There's something to be said about gathering in a field for three or four days- getting caked in mud, developing a lovely builders tan and finding glitter in crevices you didn't even know existed. Festivals have an air of magic about them. They're enablers in forming life-long friendships and strengthening the bonds of those already existing. So it's somewhat sad when news reaches you of one coming to end. Unless you've been hiding under a rock you'll know that the calling time on the party this year is the Secret Garden Party. After 15 years of fun, they're bowing out.
Secret Garden Party (SGP) started out as just that- a party in the garden of founder Freddie Fellowes. Just 500 people attended that first one with only the Wild Things stage and a small bar ran by Fellowes brother and sister, or rather "they were in charge of giving out the alcohol and forgetting to charge for it" the founder chuckles wistfully in his gruff, but extremely well-spoken tone. Over that decade and a half, the festival has evolved beyond their wildest imaginations with an attendence of around 30,000 people and a total of 22 stages and areas, as well as an envious line-up that boasts some of the music worlds performers alongside a plethora of talented up-and-coming musicians and DJs. They were privvy to two early performances from The XX before they blew up and they "could no longer afford them". The festival has also played a part in helping to launch careers with many concepts and experiential collectives starting out on their journies there.
Photo credit: Gobinder Jhitta
So why choose this year to end? "We felt that the time was right," Freddie explains. "We felt that we'd gone as far as we could in the medium of this for our aims and that it was time to duck out and do something different." A hint at plans to create something new in the future? Has the influx of people leaving the UK to attend festivals abroad affected their decision? "I can absolutely see the attraction," he says. "You're guaranteed the weather, booze prices are a lot lower so the cost of living once you're there is a lot less, but then it's not on your doorstep. So I think it's a level playing field."
Something that SGP does better than other festivals is play dress up. It's the go-to festival for people who want to go all out with pom-pom head pieces, garish leggings, wigs and facial embelishments. Each year the festival has a theme, encouraging festival-goers to get creative with their attire. Previous years have seen themes encompassing space and childhood. Does Freddie come up with these himself? "They come from a haze of tobacco and alcohol smoke. Sometimes they're soley my creations, sometimes they're a collective," he tells us. Freddie explains that perhaps the most confusing theme for his punters was this years- that being the theme of celebrity, or rather how, as a nation, we've become obsessed with these so-called 'celebrities', whiling away hours pouring over Instagram feeds of surgically enhanced selfies, whilst those devious red-top rags mercilessly stalk them whilst doing such menial tasks as putting the bins out. "It's funny how people don't get context," he ruminates. "One person got very upset about the strapline on there as they rightfully pointed out that stalking is not a very pleasant thing if it happens to you. We had to point out to them that that was [the] point. Why are we allowed to stalk celebrities, but stalking is illegal? It’s not stalking if you really love them." Has there been a favourite theme across the 15 years? Freddie reflects back to the first ever garden party where the theme was 'The Last Days of Decadence- The Party Before The Fall', a theme that posed the question "If the world ends on Monday, what would you do?"
Aside from the hedonistic aspect and the escapism afforded to festival goers, festivals such as SGP play an integral role in our society. Freddie explains that the brief of the festival itself "is what defines a good party is the people you meet and the relationships you then form and that’s integral to society, that kind of connection, and I think that’s why gatherings [like these] are timeless". Anything in store that he can share with us? Fellowes muses: "Each year I do, but this year we're being very good and sticking to our guns and being very secretive. We’ll be going out with a bang not a whimper."
Photo credit: Samantha Milligan
So after all the pomp and circumstance of the final episode is over, the last tent has been dismantled and the last fun-seekers have stumbled off the site, is that it? No more Secret Garden Party ever? Freddie concludes:
"Well, it’s certainly the end of over 30,000 people over four days as a format for us. What you’re dealing with with gathering people together is such an eternal verity. That’s not going to go anywhere, and it’s my garden. I don’t really know how to do anything else. [I'm] totally unqualified for real life, so watch this space."
For more info on Secret Garden Party and to snag one of the final tickets, head HERE.
Main image credit: Andrew Whitton
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