The famous Cambridgeshire hedonist's playground closes its gates after 2017's final bash - here's all the naked, paint-flinging, mansion-burning fun of the last ever SGP.
“Who wants to wear my pubic hair hat?”
In the age of unkillable super-gonnorhea, this question really shouldn’t get the enthusiastic response that it does. But the rush to don the pubic headwear of a random woman on the Palais De Boob stage is perhaps the biggest of its kind in recorded history. For this is Secret Garden Party, a place where normal convention does not hold, where every yoga session involves at least one naked man, where your inhibitions are best left in the care of the massive sad fox by the entrance and there’s no concern whatsoever for cultural appropriation. Forget all the Native American head-dresses, there would be real uproar if word of this place ever got back to the ancient Amazonian tribe of the Glittertits.
“Go Big & Go Home” is the weekend’s motto. 2017 marks the last ever Secret Garden Party – “I got very emotional, twice,” says Head Gardener Freddie Fellowes, discussing his Q&A about shutting the gates for good – so in wild-ass hedonism terms, time is of the essence. Everywhere you turn lies another invitation to get naked. Outside the Spiritual Playground tent an array of Buddhist monkey gods and false idols are celebrating the birthday of a nude bloke called Phil The Little Acorn (for evident reasons) by playing a game of Pass The Parcel where virtually every prize is a silver thong. The Palais De Boob stage is dedicated to freeing the nipple and every game of Keeping Up With The Car-Crashdashians in the Colosillyum seems to end with the loser fortfeiting most of their clothing. It’s like the world’s biggest game of Spin The Bottle decided to put some bands on.
The acts certainly get in the spirit. On Sunday afternoon Beans On Toast has written a song especially for the festival, commemorating the sight of a grown man attempting to leap a gap on a five-year-old’s bike during the Wonky Races and the time he took a pill live onstage at Where The Wild Things Are. And Peaches appears to have won the race to the pubic hat – she opens her Friday night set wearing a vagina headpiece and flanked by dancing vaginas, and ends it half naked, simulating such rampant lesbianism you’d think she was pitching her own Netflix drama.
All of which makes Secret Garden Party an affront to God, so naturally He tries to wash it from the face of the earth on Saturday and Sunday. SGP just organises a mass moon at the clouds. The Zeuses and nuns of the Spiritual Playground just move their game of Blind Deity inside. The men with gold TVs for heads don’t let a spot of rain stop them having a dance off in the onsite boxing ring. Two Amy Winehouses still stop for a natter by The Drop, a dance ditch featuring the world’s shittest Transformer.
Indeed, despite the rain, Secret Garden Party pulls out all the stops for its final curtain. The spectacular Sunday afternoon paint fight comes with paint fireworks, and the Dance Off even has a champagne fight on Friday. A skywriting plane shooting fireworks circles over the Lake Stage during Jagwar Ma’s Saturday set and the legendary burning of the effigy in the middle of the lake sees an entire faux mansion house go up in smoke, revealing a gigantic heart of fire in its ruins.
It’s tempting to call this weekend the death of the boutique. A monochrome film shown on the big screen of the Lake Stage on Saturday night made up of footage shot here over the past fifteen years certainly makes people on bungees hitting each other with giant balloons look as mournful as it can. As SGP bows out and Bestival shrinks onshore, there are few bijou festival wonderlands left, places you can go to take on a three-day identity, become a superstar of costumed idiocy and, most crucially, feel like you really own. A toff-fest in Freddie’s glorified back garden, yes, but Secret Garden Party was also a community of free-spirited souls in a way that Leefest, frankly, isn’t. Perhaps the bleakness of Brexit, Trump and May overwhelms even the need to find respite in a place where you can dance to reggaeton in a spangly tassled leotard to your heart’s content. Perhaps hedonism only really thrives hand-in-hand with hope – and the ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ chants are more ardent here than anywhere.
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Or maybe, as Fellowes claims, “think of it more as ‘Dylan goes electric’ than our Altamont. You can’t be avant-garde from within an institution and lest we forget, the frontier always moves. So watch this space for the phoenix rising from the ashes.” It seems new borders are being planted, gardeners…