The Secret Garden Party Story | Features | MN2S

It’s probably safe to say that no other event has changed the UK festival landscape more in the last 10 years than the continually-acclaimed Secret Garden Party. When it launched as an intimate friends-and-family event in 2004, big dance and mainstream festivals dominated – mostly offering little more than a bunch of tents in a field and basic amenities.

Taking inspiration from the otherworldly feel of Burning Man and the multi-discipline alternative arts approach of Glastonbury, it rapidly burgeoned year on year to become one of the most unique and essential festivals around. As its reputation grew, so too did its line-ups – with many a big league DJ playing unannounced or secretive sets alongside increasingly impressive headliners. But despite its current capacity of 22,000, it retains an intimate feel thanks to a beautiful, compact site, and a consistently wonderful crowd. That, and the hard work the SGP team put into dressing the site and filling it with all manner of diversions and distractions.

We asked founder and site owner, Freddie Fellowes, to tell us more about what it takes to run one of the world’s greatest parties.

I had some experience running events before setting up SGP but it was pretty much restricted to very basic or corporate types of events. Around 800 people came to the first one – it was all a bit of a blur and I think we were all rather surprised that it actually happened.

After the first two years I had to start harbouring ambitions to make SGP a serious entity just simply to make good on the money invested in the event to date. I believe the term in poker is ‘pot committed’.

The number of people working on the event goes up and down dramatically with the seasons; at present there are 6 of us in the office but that soon goes up. Our crew list on the actual show is near 8,000! I work with a fair few different production companies, including The Dark Horses, Orbit PR, Coloursound, Road Runner, Bearded Kitten, Dance Off, Chai Wallah, Piratetechnics, NPB Design, New Substance and Small World.

There are two types of music; good and bad. We try to book the good stuff.

The advantages of owning the site are huge and varied; from just having 6 tractors to hand to the ability to invest long term in solid infrastructure. It ensures that we can provide reliable roads, water and power from the moment we arrive on site without all the associated costs for long term hires.

We have certainly had to grow up a lot as there is a huge difference, obviously, between 800 people and 22,000. But the job is such that every year you should be better, slicker and more ambitious. To not be is fatal. But the nature of the SGP is that it is best sold by word of mouth; without big headliners you need to look at other ways to convince people they will enjoy themselves.

In terms of other festivals that inspire us, Burning Man is impossible not to admire – just for the scale and scope of their operation.

We are lucky to have grown our event with a business model that doesn’t incorporate sponsorship. It’s a huge figure potentially. It is integral that what we do has no other agenda than what is good for the party and the show; not only is the illusion of the party is jarred by overt branding but the motives and nature of the show is changed too.

The stories that really stand out from over the years are from emails we have received after. Some amazing tales of rebirth, redemption and hope have come from the past 12 years.

If I could have done one thing differently over the years, it would have been to get a book-keeper sooner.

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