So last weekend was Secret Garden Party. It is truly the most magical, beautiful, bohemian and inherently theatrical place I have ever ever been. Without needing or meaning to sound pretentious, it took me on a spiritual journey where happiness reigns and love is truly all you need. It blew my mind, it was emotional.
It is a veritable rabbit warren of secret passageways, dark entrances, and unexpected twists and turns that lead you through portaloos to fields of sunflowers, through tiny openings to Badger Woods, and into your own psychedelic hippy labyrinth style experience. At the same time, it was comfortable, pamper ready, and decidedly high end. This festival didn’t have an identity crisis though, it got it just right.
It is set on the organiser Freddie Fellowes’ ancestral land, Abbots Ripton Hall, a 6000 acre estate. Freddie’s father is the 4th Baron de Ramsey, John Ailwyn Fellowes. The original main stage was designed by uber-famous architect, Norman Foster, who also designed London’s millenium bridge and worked on the restoration of the Reichstag in Berlin. So, you could be forgiven for expecting big things from the site, and it did not disappoint. You can read a very interesting article about the festival’s origins here.
We had queued from 10am on Thursday before the gates opened at 12, and I can definitely recommend this. Security were quite slow at letting people through, and people who arrived in the middle of the day queued for up to 5 hours. Luckily, we did not suffer this fate. We set up camp in North Camping and set off to explore the beautiful sights that awaited….
Thursday was a chilled out day by all accounts… we wandered around an Ampitheatre where jive lessons were going on, the Sanctuary, past the Salon (yes, you can have your hair done!), a croquet lawn marked out with hay bails, a huge wikka fox, and a space hopper assault course complete with water slide. We ended up at a mini lake near the Sanctuary, where you could do Yoga at 7.30am. I doubt I need to mention but we did not make it to Yoga at any point; one fine year. The late afternoon sun was beaming and, well, it was paradise. It could have been a big cartoon set, a huge playground for beautiful, scantily clad festival goers to roll down hills in, and lounge on a big water beanbag, without a care in the world.
Friday began with a strawberry mojito ice lolly from a cute vintage ice cream van, and a wander across the bridge over the lake where you got your first proper view of the Emerald City, on the way to the main stage to see Kwabs. You couldn’t help but stop for a minute to take in just how beautiful it all was. Kwabs’ single, Wrong or Right, has been playing in my head all the time at the moment. His voice was atmospheric, with raw emotion running through it, and the bass was so heavy and intense on the ground by the stage that it made me feel sick (in a very good way – or that could have been the mojito for breakfast!) The Guardian describe him as the new Seal, Gospel meets electronica. A very good start to the musical proceedings, and this was followed by Hercules and Love Affair, and the lovely Little Dragon later as the headliner. They didn’t disappoint, and were every bit as good as I remember them.
I didn’t get any pictures of this, mainly because I was so engrossed at the fact that I was suddenly in a gameshow, but also on Friday we also wandered to the Coliseum, the events in which changed throughout the weekend, where two girls were suspended in bungees, wearing huge boxing gloves, trying to punch the shit out of each other. It was absolutely hilarious. We put this on our to do list for the Sunday but, as with all festivals, we didn’t get round to doing everything we wanted (to do everything would surely be stressful, and not too chiiilllleeedd maaann); but don’t you worry as I will be back next year with more tales and hopefully a boxing victory.
Saturday, what can I say?! It blew my mind. My absolute best day of the festival, and possibly at a festival ever. It was a very good friend of mine’s birthday (she’s the cutie in the polkadot dress), and you’re going to have to use your imagination here regarding the theme because, of course, some of us were saying goodbye to the yellow brick road with our recently made tie dye kimonos (read about them here) but it was so incredibly, blissfully and almost tropically hot that we wore them at differing and infrequent points, and didn’t get a decent photo – fail? Never mind eh.
Saturday began with a game, that our lovely pregnant friend, who didn’t attend for obvious reasons, had made for the birthday girl. Providing you’re not on a really tight music schedule, I think this is a great way to discover the festival; just roll the dice, go where it tells you and do what it says! Of course the tasks were mainly alcohol related, but one really cute task was to choose someone in our posse we didn’t know too well, and tell them something new about ourselves – good vibes!
So, the dice had spoken, and we settled on the grass near the purple flowers at the main stage to watch Morcheeba. Morcheeba were an unexpected treat by all accounts, as most of us are a bit young to remember them more than vaguely. Dancing on that hill, flags and flowers flying everywhere, the vibe was blissed out and beautiful, I had my round specs and my purple bob, and I was in the sixties, or at least the sixties as I imagine them, and let me tell you – they were amazing. I had enough sixties love to take everyone back with me. They may have been little known to me, but Morcheeba absolutely stole the show when they played a cover of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. I nearly exploded when the intro started playing, and with that first epic guitar riff I was once again transported through time and space, into the hedonistic eighties. What a truly amazing moment.
Of course, the best was yet to come as Saturday night brought Ruby Wood’s gorgeous voice with Submotion Orchestra, as a great warm up to what was to be the most moving, incredible, fireworks display I have ever seen and doubt I will ever see again. I don’t have the words to describe the beauty; salvo after salvo of breathtaking fireworks set to songs such as All You Need is Love, so huge and close at one point it looked like a beautiful alien invasion. At most points I felt like I was in a movie, and that movie was definitely Love Actually. Most of the people around us (us included) were crying at the sheer spectacle of it.
The wonder and high jinx of the fireworks swept us up as we got late into Saturday night, and it was back to the Temple of Boom to rave the night away. We missed Chase and Status at the Coliseum, as I understand many people did – because there was simply no room at the inn. One other place we didn’t visit but wished we did was the Dance off Stage on the Lake – on the bucket list for next year, it looked ace.
It was back into the cartoon land on Sunday for us, as we spent the day doing the Wacky Races and water slide. Wacky Races involves a massssive space hopper and quite a hard assault course. I mean, I am pretty fit but this would have been better done on the Thursday or Friday – phewph! It got a good dose of endorphins flowing anyway.
Inkeeping with the theme of this blissed out Cambridgeshire haven, Sunday evening rolled in perfectly; under pastel blue skies, with Martha and the Vandellas, the arrival of two beautiful hot air balloons, World War Two spitfires drawing Red Arrow-esque hearts in the sky, and finally with Fat Freddy’s Drop. This epic seven piece soul, reggae, dub and techno act from New Zealand who describe themselves as a pirate soul train was definitely my musical highlight. It was also a perfect lead into ‘The Big Burn’ in which we finally said Goodbye to the Yellow Brick Road and denounced those dogs of society for one last time, with Elton John’s iconic song playing as the Emerald City burned.
All I can say is, take me back. Well done Secret Garden Party, you rocked my world and gave me memories to last a lifetime.