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The legacy of Secret Garden Party: Speaking to Head Gardener Freddie Fellowes

Parties have a way of enrapturing us that few other entities command. Distilling every detail, every commotion, into a sum of parts is always reductive. The magic is in the motion of the thing- it’s in the conga line, snaking through town, bending around on itself and back through the front door where an implausible amount of people just surfaced from.

Try reading books on parties- it’s awfully dull. The legend of Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball has turned into the story of The Best Party Ever. But attempt to extract that magic into words, and you’re left with Deborah Davis’ book, Party of the Century, which spends almost 300 pages dissecting the social standing of every name on Capote's guest list. It’s anything but a blast- and context no party goer need harangue themselves with, especially fifty years after the fact.

Parties bewitch us. It’s the unsayable that we can’t shake. The shared experiences that made festivals such a compelling concept in the first place. We are enchanted by what happens when we lose control. It’s what fascinated Evelyn Waugh in his maddeningly manic Vile Bodies, and why the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame makes the site the second most widely-read newspaper website in the world. What happened last night? You had to be there. 

Photo by Andrew Whitton

Someone who knows plenty about keeping things schtum is Freddie Fellowes, the Head Gardener of Secret Garden Party. He spoke to Run Riot this week after announcing 2017 would be the final year for the festival. It’s possible I should have heeded my own advice and have been wary of trying to tease anecdotes and exclusives out of someone that’s been running (clue’s in the name) a secret garden party for 15 years. Was I naive to hope Mr Fellowes would drop some hints as to what happens in a post Secret Garden Party world? Maybe. Here’s what Freddie would tell me…

Run Riot: Who was it hardest to tell the news to that it would be the final year of Secret Garden Party?

Freddie: I think that was my sister, she has grown up with it and the first must have been around when she was 15 so it has been a huge part of her and her friends’ lives.

Run Riot: What are your golden years of SGP?

Freddie: If I couldn't say that about every year I wouldn't have be doing it

Run Riot: Can you tell us a few memories of SGP that could only have happened at SGP?

Freddie: Naked stage managers, Swans being ineffectually stalked by an aquatic white rabbit (from Glastonbury's Rabbit Hole), The Whale-Bungalow raffle and the Sweaty Lingerie parties, low-flying jet planes, planes that drop vertically out of the sky and then draw hearts in the sky, a maze of sunflowers accessed via a portaloo. Utter nonsense really!

Run Riot: What will you miss most from your work in the past 15 years? Aside of course from the actual festival, was there a favourite time of year for you in the process of building each party?

Freddie: I don't think I'm going to be missing anything as I'm not changing professions. I have a space that is beautiful and available for use, so I suppose the only thing I might be in danger of missing is the whopping summer holiday you got after finishing July. My favourite time is July, or rather was, when one SGP is underway and I am thinking about the theme for the next one.

Run Riot: Which aspects of organising a huge outdoor party will you not miss?

Freddie: I think you've answered that already: it's huge.

Run Riot: What are you most excited about in terms of the UK’s arts and culture scene right now?

Freddie: Without a doubt the people, musicians and artists that we come into contact with through doing the Garden Party.

Run Riot: And on the flip side, what concerns you the most?

Freddie: As our theme this year -[Fame]- expresses it has to be the continual rise in mediocrity of huge swathes of mainstream culture and the accompanying celebrity worship. So we’ll be poking fun and overturning celebrity rules and dictums; expect loads of silly spoof VIP fame games, red carpet shenanigans and dog fashion shows. 

Run Riot: Festivals have become some of the most accessible forms of art and culture available in the UK. If the growth of festivals and large scale parties defined the past ten years, what do you think will be defining the next ten? 

Freddie: The next form of accessible art and culture. And I suppose we will all just have to wait and see what that is.

Run Riot: The frontier does always move! Can you tell us anything more of the phoenix rising from the flames you’ve alluded to?

Freddie: Nope. That is work in progress so we can’t reveal a thing but we’ll be sure to let you know when it is fully formed.

Run Riot: Finally, what keeps you creating? What’s the drive behind the motion?

Freddie: Am I allowed to say; well why does a dog lick its balls?


Secret Garden Party takes place for the final time from 20th July to 23rd July in Abbots Ripton.

Visit the Secret Garden Party website here and our Run Riot listing for the festival here.