near-riots in shops – and sells for up to £100 a bottle. So what on earth is all the fuss about?
The delivery is made every Friday at 2pm, but Kirstie Thompson pulls up alongside her local corner shop at 1.55pm, to be on the safe side, and waits, fingertips drumming on the steering wheel in anxious anticipation.
No sooner has the van been unloaded than she runs inside the store and snatches four of the precious cargo — the maximum allowance — her relief palpable as she hands over the going rate of £15.96, her mission accomplished for another week.
Kirstie is one of the lucky ones: within an hour, the shelves in her local Dorset Spar will be empty. So what is it that she — and scores of locals — are all so desperate to get their hands on? Limited edition champagne? Nectar infused with gold?
The answer is altogether stranger: what Kirstie and thousands of other parents across the UK are going to such lengths to find are luridly coloured, plastic bottles of an energy drink called Prime.
Created by 20-something YouTube stars Logan Paul (from Ohio) and KSI (aka Olajide Olatunji from Hertfordshire), who nobody over 40 has heard of, but who have a combined social media following of 140 million, Prime Hydration — to give it its full name — has fuelled a sales rampage among schoolboys, and parents desperate to placate them.
Created by 20-something YouTube stars Logan Paul (from Ohio) and KSI (aka Olajide Olatunji from Hertfordshire), who nobody over 40 has heard of, but who have a combined social media following of 140 million, Prime Hydration — to give it its full name — has fuelled a sales rampage
Prime Hydration — to give it its full name — has fuelled a sales rampage among schoolboys, and parents desperate to placate them
Which is why Kirstie, an otherwise level-headed woman, currently on maternity leave from her job as a horse groom, has stopped what she’s doing every Friday this month to buy the drink for her 11-year-old son, Danny. ‘It’s getting a bit embarrassing, being this mad woman outside the shop,’ she admits. ‘I try and laugh it off to the shopkeeper, saying “Me again!” She says I’m not the only one.’
Of all the children’s trends to take off in recent years, Prime is perhaps the most unlikely. After all, it’s just a drink, comprised mainly of filtered water and coconut water. Yet within hours of Prime’s launch in the U.S. on January 8, last year, it had sold out. Since then, 100 million bottles have been reportedly sold worldwide.
It hit our shores last June. Its astonishing popularity is in part testament to a savvy marketing strategy, with demand created via Logan Paul and KSI’s phenomenal social media reach.
They posed with the drink on YouTube videos targeted at tween-age boys (nine to 12) who, before their bewildered parents had a chance to figure out what on earth KSI stands for (Knowledge, Strength, Integrity, apparently), were soon demanding supplies of Prime.
An official tie-in with Arsenal football club has further fanned the flames here — as has the natural human instinct to get our hands on the next big thing.
Demand soon outstripped supply following the launch and, even though Asda, initially the only stockist, limited purchases to three bottles per person, many exhausted parents came away empty handed. When Aldi started selling Prime last December, limiting bottles to one per person, customers queued at dawn and were pictured jumping over shelves in the frenzy to get their hands on it.
The 500ml bottles, available in eight flavours, including Ice Pop and Blue Raspberry, then started selling online for ten times the £1.99 recommended retail price — and so it continues. This week, the cheapest bottle I could find was £14.99 on Amazon.
Wakefield Wines, an off-licence in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, went viral after reportedly selling bottles for £100 each, while a 12-pack was advertised for £50,000 on auction site eBay, together fuelling the demand further.
KSI — who horrified his parents by dropping out of private school at 16 to become a YouTuber — professed to be outraged by such ‘black market’ activity, accusing Asda staff of snaffling bottles and selling them for profit.
‘Asda employees aren’t even putting it on the shelves any more,’ the 29-year-old has said. ‘They’re shipping it out low-key. They’re like, “What’s the point? I put it on the shelf and it’s gone instantly. I’m just going to sell it on the black market myself.” ’
The craze acquired a sinister edge when a 17-year-old in Kent was arrested for stealing a case, and reports emerged of children being bullied into handing over their drinks. One ten-year-old was reportedly punched in the face when he refused to give his drink to a group of teenagers in the park.
Last month, the Action Against Abduction agency even warned that, with Google searches for ‘Prime meet-ups’ — where you can meet with strangers to buy a bottle — rising 789 per cent, paedophiles could be targeting children desperate to get their hands on it.
When Aldi started selling Prime last December, limiting bottles to one per person, customers queued at dawn and were pictured jumping over shelves in the frenzy to get their hands on it
Meanwhile, in playgrounds up and down the country, lucky boys who’d landed a bottle were reportedly charging their friends between £1 and £2 a sip of a drink that contains artificial sweeteners so cloying that chef Gordon Ramsay has compared drinking it to ‘swallowing perfume’.
Not that Danny, who first begged his mum Kirstie, 29, for Prime last summer, after seeing KSI talk about it on YouTube where he has 24 million subscribers, is deterred.
‘The drinks are so hyped up, the children kid themselves they’re something they’re not,’ says Kirstie, who nonetheless initially tried to get hold of a bottle from a local stockist only to find ‘they were all sold out’.
So last autumn, Kirstie ordered five bottles from eBay at £16 per bottle. ‘I did think it was bonkers, but I remember being a kid and wanting a mad fad,’ she says. ‘When my mum got me a Furby [a robotic toy popular in the late 1990s], it made me really happy.’
With Danny long being an only child — she’s now married to Carl, a landscape gardener with whom she has a baby daughter — she admits indulging him when she can. ‘Money was short when we were younger. I promised myself he’d never go without, and I go a bit OTT to compensate.’
When the Prime arrived a fortnight later, she says: ‘Danny was so excited, he sent pictures of the bottles to his friends — he was the first to get any and they were very jealous.’
She then assumed that the craze would die down but, last December, a rumour swirled around Danny’s school that the local Spar in Sherbourne was stocking the drink for £3.99 a bottle, with a delivery at 2pm every Friday.
‘He asked me to check out if it was true,’ says Kirstie. ‘The other mums refuse to sit outside with me. There’s one older boy waiting, who looks like he’s left class early to be there, which is a bit awkward. But by the time the children come out of school at 3.05pm the bottles are all gone.’
Even empty bottles have become status symbols — this month, Charlie Smith, ten, from Nottingham, revealed he’d sold five empty Primes for £12 on his mum’s eBay account.
Julie Barnes’ son Colby, 12, is doing even better — he has made £420 selling Prime he brought back from the U.S. to schoolfriends in Bath. Julie, 36, says: ‘The parents come up to me at the gates and say, “Your son is known as the Prime Boy”. Their kids had been desperate to get it and he’d been the only way.’
Julie, who runs baby classes and is married to Sam, 34, adds that Colby first noticed Prime stocked for around £1.50 in supermarkets in Florida — where the family has a holiday home — last summer. Back in Britain he knew it was in short supply, so when he returned to Florida last November, he spent his holiday money on 30 bottles, quickly shifting them for £5 a bottle back in the UK.
Kirstie, an otherwise level-headed woman, currently on maternity leave from her job as a horse groom, has stopped what she’s doing every Friday this month to buy the drink for her 11-year-old son, Danny
After spending Christmas in Florida, he brought back seven crates, each containing 12 bottles. His family helped him transport his enormous haul by stashing them in their suitcases.
‘It was quite heavy, but we didn’t mind,’ says Julie, who’s proud of her son’s entrepreneurial spirit. ‘He’d sold them all within two weeks. He bought himself designer clothes with the money.’
Colby’s supplies have now gone, so last Saturday he cycled the 20-mile round trip from his home to Asda in Frome, Somerset, hoping to find bottles at retail price, but returned empty-handed. ‘It’s gone within seconds,’ says Julie, who is bamboozled as to why Colby likes the taste of Prime.
‘It tastes like a sickly drink you’d have if you’d been poorly — like Dioralyte,’ she says. ‘But even before Prime, Colby was obsessed with energy drinks, and the fact it’s so hard to get hold of makes them want it even more.’
Like most parents, Julie has ‘no idea’ who KSI and Logan Paul are, or what holds her son so enthralled by Prime’s YouTube promoters. But she understands their clout is so much more effective than the stars of previous generations, because they can communicate directly with fans via social media, and reap huge rewards as a result.
When KSI quit £23,000-a-year Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire after AS-levels to become a YouTuber, his mum, who wanted him to be a doctor or lawyer, was furious. ‘My parents lived in Nigeria and worked hard to get to this country, and put all their effort into making sure I was able to go to private school. They’ve taken out loans. Been in enormous debt. You can understand how frustrating it was when I said, “Nah, I want to do YouTube,” ’ he said.
Yet his online following helped him became a successful boxer — bizarrely, YouTubers have a habit of challenging each other to boxing duels — and rap star, and he is now said to be worth £16 million.
American YouTuber Logan Paul, 27, is arguably less of a role model, having made a name for himself with online pranks such as jumping over speeding cars. In 2017, he sparked outrage after uploading a video of himself with friends in Aokigahara Forest in Japan.
A known suicide site close to Mt Fuji, they had come across a dead body and were filmed cracking jokes alongside the victim. Logan Paul removed the video 24 hours later and apologised. He has an estimated £15 million fortune. He and KSI met in 2018 after challenging each other to a boxing bout at Manchester Arena. They drew. There was a rematch in LA the following year and when, last January, the pair said they had an announcement, fans assumed round three was imminent.
Instead, they revealed they were launching Prime, which, for all the fame of its creators, is owned by drinks company Congo Brands. Founded by 20-something American businessmen Trey Steiger and Max Clemons, they gave the drink transatlantic appeal by recruiting stars in the U.S. and Britain.
KSI and Logan Paul have showcased the drink to their followers via a series of goofy videos. And when the drink launched in the UK, they visited Asda’s Watford store in a Prime-wrapped double-decker bus, drawing huge crowds.
Prime is sugar-free — but artificially sweetened with sucralose. It also contains B vitamins and antioxidants, while the coconut water ‘has electrolytes which are good for rehydration ,’ says London-based nutritionist Laura Southern. ‘But the coconut water in Prime is powdered and reconstituted, so I can’t imagine there’d be a huge health benefit. You’d get a similar effect drinking water.
‘My biggest problem is that the concentration of artificial sweetness desensitises your taste buds to natural sugar,’ she adds. ‘It’s so sickly sweet, it’s disgusting.’
Laura should know. Her own son, Micah, 11, has fallen under its spell. ‘I don’t think he even likes the taste. He says, “I love it”, but to me, he’s saying that because he thinks it’s cool, like when children are older and having their first sip of beer. They just like the bottle because it’s a status symbol. He’s got four, which is embarrassing as I’m a nutritionist!’
Micah has managed to source a few from Arsenal’s Emirates stadium — where it sells for £4.50 (compared to £3.95 for a bottle of Budweiser) — when attending football matches with his dad. Micah quickly shifted two of them for double the price via his school instant messenger group.
‘I told him to give my husband the money he’d made. He wasn’t happy,’ says Laura, who admits that, for all her misgivings, when she visits her local Aldi, she looks for Prime, ‘because I’m a mug!’
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