private festivals

Party people like us: The rise of the private festival

Who needs strangers and tent cities when you can be surrounded by friends at your own mini festival?

Somewhere in the depths of Hell, a demon is hard at work crafting nightmares just for you. If you’re a Broadway actor, he’ll send you a terrible vision of forgetting your lines on opening night. If you’re a Parisian waiter, you’ll be tormented by the dream of spilling oily bouillabaisse over the linen trousers of an angry billionaire. And if you’re a regular attendee of Glastonbury festival, you’ll be trapped in a horrifying scene: under a roasting sun among a writhing crowd of strangers, miles away from your friends, no battery on your phone, hungry, thirsty, sweaty, and — as the ground rapidly approaches your face — questioning the wisdom of ingesting contraband substances.

This is the kind of nightmare that many festival-goers have awoken from, resolving to create their own events with space to breathe, no queues, and where everyone you bump into is a friend of a friend instead of a sunburned stranger looking for trouble. Thus was born the private festival —a decidedly more chilled affair than its raucous big brother.

private festival

After all, Glasto has blown up from a gentle overnight camping trip first held in 1970, when entry cost £1 and guests were entitled to a performance by T. Rex and as much milk as they could drink from the dairy farm. It is now a five-day endurance event for 200,000 people and 2,800 performances. A 900-acre area in sleepy Somerset transforms into one of the largest cities in the south of England and has become so intense that luxury services have set up to cater to guests who pay handsomely so they can spend less time at the festival. You can book a helicopter to one of two local helipads (£10,000 for a round trip in a six-seater chopper from London Battersea heliport to Glasto), re-energise at a spa (£15,000 to stay at Camp Kerala, which has 24-hour service offering massages, facials and a hair salon) and sleep in a luxury yurt outside the main grounds (£25,000 for a ten-person “tenthouse suite” at the Pop-Up Hotel, which has hot tubs, a pool and a restaurant run by Tim Maddams, former head chef of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage).

If an event is so manic that you can only tolerate it in brief spells, you may start thinking about setting up your own more low-key bash. The mini-festival has flourished as revellers start to wonder if the mud and the blood and the sweat and the tears of larger events is really worth it. By all appearances these mini festivals are thoroughly civilised affairs — a few hundred festival-goers raving in a picturesque field or in the grounds of a country estate.

The now defunct Virgo, a gathering of 1,200, was held for five years on the estate of Francis Fulford, star of The F***ing Fulfords reality show. A tip for landowners considering their own events lies within the planning application for Virgo’s music licence — late-night beats had to be quiet enough that they could not be heard from the bedrooms of the grade-I listed manor house.

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