The park is a hive of activity as groups of people flit frantically from one patch of undergrowth to another, peering round trees and under benches. But this is not a mass game of hide-and-seek: it is a search for cold, hard cash.
This treasure hunt is the first example in Britain of the phenomenon that has swept through several North American cities in the past few weeks and given away thousands of dollars.
The premise is simple: clues to the whereabouts of each “drop” of 20 white envelopes, every one containing a sum of money, are posted via the Hidden Cash Twitter account. Clues for yesterday’s hunt in central London included a “large space where green meets blue”, a veiled reference to crossing underground lines, eventually leading treasure hunters to a statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Many dived straight into the vegetation behind the statue in a desperate attempt to be the first to the cash, said to total £1,500.
The first envelope was claimed by Sam Wilson, 30, from east London, who found £50 in a tree stump. “The whole point of this is a game for everyone to get involved. The atmosphere in the park was great,” she said, adding that she would give the £50 to her mother.
It is the idea of “paying it forward” that founder of Hidden Cash, Jason Buzi, 43, a property investor from California, had in mind when he started the treasure hunt around the streets of San Francisco last month.
Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, the millionaire, who banded together with other wealthy individuals to hand out the cash, said he enjoyed the idea of bringing people outside using social media.
“When social media brings people together in a real-life way, it is very powerful and I think that’s the key thing here – that and brightening up people’s day,” he said. He hopes that people pass on their good fortune with other acts of kindness.
The big winners of the day were Adam Mills and Jane Fletcher from north London. Having found an envelope each on individual hunts, both containing £50, Mr Mills found another, and posted on Twitter the picture that is asked of those who find an envelope. He added that one find would be going to charity.
Mr Mills, 29, said he had no problem taking the money – despite some saying that Mr Buzi should give the cash straight to charity. But striking lucky a second time did give him pause for thought. “When you find the first one, it feels good, but the second one did make me think twice,” Mr Mills said.
Mr Buzi said that he plans future drops in London, as well as looking into possible hunts in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
The Hidden Cash Hunt is heading to Madrid next month and then on to Paris.