MORE than five million concert-goers in five years have visited the SSE Hydro...a figure which has exceeded the expectations of the woman responsible for bringing some of the world's biggest acts to Glasgow.

Debbie McWilliams has been at the helm of the Scottish Event Campus operation for the past three decades and her crowning glory is the Hydro.

Her office is a shrine to her achievements with the walls adorned with signed posters of artists from Eric Clapton to Tina Turner and McWilliams is one of a team of more than 180 people who helped get them to Scotland.

"The amount of people who are buying tickets to come and see shows at the Hydro demonstrates that we needed that building," explained Debbie, who is head of live entertainment.

"We built it, the artist and audience comes, and we have achieved global success in the city as a result," she said. "We have consistently topped the Pollstar chart [for worldwide ticket sales], and that level of success probably surpassed our expectations.

"But we knew instantly after night one when the doors opened. There was a big crowd in there to see Rod Stewart, who was the ideal opening act. And the building just came to life, it was obvious we had something very special."

The 13,000 capacity Hydro, which was designed by Fosters + Partners, opened its doors five years ago on September 30, 2013 with Bruno Mars and Fleetwood Mac among the first acts to play.

Since then, the arena, which was designed on ancient Roman and Greek architecture concepts, similar to amphitheatres, has hosted more than 373 events.

She said: "An artist can come here and be pretty much guaranteed success in terms of ticket sales. The Hydro is going to be part of most tours. We have become very much a must-play destination, and part of that is down to the Glasgow audience."

Last year, McWilliams earned top spot in Billboard’s Arena Power Players, in the 10,001-15,000 capacity venues category, and it is no wonder given some of the acts she has been able to attract to the city.

Celine Dion became the highest grossing artist to play the venue while rockers Metallica beat all previous attendance records with a total audience of 12,935.

She said: "I am proud of every single event. Each event delivers something for somebody. Prince playing the Hydro was by far a really special night and getting Celine Dion back to Glasgow after 20 years was a proud moment."

She said: "It is a bit special every time we secure an act that has never played before. We want to get to that place where we can say every single touring act has played our building."

With that goal in mind, McWilliams has a wish list of artists she hopes will one day take to the stage. "Stevie Wonder, it is big aspiration to try and get him. Barbra Streisand is another one."

Getting the acts here is one thing but having to deal with their diva demands is quite another as she only knows too well. When Morrisey played the venue earlier this year, a vegan-friendly zone was created at his request. McWilliams' team of staff had to remove any leather articles from the Hydro and ensure all catering for fans was vegan. Everything from spiced chick pea and sweetcorn pizza to vegan nachos were on offer on the menu. That is just one example of the lengths the team go to for artists. "An artist wanted us to bring a hot tub into their dressing room and I am pleased to say that there is no challenge that we have not been able to meet," she laughed.

She added: "You get a whole host of different requests but one of the funniest stories was a really high profile artist had no hairspray. We had to try and locate hairspray at the oddest hour, and it turned out someone in here had it from the Poundshop but it did the trick. There is also the crazy ones that I can’t really talk about."

She can, however, talk about how much the artists love the venue. "The artists love the uniqueness of the building, the shape, the iconic exterior and how the building looks on the inside as well," she said.

She added: "When most artists are touring, the majority of arenas have that hockey-style, long shape whereas we have got this atmospheric style colosseum, and what it does, it gives intimacy."

The artists are also given the most Scottish welcome possible with backstage signs featuring phrases such as 'Gie it laldy' and 'Haste ye back'.

"Everybody in Glasgow knows what that means. It is funny when some of the artists try and pronounce it. It is a talking point for sure, some will even make reference on stage.

"There is little bits and pieces backstage which encourages the artists to engage with the venue, to get the message out about where they are and how much they are liking being there."

Several famous faces have also embraced the venue's Scottish setting with singers Harry Styles and Justin Bieber, and tennis ace Roger Federer among some of the men to have worn a kilt in the arena.

Neighbouring Finnieston has benefitted from the Hydro, with 48 new bars and restaurants popping up since 2013, in a trend that has been dubbed the "Hydro effect”.

"I do genuinely believe that the Hydro has played a major role in making Finnieston a real social destination," she said. "I'm inclined more often than not to go for something to eat in Finnieston at the weekends when I am out. I don’t really go into town as such.

"Finnieston for me is where it is really happening at the moment. I am pleased that most of the restaurants are still going strong and when you go up there on the night of a gig, the whole place is alive and bustling. It is incredible."

To some her job might seen like the most sought-after position in the city and it is clear from speaking to her that she would have to agree as there is not much she doesn't like about working at the Scottish Event Campus.

"It will be hard to find things that I don’t love about this job," she said. "It will sound very obvious but being part of a really exciting industry and being able to influence whether an artist could maybe play this city is quite an incredible experience.

"There is always a lot of adrenaline going when you take that call about potentially an artist coming."

She continued: "No two days are the same which is really exciting and rewarding too. One day we can be hosting a wrestling event and the next day it can be Beyonce."

As for the future, she has some interesting predictions. "We are probably going to see artists who are no longer with us, performing live," she said. "We recently had a show like that, a Roy Orbison event at the Armadillo. Everybody was saying it was really freaky but amazing. One of the team was also sent recently to a Michael Jackson one which looks incredible."

She added: "Technology will play a huge part in live entertainment. We will start to see a more immersive experience with virtual reality becoming a big part of a show. You'll come in, wear goggles and feel like you are on stage with the artist."

Regardless of how the shows are presented, for McWilliams it will always be about getting bums on seats and putting on the best of live entertainment.

"You see the reward in what you do when you walk into that building and there is 13,000 people screaming and they are having a great time," she said.

She added: "The future looks bright. Touring doesn’t seem to be diminishing, artists want to work. They want to tour and they are touring more often."