Cameron Hughes is in the energy business: Since 1994, he’s electrified crowds at sporting events across the world with his high-octane t-shirt-twirling performances and admittedly “good-bad dancing.” Apt613 recently caught up with Hughes to talk about his journey. He also published a memoir not that long ago documenting his unlikely rise and reign as the King of Cheer.
That book, King of Cheer: Stories of Showing Up, Getting Up and Never Giving Up from the World’s Most Electrifying Crowd Ignitor, from Fangage Media, is a 241-page look into Hughes’ unconventional career path. Apt613 spoke to the Ottawa native, who now resides in Victoria, B.C., about his recent release.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Hughes is the first to acknowledge that his job title—“crowd ignitor”—raises a few eyebrows. “When people find out what I do for a living, usually they can’t believe it… then they have a whole lot of questions,” writes Hughes. “But without fail, the one question I get most often is: how’d you do it?” King of Cheer is the answer.
Readers join Hughes on his inspirational journey that’s equal parts heart, drive, resilience, emotion, grit, and gratitude. It’s an easy book to pick up, but a hard one to put down.
“Just get up… it would become my life mantra.”
He draws from a succession of personal highs and lows on his way to becoming the King of Cheer. Detailed in two parts, Hughes peppers each story with quips and inner dialogue that add a natural authenticity to his recounts. Part one begins with Hughes failing to make his high school basketball team and breaking the news to his mother, who was battling breast cancer.
“There are other ways you can contribute to the team,” she told him. She passed not long after, but her words manifested inside Hughes. At the next game, he stood up and cheered his team to victory. “Just get up… it would become my life mantra,” he says.
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His redemption story concludes in New York City, as Hughes rises in front of 20,000 basketball fans. “The kid who couldn’t make the high school basketball team was just about to rock the house at Madison Square Garden… if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
Part two of the book recounts the light and fun moments of his career, like the time he danced with Novak Djokovic at centre court during the U.S. Open, or when he shooed rapper Machine Gun Kelly off a float during the 2016 NBA Championship parade, or the night he partied at Prince’s house.
Humbly, the King of Cheer’s career-defining moment isn’t a star-studded t-shirt twirl. It isn’t about him at all, as Hughes explains: “The moment with Malcolm, the boy with Down syndrome, you can’t top that one.”
Hughes was on a crowd “hit” when he noticed a boy behind him with a huge smile on his face. Stepping aside, he encouraged the boy to work the stands. “He was actually a really good dancer and you see the crowd is like ‘alright buddy, let’s go,’” says Hughes. The boy punctuated his performance with t-shirt tosses while Hughes fed him tees. Finally, the dynamic duo cut the music and synchronized a slow clap with 35,000 fans. “He took the house down.”
“I get goosebumps just talking about it,” says Hughes. “[It] perfectly encapsulated the reason I do what I do… getting others to be more in the moment.”
Hughes has always been a team player. King of Cheer created an opportunity to recognize and appreciate “the people who believed in me and gave me a shot,” writes Hughes. A thoughtful selection of quotes from friends, mentors, and sports executives adds colour and insight into their relationship with Hughes and his impact as a performer.
He’s also earned more than a few fans of his own. The book’s pages are plastered with pictures of Hughes beaming alongside friends, family, and an impressive roster of sports stars and celebrities including Connor McDavid, Hayley Wickenheiser, Roger Federer, Kevin Love, Trevor Noah, Katie Couric, Alanis Morissette, and the Blue Man Group.
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The undeniable highs of a career in cheer come at a price. “I don’t think people realize what goes into each performance,” says Hughes. “And how hard it is to dance down stairs.”
That physical exertion is perhaps best exemplified on the road to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic games: “I’d been hired to do 34 [hockey] games in 16 days. I [was on] a fitness and nutrition plan that was so intense an outsider might have wondered if I’d be playing in 34 games rather than cheering at them,” writes Hughes. “But it was all worth it…[as] I had a front-row seat to the insanity… when Sidney Crosby buried the overtime game-winner.”
Crowd igniting also creates occupational hazards. “[I had] to put on special moisturizing gloves because my hands started bleeding from so much clapping,” writes Hughes. Fortunately, his hands made a full recovery in time to compile the memoir.
“I [was on] a fitness and nutrition plan that was so intense an outsider might have wondered if I’d be playing in 34 games rather than cheering at them.”
Reflecting on the writing process, Hughes says: “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had this ‘whatever it takes’ mentality. I put my heart, my soul, my spirit into it and I’m proud of it.”
In a full interview, Hughes discusses his emotional homecoming, run-ins with notable Ottawa residents—including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Alanis Morissette, and Matthew Perry—and how he coped with pandemic-induced “cheer-pression.”
King of Cheer appeals to all readers. Its message is simple: “The cheer you give is the cheer you get.” If that’s true, Hughes deserves a lifetime of standing ovations.
Cameron Hughes’s new book, King of Cheer: Stories of Showing Up, Getting Up and Never Giving Up from the World’s Most Electrifying Crowd Ignitor is available via his website and Amazon. For a regular dose of cheer, follow @cameroncheers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.