This is the story of how I went to a festival by accident. It may involve some Withnail and I quotes. There may also, as is traditional, be some occasional wry commentary on various aspects of British middle class behaviour that were observed and eye rolled over while I was at the aforementioned accidental festival. I still wholeheartedly recommend that you attend said festival deliberately and not by accident (as I did), but just bear in mind when booking that you will undoubtedly see some shocking things while you are there. You’ll mostly see AWESOME things but yeah, stuff that makes you look twice and go ‘Huh, did that really just happen?’ or clutch your husband’s arm in horror and hiss ‘OMG, DID YOU SEE THAT?!’ will also inevitably occur. This is brilliant though as it’s all just part of the amazing festival experience that makes events like Camp Bestival at Lulworth Castle so special and gives each their own unique flavour.
So, the accident. Let’s step back in time to a quiet night in a few months ago when I’d had a couple of gins and then settled in for a pleasant evening of Mumsnet threads about people parking over dropped kerbs, looking up (then laughing at) old school bullies on Facebook, making fun of our ex-boyfriends with my best friend and adding luxury goods to my shameful secret ‘WHAT WOULD I BUY IF I WON THE LOTTERY’ wishlist on Amazon. The usual. This may sound like an inexhaustible supply of happiness and would indeed normally keep me amused until the early hours of the morning but on this occasion I found myself bored and without much to do by just before midnight. Hunting for a fresh distraction which would delay bedtime by a few moments more, I came across a tweet about a minutes away from ending competition for family tickets to Camp Bestival being run by the very splendid and lovely Big Fish Little Fish (check them out – they do awesome raves for small children and parents all over the place) and thought to myself, as you do, ‘Ooh, that sounds like fun. I love Camp Bestival.’
We’d actually been to Camp Bestival three times in the past and had a whale of a time but for various reasons, which mostly involve my husband Dave hating music, camping, people, dancing and fun, had decided to have a bit of time off festivals even though I really really love them. However, spurred on by the knowledge that I never win anything anyway, I decided to throw my hat into the ring and enter. ‘Dave need never know,’ I told myself as I surreptitiously wrestled with Rafflecopter. ‘It’s not like I ever win anything anyway.’
The next morning I woke up and blearily checked my inbox. ‘Hang on,’ I thought, clicking on one of the emails. ‘What’s this?’ I read it through and sat bolt upright in bed, now fully wide awake. ‘Oh no. What have I done?!’ After taking a moment to calm myself, I rang my husband up at work and braced myself to tell him the bad news. ‘Dave, don’t go mad but I’ve done something terrible,’ I said.
There was a pause on the other end of the line. ‘Have you crashed the car?’ my husband asked. ‘Sold the children? Bought another cat?’
‘Well…’ I said. ‘I may have accidentally entered a competition to go to Camp Bestival and…’
‘Oh God,’ my husband said. ‘Stop right there.’ He then muttered something about how he’d rather that I’d crashed the car, which is quite something considering that I don’t have a license and would probably end up in prison or something else pretty damn inconvenient.
Fast forward a few months though and there we all were in the aforementioned unscathed car, surrounded by all manner of stuff and on our way down to Dorset for a weekend of all the things that my husband most hates. The boys and I were pleased as punch however as we love music and having fun. Of course we do. We’re not monsters like my husband. We love dancing around and dressing up and glittery stuff and new music and nice food and sunshine and having a really nice time. Okay, we’re not a hundred percent sold on the meeting new people aspect of festivals but who cares about that when you have a chance to spend some really nice time with some of the people you like most in all the world?
I’m going to draw a discreet veil over the misery that was hauling our massive tent and bags full of stuff from the car park, up a hill and for what felt like several miles from one end of the camp site to the other. We had opted to pay extra for Camping Plus, which gives campers a special allotted plot and access to showers, relatively nice loos (actually they were pretty good – clean, flushing, never without loo roll and I didn’t have to queue up once) and so on but had left it so late that we were only able to grab a plot at the very far end of the site. However, although we were miles away from the carpark, we were literally right next to the perimeter fence of the main festival site so lose/win? It certainly felt like a total lose on the Thursday afternoon as we lugged our stuff in blazing sunshine to the plot but then magically become a win once the tent was up and we were just a brief sauntering stroll away from all the fun and frolics of the festival, which naturally is what we did once we had settled in. Although the main site was closed until the festival properly kicked off on Friday morning, there were still plenty of food places and bars open and things to see so the evening got quite lively as we all started to settle in and get into the laid back Camp Bestival vibe.
The next three days passed by in a haze of sunshine, maxi dresses, glittery tattoos, flowers in our hair, awesome music, hot cinnamon dusted churros, excited happy children, amazing parades, dinosaurs, pizza, bubbles, hilarious comedy, Hello Kitty, laughter, weird campsite food and sheer unadulterated fun. Even Dave cracked a smile every now and again in between all his plaintive shouts of ‘I’VE COME ON HOLIDAY BY MISTAKE’ and ‘ARE YOU THE FARMER?’. I know, right?! Every festival has its own distinctive ambience going on and Camp Bestival is no exception when it comes to this as it has a very different feel to Glastonbury, Reading, Download and even its own big sister Bestival, which is held every September on the Isle of Wight and is a massive stonking great party by all accounts. Whereas these are all much more grown up events where adults can get up to all sorts of iniquity, Camp Bestival is primarily a family affair and has a much more laid back almost genteel atmosphere, probably because most of the people there are not habitual festival goers. It might seem a bit tame to those of us who cut our teeth on the Reading and Phoenix festivals back in the nineties but don’t let that put you off as it’s still great fun and, during the day at least, is actually much more relaxing than the more debauched adult orientated affairs like Glastonbury or, God help us all, Reading.
We like to spend our days at Camp Bestival wandering about the various different fields, enjoying different acts and bands and just lazing around on the grass soaking up the carefree mood, reading our kindles and watching our children play, completely reassured by the safe and secure atmosphere. They always love spending time in the playground in the brilliant Dingly Dell and the various fairground rides in the children’s field (which aren’t free so watch out!) are always popular too. There’s plenty of crafty type things to do too but I’ll be honest, we’re not really one of those crafty families. We TRY, we really do but nope, it’s really not us. Probably because we’re fundamentally a bit lazy and would rather BUY stuff than make it ourselves. We did love wandering around all the holistic type areas though with yoga, hot tubs, massage and stuff like that going on, even if it goes hand in hand with being all homespun and crafty to my mind which, as I said, isn’t us even if we’re all vegetarians so it probably should be. Oh, I don’t know. Anyway, if you’re into all of that crafty, yoga, hot tub, knitting yoghurt type stuff then you’ll be well sorted at Camp Bestival, that’s all I’m saying.
Night times at Camp Bestival are much more lively as the sun sets over the camp site and the day trippers (they sell day tickets as well) go home, which means that the site becomes much less crowded. You can always find a quiet little corner to chill out in but the queues for popular food stalls, the big wheel and festival site loos can become seriously EPIC at times so be warned. It’s lovely though to find a nice spot in one of the fields and just sit and watch as the sun drops down over the site and the multicoloured lights begin to glow and shimmer in the gloom – it’s already pretty enchanting during the day anyway but Camp Bestival becomes magical at night as brightly coloured lights dapple the grass and shadows, tired parents covered in flower garlands, fairy wings and temporary Hello Kitty tattoos sigh and put their arms around together as they share a cider and watch the sunset turn the sky candy floss pink behind the crenellations of Lulworth Castle and hoards of small glitter and flower encrusted children in animal print onesies, fake tails, cat ears run shrieking and laughing across the grass.
As might be expected, music is everywhere at Camp Bestival and an eclectic mix of styles and tempos accompanies any casual stroll across the site. I love walking around the main field and seeing what catches my ear as I go by – sometimes I’ll just stand and listen for a few minutes, sometimes I’ll just nod my head and move on and sometimes I’ll go inside and listen to the rest of the set, soaking up a new sound and perhaps even doing a little dance too. It all gets ramped up a notch at night as the headliners take to the main stage opposite the castle and Bollywood and the other areas really get going. Refreshingly though, while the mood definitely gets a little bit more grown up after dark, the intrinsic family friendly vibe remains firmly in place and no one looks askance at any children staying up late. It’s quite good actually as the presence of so many little ones in the various drinking spots and night time gigs means that everyone behaves much better than perhaps they might have done. I’ve been to Camp Bestival four times now (sorry Dave!) and have never seen anyone get excessively drunk or any violence or anything like that (although I’m sure it goes on because that’s show business). Like I said, it’s fun but this is no T in the Park. Thank goodness.
One of my lovely chums was playing with his band in the Caravanserie on the Saturday night and, being of an alternative dressed Steampunky persuasion was pretty anxious about the whole Camp Bestival set up when I bumped into him and his lovely wife on the Friday night. ‘What’s it like?’ he asked me with fear in his eyes. ‘What’s good to do here?’ I reassured him that it’s actually pretty great but couldn’t help winding him up by adding that ‘except for the fact that a lot of the people here clearly voted Tory.’ He laughed it off but then looked around at all the passers by, more than a few of whom looked like they were probably on David Cameron’s Christmas card list and (okay I may be making this next bit up) visibly paled behind his fuchsia dyed beard. ‘Oh my God,’ he whispered. ‘You’re right.’ However, it’s true enough that a large part of Camp Bestival’s clientele come from the more conservative parts of the middle classes BUT they’re still there, aren’t they and that’s another beautiful thing about festivals – everyone just tries to get along and there’s a real sense of friendly camaraderie between everyone there regardless of income, social background and all of that sort of boring thing. It’s nice.
His band The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing was awesome by the way and you should definitely check them out and also try and see his bandmate (and fellow Ripper researcher) Andrew O’Neill’s comedy if you can. We saw him doing the kid’s comedy a couple of times and he was brilliant – especially when he declared to the children around that the stage that he was too hung over to deal with any stage invasions or ‘adorableness’ and would kick any interlopers in the face until their eyes came out of the back of their heads if they annoyed him. I love how children really adore it when adults are rude to them. It’s hilarious. And especially so if the parents get all dog bum faced about it.
For me, however, Camp Bestival 2015 was all about the nineties rave as both 808 State and, be still my beating heart, Underworld, were playing over the weekend. I dragged my family to the Big Top late on Saturday night to see 808 State instead of enduring the crush around the Castle Stage to watch that night’s headliners, the Kaiser Chiefs who really aren’t my thing at all. It was AMAZING. It was very loud and there was some crazy nineties raving moves going on and a massive Aciiiieeeeed smiley face balloon bouncing overhead and oh wow, it was great. Along with the crazy nineties raving moves there were also some crazy nineties ravers there as well who came from God only knows where to suddenly appear in the Big Top to dance around like Tyres in Spaced. Maybe there’s a dance music version of Bloody Mary where if you play Pacific State and shout ‘OI OI’ loudly enough they all materialise from the great quarry in Essex rave in the sky to appear on the dance floor bedecked in glowsticks. My six year old was wearing a wolf hat and got very tenderly patted on the head by one of them, ‘That’s a nice dog you’ve got there,’ he said to me with a wink before recoiling in horror. ‘Oh my God, it’s a CHILD.’ He then grinned at us and apologised to my small son. ‘Sorry, little mate, I thought you were a dog,’ he said cheerfully before lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper to add: ’Too many mushrooms, mate.’
The absolute highlight was Underworld though. They’ve been a firm favourite of mine ever since I bought Dubnobasswithmyheadman way back in 1994 and played it to absolute death but I haven’t seen them play live for absolutely years so was really looking forward to having a really good dance around. I usually avoid the Castle Stage at Camp Bestival mainly because the thought of being stuck in a massive crush of people sets my claustrophobia off but also because the frankly selfish way that people take up all the space with blankets and trollies really gets on my tits. Sorry, but it does. I try to be all chilled out about it but honestly it’s just the absolute ruddy pits – especially when a gang of them gets together and effectively hogs a massive space by ringing it around with a barrage of trolleys and huge pushchairs and THEN to add insult to injury (and sometimes it is actual injury as those metal trollies REALLY bloody hurt if you get your ankles rammed by one) they usually get a right cob on with you if you dare to step on so much as the tiniest bit of blanket or knock their precious pushchair while trying to get past to, y’know, ENJOY THE FESTIVAL THAT’S GOING ON AROUND YOU. It’s so anti-social and, I think, kind of against the whole caring and sharing and joining in with things spirit of festivals. Ugh. Anyway, I decided to brave it for Underworld and I’m glad that I did because to my absolute amazement the crowd thinned away as we got nearer to the front and, after saying goodbye to my boys, who stayed with their dad on the sidelines, I was even easily able to get to the very front. I know! Front stage at an Underworld festival gig! It doesn’t get much better than that, my friends, believe me.
I was standing next to a group of women of my own age and let me tell you now, we REALLY went for it. I haven’t had a decent, proper, hands in air rave for YEARS but I had one on Saturday night at Camp Bestival to Underworld and it was AMAZING. There were minor irritations of course, this time provided by the hoards of teenagers also at the front who decided to spend most of the gig taking photos of themselves and comparing the said photos, PHONING THEIR FRIENDS and shouting the names of the songs as they flashed up on stage to cover up the fact that they had no idea what they were watching. I’m not going to lie, it was all kind of annoying. However, in true festival style, everything turned around and all was forgiven when a load of them forgot to look too cool for such things and couldn’t help dancing along to Cowgirl, with one of the most annoying girls shouting, ‘OH MY GOD, WE’RE RAVING. IT’S AMAZING!’ Yes. Yes, it is.
It came to an end all too quickly and after a stonking rendition of Born Slippy (dedicated, of course, to Cilla Black who passed away over the weekend) we were hastening on our way through the crowd to get to the car park before everyone else. We had a cunning plan, you see. Dave had managed to move our car from out in the boondocks to literally right next to the Camping Plus entrance because he is A GOD AMONGST MEN and we had spent odd moments on the Sunday taking down the tent and carting it all off to the car so that we could make a swift getaway after Underworld. The massive traditional firework display over the castle that always marks the end of Camp Bestival is an awe inspiring spectacle but one that I prefer to see from a distance as my Aspergers related sensory issues can’t cope with anything closer than that, alas. However, this was the point where all the sodding trolleys, pushchairs and blankets really threatened to scupper even our most cunning and best laid plans because we found ourselves completely trapped in the middle of the field and unable to move thanks to a barrage of cold, painful metal. It wasn’t fun. There was a lot of tutting at us as in vain we turned this way and that in our attempts to escape and when I came within inches of treading on a child asleep beneath a blanket (bear in mind that this was at around eleven at night and it was dark on the field so if I HAD stepped on a sleeping child, of which I might add there were dozens just lying beneath blankets in the middle of the crushingly huge, ruddy great festival crowd, then it would have been entirely forgivable) I really came close to losing all that carefully maintained festival calm. ‘THERE’S A BODY DOWN THERE,’ I shouted at my children, holding them back as if from a terrible spectacle of appalling bloodshed and woe. ‘OH MY GOD, THERE’S BEEN A MURDER.’ And as if by magic, the crowds parted and we were on our way back to our car and home as the fireworks bloomed in the sky behind us.
I can’t help feeling that this has been a bit of a strange, grumbling sort of review but it’s honestly not intended that way at all as I had a BRILLIANT time and as Niles Crane once famously said: ‘What is the one thing better than an exquisite meal? An exquisite meal with a tiny flaw that we can pick at all night.’ So true. Yes, we had the odd little niggle about trolleys and blankets and the odd bit of selfishness from other punters but overall we had a great time and even Dave admitted that he was enjoying himself at one point so it must be true. Although when I asked him just now if he had any top Camp Bestival tips to share with my readers, he gave me a kind of sad, despairing, blank stare so who knows.
I’ve probably forgotten all sorts of amazing things that we saw and did but I suppose all I can do is urge you to go and see and do them for yourselves at Lulworth Castle next year. As for me, I’ll be accidentally entering some competitions to get tickets for Bestival later on this year so that I can properly party and see Underworld again. Wish me luck!
Ps. If anyone wants my top festival tip – it’s this lovely stuff, which costs around a fiver from Boots and also comes in plain cologne and rose varieties. It’s amazing in the endless battle against feeling grotty. Okay, it won’t magically transform you into Kate Moss at Glastonbury but it’ll at least stop you feeling like Stig in the Dump if you can’t face the epic shower queues. Result.
Pps. Sorry about the ropey photos but I forgot my fancy camera and had to rely on my phone all weekend instead.
Ppps. Thanks again to Big Fish Little Fish for the tickets! We had a blast. Even Dave. Mostly.
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As the youngest daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette was born into a world of almost unbelievable privilege and power. As wife of Louis XVI of France she was first feted and adored and then universally hated as tales of her dissipated lifestyle and extravagance pulled the already discredited monarchy into a maelstrom of revolution, disaster and tragedy. Marie Antoinette: An Intimate History is now available from Amazon US and Amazon UK
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