Secret Garden Party 2017

The Secret Garden Party logo - uk festival

It was announced at the beginning of the year that 2017’s SGP would be the last one ever. After 15 years of music & hedonism, one of the UK festival scenes biggest unkept secrets would come to a spectacular end and I knew I just had to be there. It would be my fifth and final Garden Party and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I originally planned to sign up to work it, but on a cold night in March my best girls and I were having dinner and prosecco, and we all decided to buy tickets then and there. Best slightly tipsy purchase ever.

July came around and the weather was all over the place. In the run up to the festival we were preparing for the worst… the forecast predicted solid rain all weekend. Luckily I knew my tent was great in bad weather, and I packed my November Rain poncho to keep me dry and happy, but in the end it wasn’t that bad! Nothing a pair of decent wellies/walking boots wouldn’t solve.

The gang by the secret garden party lake

Thursday

We drove up to Huntingdon in a convoy of two cars, and arrived around 10am. The heavens opened whilst we grabbed some food bits and our alcohol from Tesco, and we were not looking forward to putting up tents in the rain. Luckily for us though, just as we drove onto site, the rain cleared up to sunny skies and we joined a short queue waiting for midday gates to open.

One thing I love about SGP is the short walk from the cars to the campsite. We got our wristbands shortly after midday and set up camp by the entrance to North camping. A perfect spot with quick entry to the main site, yet it took us only 10 minutes to get back to the car and grab the rest of our stuff. As has become traditional with our group at the Garden Party, we’d pre-booked Bathing Under The Sky hot tubs for the first afternoon to treat ourselves and start the festival with class.

Our group enjoying the wood fired hot tubs first day of Secret Garden Party jacuzzi

For around £35 per person you get two hours in the wood fired hot tubs, a glass of prosecco, and use of their sauna, cool pool and showers. The staff are wonderful and we’ve loved relaxing in their tubs for the past 3 years. You can buy more drinks while in the tub and the prices are pretty reasonable! It was £20 for a bottle of cava, and £30 for prosecco. The tubs fit 8 people maximum, and you can go in smaller groups but you may be sharing your tub with others; what a great way to make friends!

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After the hot tubs we took a stroll around the beautiful site. The sun had held out all day, and we enjoyed some drinks by the lake now all our group had arrived. The evening led us to the Drop, then onwards to the Lost Woods where we danced til the early hours.

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Friday

We woke up Friday feeling surprisingly fresh, and I made sure I kicked off my day in the best way with breakfast baos from Guerrilla Kitchen – bacon, cream cheese, avocado and pico de gallo in delicious steamed buns.

Steamed breakfast bao from Guerrilla Kitchen BunLove

My girls and I decide to all wear our custom Headspace Headdresses made by the fabulous Loty (read more about her in this post) and got dressed up and sufficiently covered in glitter. We started the day with another site walk. There’s always so much going on at SGP, the best fun is always stumbled upon!

My three best friends and I all dressed up wearing glitter and Headspace Headdresses

We visited the reptiles and snakes near the Guerilla Science area and were allowed to hold them and take pictures. They had iguanas, tarantulas, millipedes, toads and insects to name a few! Then we found a life drawing class with a beautiful woman provocatively fingering a watermelon. My friend Chan decided to give that a try (I would have but my drawing skills are less than zero). Next we swindled Amanda into participating in SGP’s Blind Date, where numerous Cilla Black’s helped her ask questions of 3 blindfolded lads and pick one. She actually went for a drink with the winner too! Shame they were all just a bit too young for her.

The reptiles and snakes we got to hold and learn about

Amanda holding an adder, Chan with a chameleon, and a giant millipede.

Life drawing class of a naked woman fingering a watermelon

Chan being her artsy self in life drawing class

My friend Amanda playing a game of Blind Date at secret garden party

Amanda was a true sport as we forced her into a game of Blind Date!

Next came another apparent SGP tradition: Friday afternoon dancing on the Pagoda stage. This stage for me is one of the largest jewels in SGP’s crown… a floating dance floor on the lake with beautiful views, especially when the sun sets, and a great bar. We spent a few hours here dancing and eating/drinking Lic alcoholic ice lolly cocktails – best thing for a hot festival!

Delicious cocktail ice lollies enjoyed on the Pagoda with my sparkly friends

Posing near the lake

After a quick tent pit stop we headed to the Great Stage to catch the electronic goddess, Peaches. I didn’t know much about her beforehand except a few of her songs and that she’s a strong feminist, but after she graced the stage wearing a vagina hat and asking “Whose Jizz is This?”, I was instantly in love. She sprayed the audience with champagne before stripping down to almost nothing, climbing inside a giant plastic “penis” which erected itself over the crowd and squirted silly string out the end. If Peaches was a religious figure then I’d be praying at her feet.

Peaches on stage drinking champagne spraying the crowd main stage secret garden party

My favourite boys Too Many T’s were playing the Dance Off stage straight after Peaches, so I ran over as soon as she finished and dragged my group with me. My friend Stafford introduced me to the T’s a few years ago at Glastonbury at the Bimble Inn. I’ve seen them countless time since and even was an extra in their Hang Tight Facebook Live music video:

Too Many T's onstage at the Dance Off stage secret garden party hip hop duo

Can you spot me in this photo in my headdress? Photo credit: Jenna Foxton

The Dance Off stage was perfect for Too Many T’s and they smashed it while people went crazy in the boxing ring in the middle. My friends and I had the best time down the front dancing away, it was definitely one of my festival highlights!

Crystal Fighters getting the Great Stage bouncing

We headed swiftly back to the Great Stage for Crystal Fighters but on the way in to the crowd our big group splintered off into smaller teams, I’m pretty sure it’s because by this time we were all well on the way to drunk! Not to worry, I enjoyed their set with Luisa and Thom, and it actually made it easier when we left a couple of songs early to run to the Collosillyum to make sure we got in for Nero, Example + DJ Wire, and Eddy. The Collosillyum is an awesome venue run by Bearded Kitten, similar to the Temple at Glastonbury in that it’s an amphitheatre which plays hosts to games in the daytime and epic DJ acts into the night. The only downside to it is it is probably the most popular late night venue at SGP, and my friends who had left Crystal Fighters early all got in, but those who didn’t said they queued for almost two hours in a very cramped space to no avail. Those of us who did make it in had a brilliant time, even when it started raining we danced through it! We all met up to finish the night once again in the Lost Woods. It’s a testament to how incredibly comfy those Headspace Headdresses are that I wore mine for almost 18 hours on the Friday, even when I looked super worse for wear at 4am in the woods, my headdress was on point.

Collosillyum by Bearded Kitten during Nero. We danced hard!

Collosillyum for Nero

The gang and I in the woods at 3am

Still rocking that headdress at 3am!

Saturday

What better way to wake yourself up on a Saturday (admittedly we didn’t rise til after midday) than by going to jump in a lake? Thom, Nina, Nadia and Chloe joined me at the Lido for a little dip. We were even able to borrow mermaid tails and try to learn to swim in them!

The Lido in the Sanctuary at Secret Garden Party.

Thom, Chloe and Nadia sat on the platform at The Lido

Having the best time at the lake, the perfect saturday wake up

The Lido also had some great entertainment on the boardwalk… we watched SGP’s Next Top Model – a hybrid of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, ANTM, and Project Runway where contestants would be dressed by their team of stylists (friends) from a huge box of clothes. They would then be judged by drag queens on their modelling ability, catwalk and style. One would win; “blue team, shantay you stay!”, and their opponent would have to “sashay au lake” – throw themselves off the catwalk into the lake! I couldn’t have devised a better way to kick the hangover out the door and start our Saturday.

SGP's Next Top Model competition features men in drag strutting up the catwalk over the lake.

Photo credit: Carolina Faruolo (taken from SGP official website)

After we left the lake, we nipped back to the tents to get dressed and glitter up. The rain had started but we didn’t let it break our spirits! Nina, Luisa and I headed off to catch Matt Maltese at the Living Room whose haunting voice and beautiful songs were captivating. I’d never heard of him before but the girls encouraged me to go see him with them and I’m so glad I did!

My glittery face before we left the tent and Matt Maltese performing at the Living Room

I knew I wanted something delicious for (very late) lunch, so I sought out Happy Maki for my favourite vegan sushi noms. While on this food mission, my friends and I overheard a clue as to where the sunflower field was (hint: it was in the same location as previous years) so we made a beeline for the flower field to get the classic SGP photo. They weren’t as tall or big as I remembered from previous years, but it’s still impressive they manage to somehow “hide” an entire field of flowers from view and create a secret entrance.

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Me in my November Rain poncho staying nice and dry! And the gang in the sunflower field.

After our photoshoot, on our walk over towards the main stage my friend Tim decided to get his face marbled at Juicy Steves Acid Lounge. For £10 you can transform your limbs, head, face… essentially anything you can dip in a trough, into a marbled work of art. Steve is awesome and really entertained us while he was marbling Tim. I think I’ll have to get my arms done at some point!

Tim getting his face body marbled body marbling festival fun

We tried to regroup at the Dance Off, and made the most of our time there by dancing on the hay bales at the side and watch the dance off battles in the boxing ring in the middle. I was wearing my sequin hot pants from Rosa Bloom and had fun shaking it up on the bales! One of the more hilarious moments was when Luisa got some guys to help her climb up after almost falling backwards.

Thom and I on top of the hay bales, me in my Rosa Bloom sequin shorts and the view of the dance off from the bales

It was time to move towards the Great Stage for Jagwar Ma, the Great Spectacular and then Metronomy. We got a perfect spot under the tree on the hillside overlooking the lake. Secret Garden Party put so much effort into their Saturday Spectacular and every year it got more outstanding. It’s difficult to describe, but I’ll try! They have sky writing/fireworks-shooting planes fly over the site doing daredevil loops, dives and drops that even made Amanda (a pilot’s daughter) gasp, convinced they were unmanned planes… they weren’t. Then when Jagwar Ma finished, the suspense grew as everyone knew the fireworks were coming. The hillside was packed, and you want to be up there because the Spectacular covers the whole lake and surrounding area. The fireworks tie in with a video display, music and lights from around the whole site, and they all go off in sync together creating something incredible, yet difficult to capture with a camera. A boat crosses the lake and shoots fireworks at the Lake Stage, this year designed to be the Love Island mansion, until the whole thing starts to burn. This builds to a crescendo until the sky is alight with fireworks, the Lake Stage is burning through to reveal a heart shape in the middle, and all the while the whole crowd is singing along to Love is All You Need. It’s traditionally the peak moment of the whole festival, which this year had an edge of sadness as we remembered that this would be the final finale.

View of the lake during the saturday spectacular

Photo credit: Jenna Foxton

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Metronomy kept us upbeat by starting their set as the final fireworks still hung in the air and everybody ran down the hill in unison to dance. Similar to the night before, (and personally because I’d already seen Metronomy at Blissfields a few weeks earlier), we stayed for an hour then left a few songs before the end. Once again we graced the Collosillyum with our moves, this time to Sub Focus, Metrik and Camo vs Krooked. Like the previous night, it rained on and off but I was having too good a time to care! Nina, Katey and I took some time out around 3am to go on the swing ride and get cocktails, but we went right back to raving. This turned out to be our super late night. We watched the sun rise and got back to the tents about 6am.

Nina and Katey on the swing ride and me having a selfie with some girls in the toilet queue

Sunday

Every day of this festival I went to sleep thinking “today was awesome, it was even better than yesterday. There’s no way tomorrow will top this” and each day I proved myself wrong. Sunday was no exception. Despite another late start due to the 6am bedtime, Nina and I decided to have a shower when we woke, at the Posh Wash showers. The queue didn’t take too long and £3.50 was a reasonable price to pay to feel clean again. “Breakfast” (ate by me at 2.30pm) was an incredible buttermilk chicken burger from The Chicken Shack with cheese and a hash brown in… so damn tasty for £7!

Chicken Shack at secret garden party buttermilk chicken burger hash brown

At 3pm we were at the Great Stage for the infamous paint fight, which is where Nina and I realised our earlier shower was rendered pointless. Luckily the clouds parted, the rain stopped, and the sun poured down on us as we prepared for colour war. The paint fight is another thing that SGP are famous for, and something that has been replicated many times by others over the festival calendar. People bring buckets of paint out from behind the main stage and distribute it amongst the crowd. In unison, we count down from ten to one, then we launch our fistfuls of paint: it flies in all directions as a colourful cloud erupts and we all get sprinkled from head to toe in a rainbow.

Paint fight madness launch powder paint secret garden party

Photo credit: Carolina Faruolo

Now we were sufficiently painty, we danced to David Rodigan‘s reggae jams for half an hour or so, then made our way to the Spiritual Playground for the Dog Show. SGP is unusual in that they let you bring dogs to the festival, and what better way to show off your pup than in a doggy catwalk. The Spiritual Playground itself is hilarious; they have people dressed as all the deities, faiths and belief systems. You have “the usual”; Jesus (or Sheesus in this case, lady Jesus), Vishnu, Buddha, Hanuman.. then also the God of Carbs, America, a penis and a vagina… It sounds ridiculous I know, so here’s some photos to try and explain:

The Spiritual Playground immersive performance fun theatre religion

The faith & beliefs of the Spiritual Playground. Photo credit Giles Smith

During the Dog Show, Sheesus gives commentary while people walk their dogs on the catwalk to tumultuous applause. Some have dressed their dogs up, some are just covered in SGP mud, all are squealed over by the audience. One particular dog; a baby Akita with his bearded owner stole the show when the owner took the mic to say how he adored his pupper, and how he was getting good practice as his girlfriend has just discovered she’s pregnant. Have to admit I was so emotional I cried a little at that!

Two of the dogs int he dog sow at secret garden party on the catwalk

These two are very good doggos!

Straight after the Dog Show they have a Fashion Show, where festival goers jump up and strut their stuff on the catwalk. Thom & Nina had decided to dress in fabulous matching American flag bodysuits, so of course we forced them to get up there and walk the walk. They did a fantastic job, as did all the other participants. Like the Dog Show, Sheesus gave hilarious commentary on the “models”, all in all it was an epic afternoon!

The fashion show catwalk at the Spiritual Playground

On our way to the Collosillyum to see Stanton Warriors, we took a ride on the Waltzers which, having had a few to drink again, very nearly made me be sick, but was worth it for the laughs! It was great to be at the Collosillyum in the day, and we made it up to the top of the amphitheatre this time, to dance with an awesome view. The sun was shining and Stanton Warriors put on an incredible set.

At the top of the amphitheatre for Staton Warriors with a great view of the Collosillyum at SGP

Though the weather had been great all afternoon, when we went back to the tents for a pit stop we saw the storm coming in and made sure we grabbed our coats, just look at this epic dark cloud, the apocalypse looked like it was incoming!

Welcoming in the storm cloud in the campsite by our tent

We returned to the Great Stage in good time for Toots & The Maytals (briefly stopping at the Where The Wild Things Are stage for Mabel) and it sunk in that it was almost over. We managed to get the whole gang together to watch Toots and classic reggae was the perfect way to end the festival. They put on a stellar show and everyone was swaying to the beat, absorbing the atmosphere. There were a few final fireworks, then the main stage was finished, and we headed to the Kitsch Inn to spend our last hours out of the rain. We got there just in time to see a bit of the Correspondents. I almost managed to go the whole festival without falling in the mud, but as is typical for me, I tripped and landed on my knees as I was on my way to the bar, so my night ended slightly earlier than I wanted it to! Sunday was still fantastic though, and I went to bed (after cleaning my knees!) with a huge smile on my face, yet wishing I could do it all over again.

Toots and the Maytals on the main stage on the last night of Secret Garden Party

Toots & the Maytals closing out the final Secret Garden Party

Saturday Spectacle the Lake Stage fireworks

Thank you SGP

for five years of incredible festival memories

& some festival stories that are so outrageous, they are rarely believed when I retell them!

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