Girl Steals Pope Hat

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I took my goddaughter to see Pope Francis. She was able to meet him and get a kiss on the cheek. But then she grabbed the hat off his head and the next few days were a little crazy.

Some highlights from the week

My original post has over two million views. The video made Jimmy Fallon’s monologue, “Good Morning America,” and “The Today Show.” Estella’s family and I were interviewed for CBS News at my apartment. I was interviewed live on EWTN. I got a late night call from Jimmy Kimmel. And I was retweeted by Luke Skywalker!

You’ve probably seen the video as it’s been shared and posted everywhere.

This was the most viral thing to happen to me since I had mono in high school, so I thought I’d share a bit about what happened the following minutes, hours, and days.

Here’s the background…

My three year old goddaughter, Estella Westrick, was in Rome with her family. Like any good godfather I wanted to take her to see the pope.

For those unfamiliar, the Holy Father holds a weekly event in Saint Peter’s Square where he addresses the crowd that sometimes numbers up to 100,000 people. Anyone can go, but the highlight for many is to get close to him as he drives around the square before the event or as he greets people afterwards.

I’ve been bringing people to see the pope for over a decade, so I had the advantage of knowing when to arrive, which line to use, and where to sit for the best chance of getting her to him.

Everything worked out perfectly, and we ended up in the front row of one of the sections.

In front of us were only some VIPs. I knew that Pope Francis would greet them after the audience, but there was no certainty that he would greet Estella.

To complicate matters, we were surrounded by other cute kids – competition, I call them.

As the pope was making his way down the VIP line, I launched Facebook Live, just in case. No matter what, I knew my family and friends would get a kick out of seeing the Holy Father only a few feet away and they would love it even more if she got to meet him. It’s not uncommon for crazy pope stuff to happen when I’m around.

As I’d hoped, one of the Gentlemen of the Papal Household asked if he could take her over to him. The pope gave her a kiss on the cheek and as he pulled away, she reached up and grabbed the zucchetto off his head! Everyone started laughing. Big belly laughs from security, a few nearby bishops, and the Holy Father. It was great!

The video and all the crazy that followed…

The time stamp on the Facebook Live video is 11:51 a.m.

I posted a 30 second clip of it to Twitter at 12:05 p.m. Rome time.

A short 19 minutes later, at 12:24 p.m., I received a call from CBS. They wanted to do a story for “CBS Evening News” and asked if they could send a crew to my apartment. I got approval from Estella’s parents and scheduled CBS for 2:30 p.m.

Over the next two hours I had calls from BBC, CNN, EWTN, SKY, the Independent, Buzzfeed, and the Guardian.

I got a request from a viral video company asking if they could represent me and split the revenue. I said no. The whole thing seemed shady to me. I thought if someone was trying to sell the video to media outlets, maybe some of them wouldn’t show it. It was a fun video and I knew people would love it.

CBS arrived and interviewed all of us from my terrace.


They got some b-roll of both our families walking down Borgo Pio, the street where I live – that was a new and strange experience. Then they took us all out for gelato!

During that time, my phone was ringing nonstop. Phone numbers from all over the world.

Once CBS left I was able to take more calls. More interviews. There were a few Skype interviews and one FaceTime interview. “The Today Show” called and spoke with me and Estella’s mom. “E! News” called and interviewed me.

Then we all went to dinner.

By the end of the day, I’d received 95 phone calls from the media. Most were interviews, a few were requests for permission to show the video on news programs.

I also received 394 emails related to the video. I have not counted the texts, Facebook messages, and Twitter DMs, but there were a lot.

The CBS video ran on their national “Evening News” show sometime while I slept.

At 2 a.m. I got a call from “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” They wanted to do something on the show that night. They were the only ones to request I sign something, it was a two page waiver, and it needed a parental signature. The parents were sleeping and I wasn’t about to wake them. FoxNews called soon after to see if they could run it on “Fox and Friends.”

I woke up three hours later, around 5 a.m. on Thursday. I had tons of text messages from friends and family saying they saw the story on local and national news, and “TMZ.”

CBS ran another version of the interview on their national morning show, “This Morning.” Here’s the full version from the morning show.

“The Today Show” piece ran this morning as well.

I received 342 emails and 17 phone calls Thursday. Some came from big US networks to schedule interviews for the weekend shows and the following week. Most contact came from smaller local affiliates, lots of radio station interview requests, Asian networks, and European markets.

On Thursday night, Jimmy Fallon mentioned it and showed the clip in his monologue!

As I write this, ten days after first sharing the video, the original Facebook post has nearly 60,000 views and 270 shares.

On Instagram, it has 8,000 views. I’m not even sure how people found it there.

But Twitter is where this one really took off for me. My Twitter post alone has almost 2,500,000 (two and a half million!) views and 17,000 retweets. That’s crazy!!! One week later, it was still getting about 100 retweets per day.

These numbers don’t even count the views from other posts. CNN’s Facebook video has over one million views, ABC is close, Independent, Telegraph, Yahoo, and Fox are all around a quarter of a million views each.

Calls and emails continue to come in ten days later, but now it’s only a few a day.

I’m also still getting offers to buy the rights from viral companies. The offers began with revenue sharing. Then I was offered $400 up front and a revenue split. Now the offers are in the thousands of dollars with a 70/30 revenue split in perpetuity. I continue to turn them all down.

As for the benefits of going viral…

I think it takes a lot of solid content to bump up follower numbers. One viral video isn’t going to cut it. Also, this video was all about what Estella did, not that I provided some great entertaining insight to something. Still, I’ve had some nice increases across the board.

According to Twitter analytics, I’ve gotten about 600 new followers over the last 10 days.

I have about 250 new followers on The Catholic Traveler Facebook page. The video was posted publicly on my personal account, and only shared to The Catholic Traveler page. So my personal page also has about 200 new followers and over 100 new friend requests.

I’ve gotten about 30 new followers on Instagram, despite the nearly 9,000 views of the video shared there.

I’ve also had 100 new subscribers to my email list. Direct marketing. Yay!

My website had a 130% increase in visitors on the Wednesday of the Papal Audience, but it evened out by Friday, and has stayed steady ever since. The bounce rate stayed low at 3.22% – which is really, really good. That means people are hanging around and clicking.

With the new traffic, I’ve also seen a huge bump, like, a really huge bump(!), in requests for my day tours of Catholic Rome.

The biggest return for me is the joy that comes from the video. It’s so great to see something Catholic being shown positively in mainstream media. From major outlets to small markets, I’ve heard nothing but positive comments from the hosts. Usually when the Church is in the media, it’s not for good reason. In this case, people are saying things like “I was raised Catholic” with a smile on their face, rather than shame. That’s a win for New Evangelization!

Catholic vs. Mainstream media…

As you’ll see from all the links below, mainstream media loved this story! It was fun and quick. Perfect to end segments or broadcasts and easy to share across social networks.

Despite the nearly 1,000 international media requests (mainstream, local, entertainment, celebrity, and even Christian) only one Catholic outlet contacted me directly, the family of EWTN / Catholic News Agency / ACI Presna. In fact, EWTN contacted me right after CBS, they are on top of things!

EWTN had me live on “EWTN News Nightly”. That did wonders for my business! They have a huge reach and I am forever grateful for those two minutes on air!

Catholic News Agency wrote about it.

ACI Prensa wrote about it as well.

A few other places ran the CNN story and lots shared the original Facebook and Twitter posts.

One Catholic media company contacted me, not to discuss the hat, but my work. So that could be exciting!

While more Catholic coverage would have been great for business, I love that it was spread far across the mainstream media. It was fun to hear some of the Church’s rich and quirky traditions make it into mainstream media, the zucchetto swap! How often are you going to hear about that on the national nightly news or the morning coffee chat shows?

Around the Vatican…

I ran into the official papal photographer, Francesco, a few days later. He was wearing a fleece The North Face hoodie and had in Apple earbuds – I always get a kick out of seeing the papal entourage in street clothes. He got all excited and asked where ‘she’ was. That tells me that even days later, the guy who photographed the last two popes at every event still remembers this fun little moment.

A week after the hat incident, I ran into the head of the Pope’s security at the grocery store of all places. I showed him the video. He completely lit up. He loved that moment. In the official photographs he started with his mouth wide open in horror, then erupted into a full laugh.

In the media…

This has been a lot of fun, so I wanted to keep up with some of the places that ran the story, and some of the better headlines and quotes.

I couldn’t keep up with all the local affiliates, but I’ve heard local news channels from all over the world ran the clip.

At least one New York paper included it in print!

A few of my favorite (mis)quotes:
“Meeting the Pope is kind of a big deal – unless you’re the sassiest three-year-old known to man.”Independent Ireland

“Meeting the Pope, c’est hype!”Madame

“Three-Year-Old Pilgrim Pinches Pope’s Skullcap”Yahoo! News

“It’s her first full day in Rome, who knows what she will get up to tomorrow.”US Weekly

“Set off the white smoke at the Sistine Chapel because we have a new pope of cuteness and her name is Estella.”New York Daily News

“Little Girl Steals The Pope’s Hat & The Internet Can’t Handle It”Refinery29

“A sneaky little girl has taken the internet (and the Vatican) by storm…”E! News

“Save your prayers, the only thing three-year-old Estella Westrick wanted out of her meeting with His Holiness was his hat.”Southern Living

“When he went to bestow a kiss…”Time

“The girl, named as Shirley…”The Daily Mail

“Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the fact that the little girl’s godfather is called Mountain.”Buzzfeed

“The man, who calls himself Mountain…”Telegraph UK

“Her grandfather, Mountain Butorac…” Wait, what?!? – CBNNews

In the media:
“ABC World News Now”
Daily Mail
Disney / Babble
E! News
Eye of the Tiber
Fox News
Hollywood Gossip
Huffington Post
Independent Ireland
Independent Journal Review
Perez Hilton
New York Daily News
New York Post
Southern Living
Telegraph UK
“The Today Show”
“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”
US Weekly
USA Today
Vanity Fair

Some countries that ran the story:
Canada / Canada
Greece / Greece
India / India / India
Ireland / Ireland
Nigeria / Nigeria
Pakistan / Pakistan
South Africa
United Kingdom

My local Atlanta affiliates, just because:
Fox 5

No, Estella, you may not sit in the pope’s chair.

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