During the last weekend of July a big group of us descended onto the quiet town of Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire to join 30,000 other ‘gardeners’ for four nights of fantastical partying. The Secret Garden Party is a relatively new ’boutique’ festival that has warranted a reputation for taking it’s revellers to a topsy-turvy, wondrous land where vibrant creativity and limitless expression are found in every corner. I absolutely loved last years SGP, so along with about 20 other friends from Somerset, London & university, I decided to relive the celebrations this year.
I was first greeted by a security guard who questioned my pack of Yasmin and sniffed my wine filled plastic bottle to check it didn’t have an alcohol proof of fun% – SGP’s alcohol allowance is not half as cool as the festival. But the queuing and interrogation was soon forgotten as I entered what can only be described as Disney World for adults. The weather was glorious and the atmosphere was contagiously joyful.
The festival itself is made up of 14 imaginative stages, luscious greenery, vintage clothing stalls and art installations encompassing a serene lake. My favourite stages are The Temple of Boom, The Dance Off and The Drop which are all ideally situated next to each other. I also loved the Artful Badger, which is located in a forest and features tree houses to explore and dance in. The Colo-silly-um by day is a hysterical stage for activities such as naked jelly wrestling and hot dog eating competitions and by night it becomes a sparkling dance arena that was graced by Nero, Sigma and Chase & Status.
Anyone with a functioning jaw had the choice of a variety of foods, although the longest queue was nearly always outside the chunky chip shack (say that 5 times, fast, drunk). There was literally everything; cupcakes, milkshakes, patisserie desserts, seriously good street food, artisan pizzas, burgers, fish finger sandwiches, nachos, tapas, it was endless. The best however, was the Chilly Banana, which provided the most delicious, feel-good snack in the form of frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and covered in a choice of toppings such as coconut or nuts. The staff are a friendly bunch too so take a look at their Facebook page and look out for them in the future!
Don’t you dare miss..!
On the last day everyone heads to the main stage for the paint fight, where bags of coloured powder paint are handed out, and upon the first note of House Of Pain’s Jump Around vibrant colours shoot across the crowd. It’s an amazing atmosphere but if you want to walk out like a rainbow be sure to get there early and head to the front of the stage. There is also the annual dance off where anyone can compete over the course of the four days, before a climatic final on Sunday. If you remember it’s on, it’s definitely worth a watch!
The lavatory class system
I certainly wouldn’t call myself a diva, I don’t mind a whole lot of mud and I’ll dance all night in the rain, but, I draw the line at using festival toilets. My first experience of using a portaloo is still a favourite topic amongst my friends; I came out in tears. Thankfully Secret Garden Party has ‘Pootopia‘ or more commonly referred to as ‘the posh loos’. A wristband into this spiffing establishment costs £24, but in my opinion it is totally worth it. They are clean (for the entire duration of the festival), eco-friendly, there is always toilet roll, theres hardly ever a queue, theres a light, doors that lock and at the very worst, it smells like a dirty hamster cage. There’s plenty of books too if you fancy a spot of reading, and it even has it’s own radio station, sanitation station POO.fm with enough room to have a jolly good dance! Plus, according to everyone else, it’s a great place to meet other posho’s! Huzzah!
We never found the wizard
This years theme was ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ so the head gardeners turned the lake stage into Emerald City; towers of vibrant green that housed a DJ was only accessible by boat, or the odd enthusiastic, rule-breaking swimmer. You could either bring your own boat or queue a short while to be sailed over. From Emerald City, you could see the Pagoda stage (full to the brim) and merriments on the bank by the main stage, as well as a family of ducks gliding by with absolutely no interest in all the madness around them. I can imagine for the rest of the year Doris likes watching the ducks too as she walks her dogs around the tranquil, peaceful countryside lake, just as oblivious to the July joviality as her feathered friends.
Glitter is the only thing you should care about wearing
This is where I shun my fashion beliefs and tell you festivals are not a place to be worrying about whether you even look good, let alone worrying about following the right trends. And for the record, the aztec warrior that works in a florist look has been done to death. It drowned, in the lake, about 3 years ago. Please, allow yourself four days of the year to wear the silliest, craziest, COMFIEST, most magical creations you can conjure up. Festivals are breaks from society, so wear whatever you want to wear. Be comfy, be creative, be a little bit special.
Last year I wore a 12 year olds fairy dress, with a shredded hemline that rose throughout the night as I became less and less tolerant with having to hitch it up every time I wanted to climb a hill. To your average Joe on the street I probably looked like a gipsy bridesmaid, but at SGP my outfit was pitifully bland. To my distain, this year I was costumeless, having been so busy finishing university before the festival started. Instead I threw on light, summer dresses, endless pots of glitter and embellished my face with crystals and pearls. It was refreshing to wake up, look into a pocket sized mirror, lather my face in sparkles and with all the confidence in the world, feel like I was fully ready for the day.
One thing I will point out to any festival novices, is that the temperatures are extreme. Pack for scorchingly hot sunny days, and the trembling cold at night. This year, I completely forgot how low the temperatures can get when it’s 4am and you’re stood in the middle of a field – it is not a time for strapless dresses!
Secrets to be discovered
One of the most enchanting elements of Secret Garden Party is that it really does live up to its name, there are endless ‘secrets’ throughout the garden and you only know about them through the beauty of rumours and word of mouth, or if you’re really lucky and end up stumbling right into one. This year an unmarked, completely bog-standard portaloo (see what I did there) acted as a portal to a vibrant field of sunflowers. Clamber inside and within a few seconds you are surrounded by thousands of 5ft tall, radiant, yellow blooms. It’s surreal, beautiful and one of the most joyful sights I have ever witnessed. Further through the field lies a ball pit and an old piano for good measure; always expect the unexpected. It’s a truly special feeling when you come across a hidden treasure, but it also means some remain a secret. It was only after the festival I heard about an iceskating rink (complete with christmas tree) nestled away, which would have been a crazy experience in July’s blistering heat wave. But that’s the beauty of it, we all leave with completely unique memories and experiences. Besides, if everyone found them all, they wouldn’t be secrets would they?
We all dedicated a considerable amount of our time to the euphoric motion of the swinging carousel, a funfair ride that soured over the sunflower fields whilst blasting music that made you feel, literally, on top of the world. During the day it gave us a fantastic view of the wondrous festival waiting to be explored further, and at night the ground was a spectacle of dancing lights. It’s also rather special when you’ve had a bit to drink and you’re peaking at the height of merriment!
Sunset until dawn
By night the festival is even more alive then it is in the day and on Saturday the spectacle takes to the skies with a jawdroppingly magnificent fireworks display from the lake. This year we were treated to one of the most magical sights I’ve ever seen, thousands of flashing LED lights fell from the sky onto the crowd. Against the black sky, it looked dazzling.
On the Sunday ‘The Big Burn’ takes place, where Emerald City is set alight and left to burn in the centre of the lake as everyone celebrates an unforgettable four days. Just before, spitfires soured through the sky shooting fireworks from their wings and forming hearts and ahem, some obscene drawings in the sky. It was absolutely brilliant.
I’ll now hand it over to the pro’s who captured the festival without a cider in hand. Credit’s are underneath each photo, but check out the official gallery here to see all of the amazing photos from the weekend!
Photo: Jenna Foxton
Photo: Andrew Whitton
Photo: Rachael White
Photo: Andrew Whitton
The mind-blowing LED air drop captured by Jody Thompson
It was honestly one of the best weekends of my life and as the head gardeners put it, Secret Garden Party ‘is a serious party!’ Thank you to my awesome friends, my boyfriend and all the crazy people I met along the way – you all made it unforgettable.
I cannot wait to do this all over again.
See you next year gardeners!