Festival Fever


FESTIVALS HAVE NEVER BEEN SO POPULAR! WHICH IS WHY I DECIDED TO SET MY NEW COMEDY, WILD & FREE (OUT NOW), AT ONE. It’s the first festival novel, therefore breaking new literary ground! It seemed to me that there were endless comic and dramatic opportunities among the Hunter wellies and celeb Winnebagoes. I explored some of this territory recently in this article for the Sunday Express magazine, outlining some of the people you might find at a Wild & Free-like boho-chic festival. The beautiful illustrations are by Nila Aye.

The Hip Hens and the Significant Birthday Party

Rachel is a secretary on a glossy magazine. She’s getting married and wants to do everything just like Kate (Moss, not Middleton). Kate went to the Isle of Wight Festival for her hen party so Rachel’s hired a pink stretch Hummer just the same, filled it with champagne, girlfriends and ‘Guilty Pleasures’ disco and headed off to ‘Wild & Free’ where she’s reserved a luxury yurt from a company called Poles Apart. For Rachel and her friends, the festival’s one huge outdoor catwalk; Rachel’s gone for vintage floral but other hens are working kitsch urbanwear and gap-year boho.

Behind the Hummer as it gets stuck in the country lanes are ad agency exec Spencer and his old university mates. They’re in their rented, split-screen, vintage-but-with-WiFi VW camper van. The mates haven’t met for thirty years. But, ever-persuasive and violently nostalgic, Spencer’s got them all back together for his big Five O. He told them it would be cool to go to a festival but now they’re actually here, in the back of the VW, listening to ‘Life on Mars’ on the Shuffle amid ‘Let It Bleed’ album-cover cushions, the rest of the guys are feeling like mid-life-crisis clichés. But Spencer’s just spotted the hens and things are looking up, big-style.

The Burger Flippers

Deciding what to do on your gap yah is pretty challenging. Caspar and Freddie, between Eton and Bristol, first tried to train as lifeguards in Rock. But they couldn’t save their own lives let alone anyone else’s. Then they tried, unsuccessfully, to open a nightclub called Munter’s in the King’s Road. Now they’re flipping burgers and jerk chicken at festivals in a converted caravan called the Ital Freedom Fighters Surf Shack. They wear knitted hats, skank around to eardrum-bleedingly-loud reggae and call all their customers ‘yu whiteys’. Caspar has made friends with The Hon Ottilie Wilderbeest on the next stall. She’s a Cressida Bonas type in tiny shorts and hi-top trainers who sells little chairs she’s made out of the cages on champagne corks. She’s doing contemporary dancing at Peterborough University and plans to hit Hollywood. Caspar’s thinking of coming too. Every film star these days is an Etonian; he might be the next James Bond.


The Weekend Pagan

Rowan’s camped in the field reserved for bards, ovates and druids. She’s straight out of Game of Thrones; a vision in flowing crushed velvet with her hair streaming over her shoulders. Her day job is in public sector recruitment but in the evenings and weekends she’s a pagan. She believes each of us has the right to follow their own path; Rowan, much to her neighbours’ amusement, frequently follows the path into the back garden of her Leicester ‘covenstead’ and says things like ‘Thank you, bush, for being here.” Rowan (real name Sharon) started to worship Gaia the earth goddess after a workshop at a climate camp and is a member of the pagan morris dancing group Rune. They wear ivy bustiers and bird beaks and are in great demand for Beltane festivals. Rowan doesn’t find it difficult to switch between all this and everyday life; she’s always being asked for love spells at the water cooler.

The Exhumed Eighties Pop Star

Back in the day, ‘Berlin Airlift’ were right up there with OMD and China Crisis. But like many ensembles from that magic musical moment they suffered their fair share of wilderness years. So when the redirected email came from The Great Eighties Music Company, selling ‘vintage pop’ to trendy festivals, former lead singer Gary Crabbs had long since disappeared into second-hand car-selling in his native Basildon. His guitarist brother Nige had fared (only slightly) better as an estate agent, but synth-player Kev had disappeared off the face of the earth. Kev is still missing but has been replaced by Ryan; keen young and from a performing arts academy (what comprehensive schools are called now, Gary gathers). The new line-up has played loads of festivals this summer; parents doing ironic Eighties dancing and kids surprised to recognise their music (because of all the sampling). The kids think Berlin Airlift is some sort of weave (as does Ryan). But Gary’s not complaining. It’s money.

The Bugaboo-Hunters

Flora Bugaboo-Hunter, Notting Hill yummy mummy, is wearing a TopShop ‘Glastonbury’ dress that’s been altered by her favourite couturier. She’s here with Artemis, 12, Genghis, 9, Ptolemy, 2 and husband Giles. Giles works in the City and usually avoids family holidays by pretending he has a conference in Frankfurt. He is not looking forward to pushing Tolly through the mud in the Bugaboo Frog and wearing the festival outfit Flora has packed for him – hi-viz Hunter wellies and a T-shirt saying ‘Unexpected Item In Bagging Area’. Flora, on the other hand, is loving all the artisanal food; she’s already sampled clams from the Coast of Death and vegetables grown in sustainably-sourced rhino dung. And she’s rediscovering her inner Oxford graduate; she’s been to see Mary Beard interviewing the Hairy Bikers and is going to a Radio 3 disco later with Simon Rattle on the decks. She feels so free in her pink Smythson wellies; the everyday stress of being a multi-millionaire’s non-working wife is simply melting away.


The Socially-Inclusive Children’s Storyteller

Tenebris Hasp is here with his life partner Siobhan and children Buster and Django. The boys are home-educated after Siobhan took them out of school following a production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat. In Siobhan’s view, the production glorified feckless parenting. Far from being celebrated, father-of-twelve Jacob should have been sent to local authority-sponsored parenting classes. Siobhan believes that traditional children’s literature is elitist and irrelevant and so has launched her own range of socially-inclusive fiction for 5-11s, starting with The King Who Couldn’t Wee. She is promoting it, and its follow-up The Prince Who Couldn’t Poo, at the Story Jam in The Hibbertygibberty Wood (the children’s part of the festival). Siobhan’s put a sign up above the family tent saying ‘Reading Is A Human Right’. But some wag added ‘Going to’ in the middle of the night.

The Hilary Mantel Groupies

He’s short, he’s ugly and he’s ruthless, but she dreams about him almost every night. She’s a middle-aged librarian from Stoke and he was executed in 1542 but Valerie Evans thinks Thomas Cromwell’s the sexiest man who ever lived (and died). She’d never even heard of him until Wolf Hall but after that and Bring Up The Bodies, she was a woman possessed. Then Hilary Mantel did a talk at Valerie’s library and now she’s a fully-fledged groupie and expert on all things Tudor. Valerie’s husband Brian, suddenly forced to spend weekends visiting mullioned manor houses the length and breadth of the Midlands, decided that if you can’t beat them you may as well join them. It was his idea to go to the literary festival (their first) where they’re attending talks called things like ‘What Did Anne Boleyn Have For Breakfast?’ The Blessed Hilary will be there, of course; Valerie is planning to ask her in person what she thought of Nasty, Brutish and Short, Valerie’s own Tudor trilogy. Hilary was sent the first three chapters and a synopsis, but never wrote back, strangely enough.

Keep warm and keep reading!