Live Report: Camp Bestival 2021

Live Report: Camp Bestival 2021

Rob da Bank's longrunning kid-friendly shindig is still king of the castle...

Kids are a pain in the arse, right, and never moreso than at a festival. So what’s the point of Camp Bestival? To satisfy people like me, who still want to boogie in a field despite being aggravatingly sprogged up. But is it any good?

Yes, I’m happy to report. The line up is an inspired jumble of more-or-less-cool proper acts – Fatboy Slim, Georgia, The Sherlocks – intermingled with children’s TV staples, like Dick and Dom and Mr. Tumble.

Maybe you’ve never heard of Mr. Tumble. Good for you. Clearly you don’t have kids. Here is the ‘king of clowns’, on his 14th year at Camp Bestival, belting out crowd-pleasing renditions of ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ and ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands’. Just as luminous and joyful as he is on CBeebies – where he had a blinding lockdown, by the way, teaching our nation's toddlers colours and shapes while we all frowned at laptops – Tumble was nonetheless a little out of puff by the climax of the Hokey Cokey.

Still, you get the impression if Mr. Tumble was ever in the mood to cruise the front row for groupies he’d clean up. Picture a saucy mum-of-three from Kent, knee deep in her second box of Rioja, flirtatiously asking if there’s a Mrs. Tumble at home. The geezer is a bona fide rockstar here, is what I'm saying.

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Not that you’d know from the jostling happy throngs, but the Global Coronavirus Pandemic is apparently still a thing. COVID reared its dreary head in a few ways, most excellently in mordant stage patter from the artists. ‘Let’s get our lateral flow on!’ barked the dude from Junior Jungle on Friday night. ‘Beats so sick you need a third vaccine!’

The virus created all manner of scheduling headaches and heartbreaking cancellations. Dick (or perhaps it was Dom) pulled out last minute. As did Friendly Fires. Sophie Ellis-Bextor, alas, spent the weekend marooned in her massive posh kitchen, instead of bossing it on the main stage, after two of her brood annoyingly went down with the dreaded lurgy.

But! Some genius shoved Abba tribute act Björn Again on in her stead, and all was well. Honestly, I’ve always said big festivals could stand to be a notch more basic. Bloody thousands of us pogo'd to 'SOS', without having to pretend we like Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s new stuff. I hope Rob da Bank paid them stacks of money, money, money.

The cool kids – I mean, it’s all relative eh – spent most of the weekend hanging out at Caravanserai, a suite of mini stages and quirky benches welded together from mangled old caravan parts, like an M5 pile-up on acid. I saw one dude inside performing Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’, with caustic COVID-themed lyrics, on the rooftop of a gutted old hearse. Bit on the nose, mate.

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There’s legit music, if you fancy – shout out to Cormac Neeson, doling out rich, creamy Irish folk to knackered mums and dads at the intimate Pigs Big Ballroom venue – but basicness really is the order of the day at Camp Bestival. And that’s fine.

“I bloody love it here,” purred Heather Small, you know, off M-People, on Saturday afternoon. “I can be as cheesy as I want.”

At least she sang her own tunes. Sara Cox – on the main bloody stage if you please – played 80s records and that was literally it. Journey, Wham!, Dirty Dancing. “I said to my manager, this’ll never work,” she confided. “I owe him a tenner.” Too right mate.

What else. There’s a mindfulness bit up the hill called ‘Slow Motion’, where you can snatch a cheeky nap and call it a ‘sleep retreat’. Someone named Tallulah Rendall was offering sound healing and rose tea rituals in a yurt, natch. A nearby blackboard bore the immortal legend “Massage is the only form of physical pleasure to which nature forgot to attach consequences”, though it's unclear if they mean hangovers, love-handles or children.

Oh yeah, kids. As well as the world's biggest bouncy castle, the site also has lots of little play areas so infants can burn off those Tangfastics you’ve been bribing them with all morning. Chit-chat with random young mums at the swings is, I’m happy to report, way more fun when they’re dressed up as Harley Quinn, necking a gin in a tin.

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It really is a family affair, Camp Bestival. Veteran headliner Fatboy Slim’s groovy daughter did a set – her festival debut, no less. Rob da Bank’s kid spun some tunes on the opening night. Sara Cox’s daughter was up there too (“she’s taller than me now – that’s my eyeliner she’s wearing!”)

Would you bother if you didn’t have kids? Perhaps not. But what with The Year We’ve All Had it’s bloody lovely to get together with our fellow breeders, skull cider on a blanket and cock a snook at the plague. So yeah – if you can stomach the moderate infection risk and cheesy tunes, Camp Bestival is well worth coughing up for.

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Words: Andy Hill
Photography via Camp Bestival

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