THE PORT ELIOT FESTIVAL IS AN ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF WORDS, MUSIC, IMAGINATION, IDEAS, NATURE, FOOD, FASHION, FLOWERS, LAUGHTER, EXPLORATION AND FUN.
An incredible array of performers have appeared at Port Eliot since the festival’s started over a decade ago, all drawn together by the festival’s laid-back approach and inspirational atmosphere. “Most festivals now, literature festivals in particular, are high pressure and high profile,” says Hanif Kureishi. “Port Eliot is a sort of upmarket pop festival… It’s fun… It’s nice for the kids. It’s a lovely place, it’s just very relaxing.”
Amongst the many writers, artists and thinkers to have appeared at the festival over the years are Diana Athill, Helen Simpson, Sarah Waters, Jung Chang, Jarvis Cocker, Dominic West, Grayson Perry, Hanif Kureishi, Hari Kunzru, Kate Summerscale, Rosie Boycott, Caitlin Moran, Tim Smit, Ekow Eshun, Toby Young, David Mitchell, Louis De Bernières, John Cooper Clarke, Jessica Hynes, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, Tracy Chevalier, Jon Ronson, Justine Picardie, Alexander Masters, Stephen Frears, Mike Figgis, Julien Temple, Sally Potter, Martin Parr, Colin Wilson, Mick Brown, Tim Burgess, Simon Jameson, Gavin Turk, Deborah Curtis, Simon Munnery, Murrary Lachlan-Young, Maria Alvarez, Alain de Botton, Jamie Brisick, Gavin Pretor Pinney, Tom Hodgkinson and Hugo Williams.
Meanwhile, intoxicating soundtracks have been whipped up by the likes of Beth Orton, The Bees, The Magic Numbers, British Sea Power, Andrew Weatherall, Talvin Singh, Stornoway, Noah and the Whale, Cherry Ghost, Jakob Dylan, Fionn Regan, Ed Harcourt, Frank Turner, Harper Simon, Alabama 3, Bellowhead, Annie Nightingale, Sean Rowley, Jim Jones Revue, Glenn Tilbrook, Louis Eliot, Gaz Mayall, Brandon Block and Jeremy Healey.
The Port Eliot Festival has also developed a reputation for promoting (and serving) phenomenal food. Over the years, the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Moro, Skye Gyngell, Peter Gordon, Russell Norman, Niki Segnit, Rose Prince, Daniel de la Falaise, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen chefs and Angela Hartnett have turned up and got busy in the kitchen.
Each year, new areas are added, broadening the festival’s appeal to a younger audiences and others who might never have considered coming to a literary festival before. The Cabaret Tent, the Caught By The River stage, The Wardrobe Department, the Port Eliot Festival Flower Show and the magical Hullabaloo children’s area hidden in the rhododendron garden have all grown from conversational ideas to cornerstones of Port Eliot’s line up. In 2011, the festival was honoured to have cinematic legend Martin Scorsese curate the Cinema Paradiso, a stunning open-air film experience framed by Brunel’s viaduct over the Lynher River.
Where else would it be possible to have clothes, accessories and wildly creative make up dreamed up for you by some of Britain’s foremost designers – and given to you for free? In 2011, Port Eliot’s first fashion curator, Sarah Mower (the British Fashion Council’s Ambassador for Emerging Talent) created The Wardrobe Department – hitching more collaborators to the caravan of creative thinkers wending their way to Cornwall to explore fashion in many guises, from the visual to the political. Some of the world’s hottest fashion names including Mary Katrantzou, Nasir Mazhar, Anna Sui, Barbara Hulanicki, Stephen Jones, Luella Bartley, Louise Gray and Vicki Sarge Beamon created fashion magic for everyone who stepped in to their beautiful walled garden. The Wardrobe Department has now become one of the most talked about areas of the festival.
A first for any British festival, the Port Eliot Flower Show is curated by production designer and associate designer of the Rambert Dance Company, Michael Howells. It pays homage to the traditional British summer flower show – but is infused it with Port Eliot’s very own style and magic. Recent years have featured everything from an exhibition of scarecrows to The Veg Factor – a children’s competition to create their favourite pop star out of vegetables.
Having joined the festival in 2009, Caught by the River has returned to its glorious spot down by the estuary every year since, with stellar line-ups featuring a mix of music and talk on the subjects of nature, culture and rock n’ roll. The perfect spot to pull up a hay bale and take root.
Also born down by the river at Port Eliot is the Idler Academy which has included classes and demonstrations in limericks, Latin grammar, scything, woodwork, rock n’ roll studies and drama from the likes of John Cooper Clarke, Toby Young and John Lloyd. Of course, it goes without saying that plenty of idleness goes on too.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING…
After hosting the now-legendary Elephant Fayre music festival at Port Eliot from 1981 to 1986, Lord St Germans began a new festival at Port Eliot in 2003. The festival was founded by Peregrine St Germans and his wife, Catherine St Germans; actor and musician, Rick Worthy (also one of the original organisers of the Elephant Fayre); and Simon Prosser, long time friend of Lady St Germans and the publishing director of Hamish Hamilton.
This passionate and creative team believed there was room for a new kind of literary event, with the craic of a music festival. The writers, poets and journalists appearing at the festival were encouraged to perform material they would not be given the opportunity to present at orthodox literary festivals – using their creativity to devise imaginative, interesting and entertaining shows, they went far above and beyond merely reading aloud from their latest books and taking questions from the floor. Some created original works for the show, others performed spontaneous acts. All were asked to “do something different with words” – and so the Port Eliot Festival’s unique spirit was born.
The first year, the festival had 17 paying punters and three times as many performers, artists and crew. But it was a magical weekend of words and music, in the grounds of one of the most beautiful stately homes in England. Word quickly spread among young writers that at last here was a festival at which they could do what they wanted. The following year, 1,000 people attended. Catherine St Germans and Simon Prosser drew some of the brightest names in publishing, music and the visual arts and encouraged them to take risks with their performances.
LINKS TO THE WEBSITE http://www.porteliotfestival.com/