It’s easy to see why some people think Secret Garden Party sounds about as much fun as being trepanned. Posher than Latitude, more garish than Bestival, it’s essentially 6,000 well-heeled twenty-somethings running around in Cheetara costumes for three days.
Park your cynicism, though, and there’s much to love. It’s the least money-grabbing of all the festivals – there’s not a trace of sponsorship, you can drink your own booze, and they don’t even try to sell you a programme on the way in. In short, it’s the festival Naomi Klein would go to – if she was into inhaling laughing gas and dressing up as Danger Mouse.
Here are a few spectacles that are pretty much unique to Secret Garden Party.
1. Rampant nitrous oxide abuse
I’ve noticed more and more people inhaling laughing-gas balloons at festivals in recent years – but now the craze has gone properly overground. They were everywhere at SGP. I even saw a young mum sucking one up while her kids looked on (it’s legal, see). So what’s it like? A bit like poppers – a giggly head-rush that lasts about 5 seconds. Utterly pointless, then, but pretty funny. Observe:
Those who bemoan the gentrification of festivals look away now: at SGP, organisers hire students from local Cambridge University to punt revellers across the lake.
I took a ride, and spotted a dragon-shaped boat coming the other way, breathing smoke from its ‘mouth’. Needless to say, you don’t see this kind of thing at V. At least, not without swallowing a binliner full of powerful psychoactive chemicals.
3. Outdoor swimming
On Saturday afternoon the lake was full of festival-goers happily splashing about, under the less-than-watchful eye of a health-and-safety officer whose job seemed to be to ensure as many people dived in as possible. Again, this doesn’t happen at other festivals. Your only chance of ‘swimming’ at Glastonbury is if you fall into the latrines.
One camper ever brought along her lilo:
4. Bizarre rituals
The climax of the festival came on Saturday night, when a giant pagoda – which had earlier played host to a floating dancefloor in the middle of the lake – was set alight, beneath a sky illuminated by Chinese lanterns and fireworks.
In the hour leading up to this, a procession of semi-naked, masked pagan-types had snaked through the crowd banging drums and blowing whistles. It was basically as ‘Wicker Man’ as it’s possible to get without Britt Ekland actually waving her bum in your face.
5. People dressed as smurfs
Actually, I have seen this before, at Bestival. But still, bear in mind this was 11.30am. Let’s just hope none of these guys received any tragic news. It’s difficult to absorb the revelation that, say, you’ve just been fired, or your wife’s leaving you, when you’re painted blue.
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6. People doing absolutely bugger all
Secret Garden Party is so laid-back, I saw plenty of people who hadn’t seen a band all weekend. Then again, when you’ve turned your brain to porridge with laughing gas, perhaps taking it easy is the only option.