The LoveBot image is projected onto Lulworth Castle during the beautiful fireworks display, image shows fireworks exploding over the top of the castle at Bestival

Bestival 2018 (Guest Review: Mat Smith & Grace Jessup)

The Bestival 2018 colourful logo including dates and Circus theme

In 2017, Bestival moved from the Isle of Wight to Dorset, and in 2018, it moved from it’s traditional September dates to the first weekend in August. I went last year and wrote a review here, but couldn’t go this year as I’d already booked to go to Brighton Pride when the new dates were announced. However two friends of mine had booked tickets and the lovely pair offered to write me a review! These two are Mat, my long time friend from university, and his fabulous girlfriend Grace.

Jessi and Mat at Bestival 2015 by the "Port" stage as HMS Bestival was called back then, when the festival was located on the Isle of Wight

Mat is an even bigger Bestival veteran than me! Here you can see us at Bestival 2015, and we’ve been to 3 total together. Grace is relatively new to festivals by comparison, and so for their review they’ve written it from their two perspectives: the veteran and the newbie. This gives a nice round perspective! Bestival weekend this year was luckily blessed with the best weather, which was exactly what they hoped for with the move from September to August. So now I’ll pass over to Mat & Grace to tell you all about their weekend on Lulworth Estate…

A bird's eye view of the Bestival main stage during Grace Jones

MAT: My first Bestival was way back in 2006 and I remember it fondly. 18 hour days with barely any sleep, surrounded by pumping music and people having a great time. Unfortunately for me, the vast majority of those 18 hours were spent standing outside of the Big Top telling people to enter the other end of the tent… because throughout my time at university I spent most of my summer holidays working as festival security to fund my studies (drinking) for the rest of the year.

Despite my lack of sleep and aching legs from working, I actually enjoyed my time at Bestival. The crowd were by far one of the friendliest I’d worked with and the music and general vibe of the festival got me hooked.

Mat smiles underneath the rainbow Welcome to Bestival sign

From then until 2015, I attended all but one Bestival, met some of my favourite people and made some of my best memories. To me, Robin Hill was nirvana, but my friends and I noticed in the later years a change in the lineup and with it, a change in the crowd. What was once a mix of old and young with music from every decade, slowly started turning into a much younger crowd with DJs taking up more and more of the bill.

Every year we wondered if we were just getting old, until in 2016 we decided to skip the festival altogether and try pastures new, with so many other festival options to tempt us. Little did we know that 2015 would be our last time partying at Robin Hill, as in 2017, Bestival left the Isle of Wight and headed for the mainland, to the beautiful Lulworth Estate. Read about Jessi’s experience of that first year at the new site here.

As Grace and I battled hours of traffic on our way down the A31, I was unsure of what I’d find at the other end. One thing that looked certain is that the weather would be much better than the rain Jessi experienced last year, but the festival I knew so well had changed and I was skeptical yet also intrigued.

Sunset at Bestival 2018 with the light streaming through the colourful flags


GRACE: Having only been to Reading festival once in 2011 and a handful of day festivals (Lovebox, WeAre, SW4, Field Day) in and around London since then, Bestival was my perfect introduction to “proper” festivalling and the best way to kick off mine and Mat’s summer of predominantly field-based shenanigans.

As we entered the gates in the blazing sun of the now long-forgotten heatwave, the first thing Mat noticed was how much smaller the crowd was compared to his previous Bestivals. I was just glad that we didn’t have to lug our kit over too many hills! Despite turning up after the majority of the crowd on Friday afternoon, we got a decent (flat!) camping spot with ease. 

Grace and Matt smile sat on a sofa in the Old Mout Cider area of Bestival, with bright blue skies and not a cloud in sight!

MAT:  Along with the lowered capacity, the site is also a lot smaller than Robin Hill, which was a definite positive as it meant cruising from stage to stage was a breeze throughout the weekend and we got to check out all the sights! The site itself is beautiful, with the rolling Dorset hills in the distance, with even a view of the Solent visible from behind Lulworth Castle, which itself is smack bang in the middle of the main arena.

The site is littered with set pieces from Bestivals of the past, including the World’s Biggest Disco Ball, the Love-Bot and the legendary HMS Bestival, all of which are full of wonderful memories for me – it felt odd to see them in their new home, almost out of place, but as they were all new to Grace, she thought they were charming. 

Mat wearing his Where's My Tent? t-shirt in front of the LoveBot with a glorious blue sky, and wandering through the Ambient Forest at night time when it's all lit up

The crowd itself seemed to have returned to how I remember it, a mix of old and young, all there to party, however there are definitely many more families than there used to be – maybe Bestival veterans showing their kids where they used to party when they were young? (suddenly I feel even older!).

Grace stands with a big grin in front of HMS Bestival wearing her new tailcoat acquired from the Oxfam charity shop

GRACE:  After setting up, we were just in time to catch the last half an hour of The Cuban Brothers’ set on the Castle Stage, my first, eye-opening experience of the cheeky, saucy, clothes-shunning trio and Bestival stalwarts, which Andy Horton described perfectly in his review of Common People Southampton here, before making our way around the rest of the site to explore.

As with any festival, there was so much to see and I quickly made a beeline for the Oxfam Festival Shop. Within seconds, I’d spied an incredible black vintage tailcoat – I’d wanted one for years, for costumes, y’know. The Oxfam festival shop (find them on instagram @oxfamfestshop) appears at most big festivals and I’d certainly recommend a mooch around; you never know what gems you’ll find in there and everything is carefully picked for the festival crowd: so expect sequins & sparkles next to waterproofs & wellies!

The bollywood-themed Temple stage lit up in bright colours and with flames shooting out the top to an adoring crowd

MAT: Once Grace had bought (and donned!) her new tailcoat, we moved to Mr. Jukes on the Big Top who continued the party with his fun set which the band clearly enjoyed from on stage as much as we did in the crowd, before we headed down to the Temple to check in at Bicep’s DJ set. I didn’t notice the Temple stage on our first scouting mission of the arenas, but I was blown away by this new stage which didn’t exist back on the old Isle of Wight site. 

The stage sits in a natural bowl, which makes for a perfect giant dance floor, and as we came over the crest of the hill, the bass built up and we got a glimpse of the stage for the first time in all its splendour. The Temple is a beautiful bright stage with amazing set design, lasers, pyrotechnics and a great sound system – in short, the perfect place for DJ sets and crucially, just far enough away from the rest of the festival to mean it doesn’t drown out the other stages, yet still feels part of the main action. Here, suddenly the families disappeared and those in search of the nightlife of Bestival arrived! Bicep’s set was the perfect way for us to finish the Friday and as we headed back to the tent I admit that I had been impressed with Bestival 2.0 so far.

The apparatus for the Human Cannonball in the shadow of the castle


GRACE: On Saturday, we scooted over to the main food area, known as The Feast Collective and I was blown away by the choice on offer. No soggy sandwiches here – just the best of the best of festival food, from BBQ pulled-everything crackling away on a huge fire right in front of you (DJ BBQ), to artisan coffee (Girls Who Grind), vegan sushi wraps (The Happy Maki) and the sexiest dill-battered shrimps I’ve ever laid eyes on (Shrimpy), it’s all there and more.

A collage image of food from the Feast Collective: first crispy shrimp & fries from Shrimpy, then vegan burritos from The Happy Maki, and finally Ghanaian Fried Chicken from Zoe's Ghana Kitchen

I was pleased that rather than trekking between stages miles apart all day, we were able to walk around and always be within running distance should we realise an act we wanted to see was on: v important. During the day, we checked out the Enchanted Forest, which albeit on the small side, was a delightful place to take a quick afternoon cat nap. Here’s where the relaxation takes place, with massages and yoga classes available to book. We spent a little while, cider in hand, being entertained by a loud-mouth peacock who seemed to be stuck up a tree, until of course he swooped down to the ground to entertain his audience, to the amazement of the crowd gathered. The things you find in the woods…!

First Aid Kit and Grace Jones were the main acts of the early evening, the former we caught a few songs from, before we sat down to watch Grace Jones towards the back of the Castle Stage we wondered what would be in store. A lot of covers was the answer. It was a shame, because I’d expected something bigger from the eccentric artist/supermodel/actor/provocateur. Her hula-hooping skills, however, are undisputed. She hooped for the entirety of “Slave to the Rhythm” which was pretty impressive (if you don’t know it, it’s a REALLY long song). 

The LoveBot projected on Lulworth Castle surrounded by fireworks

The fireworks display which followed, however, was incredible and unexpected! We realised the organisers must have had a fair few left over from Camp Bestival‘s early closure the weekend before, so it looked like no expense was spared. Hands down the best fireworks display I have ever seen!

That evening, London Grammar (one of my favourite bands) were headlining. Arguably a strange choice for the headliner, due to their music being pretty serene and ethereal rather than upbeat, but the set was gorgeous. Even the guy perched up the tree opposite the main stage seemed to be entranced by lead singer Hannah’s beautiful vocals, I was slightly concerned that he might drift off and fall out of there! Mat was more keen on seeing the 2 Bears, but I had to stay and watch my favourites on my own. Sadly, the fact that London Grammar’s songs are atmospheric slow burners, meant that despite being relatively far forward in the crowd, I could hear the conversations of everyone in the crowd around us which was a real shame. 

Mat tried a vegan burger from Fat Gay Vegan and loved it! Here's a close up of the jackfruit burger (with a bite taken out of it) and fries

MAT: I started Saturday with high hopes of another day of pleasant surprises, and brunch was a delicious mix of cuisine from The Feast Collective, with my surprise favourite being an amazing vegan burger from Fat Gay Vegan. With the weather so hot, the majority of the crowd spent the day seeking shade in the various indoor stages and amusingly sat in large groups in the shade of the trees dotted around the site on their air beds and blankets. 

By the time the heat had dissipated and the crowds headed back outside, Thundercat came on to the Castle Stage with his unique jazzy set played at 200 miles an hour on the biggest bass I’ve ever seen. Though his set started with mixed reactions from the crowd, he soon won us over. After the high energy of Thundercat, I felt that the stage returned back to a more chilled out vibe in preparation for London Grammar, which seemed strange for the Saturday (traditionally a party night).

The worlds largest confetti cannon explodes over the Bestival Main Stage in the glorious sunshine and blue skies

I left Grace to enjoy her favourites, and instead headed to Bollywood for one of mine; 2 Bears. Their set was awesome, although a few sound issues drove my decision to leave a little early and have an explore. I think the lack of a more upbeat/party headliner meant the crowd was very spread out and without a real Saturday focal point it all seemed a bit flat. Once the headliners were finished however, I met back up with Grace and we squeezed into Stacey’s for the Hot Chip Megamix which was exactly what we needed: hot & sweaty and loads of fun, just the way to finish the evening!

The 2018 Bestival theme was "Circus" - here is a tightrope walker walking over a tightrope that is on fire being watched by the choir dressed in white and holding light-up umbrellas


GRACE: On our final day, we decided to check out any of the areas we may have missed so far, grabbed copies of The Observer being handed out, ate some of the best bao I’ve tasted (thanks Le Bao!), sampled the craft beer on tap and danced around to the marvellous rocking tunes from Songhoy Blues in the afternoon – they’re one of my favourite 6 Music discoveries of the last year and they really got the crowd going. 

Close up photo of the yummy chicken Bao buns (steamed asian buns) that Grace ate at the Feast Collective at Bestival from Le Bao

MAT: On Sunday, everything seemed to start quite late so our early afternoon was spent eating (more) and drinking in the sun. I made another vegan discovery at The Feast Collective, one of Jessi’s faves The Happy Maki. Basically, my new revelation from Bestival is jackfruit – it almost makes me want to go vegan – maybe when they make a vegan blue cheese equivalent I will! 

Gentlemans Dub Club were great on the Castle Stage and they probably got the biggest reaction I’d seen from a band on the main stage the whole weekend, culminating of course with “High Grade”. They’re definitely worth checking out if you get a chance. After GDC it was time to check out the most random name on the bill… East 17 and their “Christmas Party”. You could tell the guys were loving the attention from their now very grown-up fans, and their belting out of ‘Stay Another Day’ in the hot sun was a highlight of the weekend! 

Chaka Khan wearing sunglasses and singing her heart out on the Castle stage

Photo credit: Stage Door

GRACE: Later on, we caught legendary queen of soul Chaka Khan‘s set which started off a little slow with a number of songs unknown to us, but finished with the classic groovy, bass-heavy hits “I’m Every Woman” and “Ain’t Nobody”, and everyone was loving her Chicago-accented shout outs. 

MAT: The awesome MIA closed the show with a powerful performance which probably would have been better on the Saturday night when people wanted to dance and sing along rather than think about getting home, but it was a great way to finish a weekend which overall was great fun. 

Fireworks exploding over HMS Bestival - an old ship that has been transformed into a DJ/party stage at Bestival festival

MAT: My experience of the ‘new’ Bestival was overall a positive one. The new site was much better than I expected, and still felt like the Bestivals of Old with familiar stages, areas and set pieces. To make it even better, my advice to Rob & co would be to get the line-up a little more balanced and cut down on the gaps between artists, as there seemed to be peaks and troughs throughout the weekend. Even if they don’t take my advice, I’m sure to be back next year for more fun.

GRACE: Despite the somewhat interesting stage timings which disrupted the vibe a little, my first Bestival experience was brilliant. The atmosphere was lovely, the crowd had a great attitude and the set pieces blew my mind. My favourite part however, was being able to explore the beautiful Lulworth Estate in all its glory. I’d definitely say the relocation has worked in Bestival’s favour overall. 

Where’s My Tent? loves you Bestival! See you in 2019!

Lulworth Castle in the evening with a pink sky and beautiful sunset at Bestival 2018


Photos provided by Mat & Grace, or by Bestival 2018

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.