Despite being cut short by the weather, the family festival was full of pleasant surprises and activities for all ages, with a joyful energy that never let up.
Camp Bestival, sister to the upcoming Bestival, is an award-winning family festival in Dorset, offering activities and performances for all ages. This year, it was unfortunately cut short by the weather, so this review will mainly be covering the first spectacular day as Camp Bestival set sail.
Day One – Friday 27th July
We arrived at the site a bit before noon, setting up our tent in one of the crowded campsites before making our way across the field to the Castle Stage. We caught site of the other stages along the way, including the eclectic Caravenserai, built from vintage caravans and fairground rides, and The World’s Biggest Bouncy Castle was hard to miss.
The Castle Stage itself, as the name suggests, is set in the shadow of Lulworth Castle. The first act we saw it host was dodie, 23-year-old YouTube musician, with her first festival performance. Despite voicing her nerves, she seemed a natural, bouncing around in her flouncy skirt, and making jokes. She radiated joy on the stage, and her catchy, heartfelt tunes got even the parents smiling – if there was ever a lull in energy from the crowd, her host of loyal fans taking up the first few rows were sure to scream enough for the rest of us.
We then moved to the Guardian Literary Institute tent for a Q&A with the night’s headliner, Rick Astley. Even as the sun was beating down outside, the tent was overflowing – mainly with middle-aged women interrupting Astley with well-intentioned encouragements and declarations of love. He maintained his composure admirably, and answered each question with thoughtfulness and candour. He revealed his secret to looking youthful at 52 (a healthy lifestyle enforced by his Danish wife, and a stress-free life), as well as the inspirations for his gospel-sounding recent album (a love of spiritual, but not necessarily religious, music, and the transcendent feeling when performing to a crowd, like he’s floating), and sang an acapella version of ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ with a young boy from the audience. His humour and charm had us leaving with a strong sense of anticipation for his performance later that night.
We then wandered around the massive field in search of possible dinners, and were spoiled for choice, with everything from pizzas to dumplings available for purchase around every corner. The sounds of a jive band covering popular music could be heard from The Big Top, while salsa lessons were taking place in Pig’s Big Ballroom, and Fearne Cotton took a DJ set on the HMS Bestival. One thing’s for sure, you’ll never be short of things to do at Camp Bestival.
Towards the evening, we headed back to the Castle Stage for Sara Cox presenting Can’t Get Enough of the 80s, following her smaller set last year. She controlled the larger crowd with ease, her music choices a hit every time, and her charisma and humour endearing her to adults and children alike. Her set was complete with a pair of professional dancers, crescendo-ing to the iconic Dirty Dancing lift to ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’, while Cox herself exited the DJ Booth to clumsily floss. Massive red balloons were released to the crowd alongside the English version of ’99 Luftballons’, and blue confetti cannons exploded to Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ in a joyful celebration of the iconic decade, and as she left the stage the crowd was ready for the first of the night’s live headliners, Rae Morris.
Morris’ electro-indie-pop was perfect as the darkness began to fall. The castle behind us lit up with coloured lights, and the carousel glowed beside it. In her breathy Blackpool accent, she asked us to let her know if we saw the predicted Blood Moon appear from the descending clouds, but unfortunately it failed to make an appearance. Her performance, however, was magical enough to make up for the loss. Her ethereal vocals were perfectly suited to the majestic setting of the stage, and as she jumped and whirled about the crowd was captivated. She seemed as awed by us as we were by her, regularly voicing her gratefulness for our energy and attention, and vowing that when she became a mother she would bring her children to the festival.
As she left, beaming, we were in a similar state anticipating the upcoming act. Although his crew set up the stage with mugs of tea in place of water or alcohol, Astley seemed anything but old. He was full of youthful energy, and was aware of the youth of the crowd and their limited knowledge of his discography. To counter this, he remixed one of his songs into Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’, (with a warning not to put it on Facebook because he had told his daughter he’d stopped doing it), and covered George Ezra’s ‘Shotgun’; his pleasure in our enthusiastic singing along was obvious on his face.
But there was something we were all waiting for, and he knew it. “Something’s missing,” he says. “I think we need more… drums.” And then, from out of the darkness behind him, wheeled out on a drum kit – Mary Berry (honestly, I’m not kidding.) While the crowd screamed in disbelief, she pattered about on the drums for a bit, and then held the drumsticks over her head as we chanted her name. As she slipped back into the darkness, I wondered how even the song we’d all been waiting for would be able to top this. It seemed that I didn’t have to wait long to find out – the drums crashed in and the crowd went wild.
“It’s not that one!” Astley cried out good-naturedly. “They all sound the same, it’s not that one!”
Amidst our laughs, and cries from some audience members for him to sing it, he says: “Of course I’m going to sing it! Why do you think I’m here?” but revealed that he’d leave it until last to really “take us to the edge.” When the moment finally came, therefore, it was bittersweet.
His energy and sense of humour (and the appearance of a beloved British baker) had already made this performance one to remember. But the experience of singing ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ acapella with an enormous crowd of people, and Rick Astley himself, gave new meaning to Astley’s belief in the spirituality of performance.
The crowd dispersed, grinning and cheering with pure glee, and the late-night parties began. As the beats of the Bollywood tent boomed, reaching even our campsite at the other end of the field, it began to rain.
Day Two – Saturday 28th July
We got up early, the strong winds and downpours allowing us very little peace to sleep, and headed straight for the Greenpeace café. All proceeds went towards their cause, and they sold very reasonably priced teas and pastries, with the added bonus of the chance to try on a VR headset with tours of the rainforest, and a skate ramp next door.
Refreshed, we made our way to the ballroom tent we’d spotted the day before, to try our hand (or foot) at some of the lessons they had on offer. If you spot two girls in Stags dancing the rhythmic foxtrot or the cha-cha-cha, you know who it is.
We could glimpse the Castle Stage from the tent, to see the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band playing a cover of ‘You’re The One That I Want’, or Dick & Dom (and Barney Harwood) discussing whether or not they could say ‘boobies’ in front of a crowd of children. Their set seemed a success – parents could be seen guiltily giggling, children laughing naively along beside them.
After building up our portfolio of dance moves, we headed to the food tents to replenish the lost calories. We decided on some of the vegan options on offer – a kebab with doner meat made of vegetables, and a burger made of mushroom risotto, continuing the overall theme of delightful surprise at Camp Bestival.
Unfortunately, the day was cut short by the weather, as we packed up our tent and left before it got dark. While this meant we missed the rush for the trains the next day when the festival officially closed its stages, we also missed the night’s headliners, which included Clean Bandit.
Despite the loss, Camp Bestival made for a wonderful weekend. With acts for children, such as Mr Tumble and Dick & Dom, during the day, and performers for all ages moving into the night; craft tents for youngsters and meet and greets for teens; YouTube musicians, dance lessons, educational talks, workshops, and yoga, it made for a fantastic family festival with plenty for all ages.