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Samantha Milligan

The Last Ever Secret Garden Party

9 June 2017 Sarah Fortescue

Spring 2017 brought with it one of the UK’s most important – and upsetting – announcements for the UK festival scene. The great institution that is the Secret Garden Party, the original boutique festival and one of the greatest and most outlandish parties the UK has to offer, is to hang up its wellies for the last time. It was no doubt with a heavy heart that the Head Gardener, Freddie Fellowes, said: “all good things must come to an end”. This summer provides one last chance to be part of something special, and a festival that is sure to be remembered for years to come.

The Secret Garden Party (SGP) launched back in 2004, when 500 friends gathered at the bottom of a garden in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. Since then it has become one of the UK’s best-loved festivals, winning Best Small Festival (2005 and 2008) and Best Medium-Sized Festival (2011) at the UK Festival Awards. If you’ve ever been, you’ll know why such accolades have been bestowed upon it. The Secret Garden Party, as the team behind it say themselves, “is about letting go and getting involved”. The event is full of ambition, with the imagination of its pioneering creators evident in every corner – from inventive stages such as the Lake and Where the Wild Things Are, to the Pagoda and the Collosillyum. A personal favourite is the annual firework display on the lake, which remains one of the best and most excessive firework displays around.


Image Credit: Danny North

SGP has always been a hedonist’s dream. With no advertising or sponsorship to detract from the otherworldly experience they’ve painstakingly curated, it’s unique in its offering. To have been part of it in some small way seems equivalent to attending Glastonbury, or the Isle of Wight in the 60s and 70s. SGP has left its mark on the wider festival scene for the better, in the same way that those groundbreaking festivals impacted the way we partied.

While many festivals now offer an annual theme, SGP’s style is more of a philosophy. Anyone attending this summer’s grand send-off can expect bold statements on our media-obsessed society (and potentially many Kardashian imitators) as the festival plans to hold a mirror up to our newfound “universal right to fame”.


Image Credit: Nick Caro

Headliners include Metronomy (an SGP favourite), Crystal Fighters and Toots and the Maytals - the latter in keeping with Cambridgeshire’s strong ska scene. Revellers are also likely to expect an enormous paint fight, dance offs, and another lavish fireworks display. If previous years are anything to go by, the finale of this finale will be suitably spectacular.


Image Credit: Danny North

SGP should get the send-off it deserves. While the effect it has had on the wider festival scene will be long-lasting and overwhelmingly positive, its loss is still a blow to those seeking originality and a truly out-there conceptual experience in their chosen festival – its model is yet to be replaced, but many a plucky opportunist will try to fill its shoes in the coming years. SGP’s founder, Freddie Fellowes, speaking in The Times on his life philosophy, quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To laugh often and love much; to win respect of intelligent people and the affection of children... to leave the world a little better... to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived... This is to have succeeded”. In creating the wild institution that is Secret Garden Party, it’s safe to say he’s succeeded.

The final Secret Garden Party will take place in Abbots Ripton from July 20-23.
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