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In Conversation:Rob Da Bank

by Ben Jolley

Rob Da Bank on why Camp Bestival is ‘the most adventurous family festival out there’  

If you’ve not yet heard of Camp Bestival, you must have been living under a rock for the last 15 years. The award-winning annual festival, which takes place in the grounds of Lulworth Castle in Dorset (this year from July 27-30), is a must for fun-loving families.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s now two chances to get involved in the Camp Bestival fun! The festival has recently expanded to host a second edition, in the grounds of Weston Park in Shropshire. Last year’s debut got off to a great start, so don’t miss its return, from August 17-20.

Here, festival founder and boss Rob Da Bank talks to tmrw about what people can expect from this year’s two Camp Bestivals, how he puts the programme together and what he thinks about the state of the UK a festival industry post-Covid.

What is Camp Bestival, who is it aimed at and why should people come?

I’d like to think it’s the most adventurous family festival out there. You don’t have to have kids to go there, but it sort of helps. I think some people might look at it and think it’ll be full of screaming kids and toddlers, but actually it’s a really happy and vibrant place where everyone is so wrapped up in doing things. It’s full of laughing and people having a great time. It’s my funnest weekend of the year, and everyone seems to have something to do all the time. You can go out with the mums and dads at night and have a little party and hang out with the kids during the day. There’s never a dull moment, really, and you just make amazing memories that you maybe wouldn’t by doing something else. I think people with families are always trying to find something really memory-making to do that their children are going to remember forever, and I think Camp Bestival is one of those things.

How do you put the programme together, and is there a particular ethos that you’re trying to convey?

It’s a mixture of my own personal preferences and record collection combined with what I hope will go down with our audience. I can’t be too snobby and leftfield. There are people that want big pop acts, some want dance stuff, others want indie, reggae or world music. It’s tricky to tick every box, so I try not to go too crazy on that but some years the line-up will be a little bit younger, and some years it will consist of icons and legends. This year, we have everything from Craig David and The Kooks to Grace Jones. It’s about trying to tick boxes without getting into a box-ticking exercise. I love putting it together because sometimes it all falls into place really neatly and it’s easy. Whereas, other years, you have to fight for what you can get. I’ve been doing that since the days of Bestival – it’s the same process, just a different audience.

Why do you want to offer more than just music?

Camp Bestival has always been a lot more than just the music. In fact, I think you could possibly remove all the bands off the stages and you would still have a festival there that works. Obviously, the music is an important part, and I know that some of us want to go to the festival and just listen to music all day, but there are so many people – especially younger people – that want to do some clay modelling, astronomy, listen to a talk about growing up in a single-parent household, eat some amazing food, and make a wooden sword. There are literally hundreds of free things to do and we try to keep nearly everything free. I don’t think anyone could get round all the free stuff that we have in the four days. It’s non-stop action.

This year is the 15th edition of the Dorset festival – are there any big birthday plans that you can tell us about?

We’ve brought the HMS Bestival boat back from Boatyard and dusted her down. That was the big structural build this year. A very exciting space that Josie built back in the day. We’re bringing that back, so there’s going to be a big nautical party aboard HMS Bestival, with Gok Wan, Fat Tony and Jaguar Skills, and then we’ve got our amazing Cirque de Jou ‘All You Need Is Love’ show in the evening. A big circus spectacular every evening to round things off.

What can people expect from the upcoming second edition of the Shropshire festival? Was it a risk to start a new festival post-Covid? And how are you making this year’s festival even better?

I guess launching a second show just after Covid looked a bit brave, but it’s really worked. We’ve doubled our sales in a year with that one. It’s worked in terms of the catchment area, too: being right in the middle of the Midlands, it’s huge, with people coming from the north and Wales, Scotland and all over. It was a calculated risk, which seems to be going down well. Without making it sound boring, it’s a carbon copy of Dorset – but obviously on a different site. The bits that make it different are the lake and the feel of the place. There are a lot more watersports activities in Shropshire, too, for example paddle-boarding, wild swimming, raft building. It’s a really fun show. Selfishly, because I get to go to both of them and I love the difference, it doesn’t feel like the same show even though the same acts are playing. There’s a slightly different crowd, too, but it felt really reassuringly similar in the first year.

What do you think about the current state of festivals and the industry post-Covid, and where does Camp Bestival fit into that?

It’s difficult to tell, because promoters can keep their cards quite close to their chest. I think there are a fair few independent festivals that are probably struggling a bit. I think the cost of living is hitting everyone; rising costs for festivals are a thing. The live music industry in general, though, is thriving. The likes of Beyonce and Harry Styles, they’re selling a lot of tickets, which isn’t necessarily great for festivals, but luckily we’re sort of sailing through it. It’s not been the easiest year to sell tickets but, luckily, everything’s holding up for us and we will sell out at Dorset again and we’ve doubled our sales in Shropshire. So a really good performance for a tough year and, hopefully, things will start to stabilise next year and interest rates will come down and the economical stuff will get back to normal. I think, without blowing our own trumpet, I think Camp Bestival is almost like Christmas or Easter for some people. It’s a big part of their diary, it’s in the calendar as something that everyone in the family looks forward to. I think people are saving up and making extra sacrifices to come. We’re always really appreciative of that.

What would be your top three tips for this year’s edition in Dorset?

We’re doing a festival retreat, which is, I think, maybe the first time that a festival has done a proper wellness retreat. You can actually do a whole four-day retreat during the festival (obviously not continuous). But that’s called ‘All You Need Is Love’ festival retreat, which I think is a really unique thing for us. The second one is the HMS camp Bestival, the ship coming. I can’t wait to see that built again. And finally, the theme, which is animal snap. I think that’s a really fun theme with a lot of scope. It’s obviously great with all the different animals, but I think there’s a bit of a message there as well, without getting too deep, that animals come in all shapes and sizes and that there are big animals and small animals, different colours and different shapes. Our message is that everyone’s welcome, and it’s a very inclusive kind of theme.

And how about three highlights for the Shropshire festival?

The first one is probably the lake. I love watersports,paddleboarding and kayaking. So having a lake there is a real bonus. On the stage, I’m really looking forward to seeing Primal Scream because they’re one of my favorite bands of all time. They don’t do every show under the sun these days, so I’m really, really excited that we’ve got them coming. And then, again in the wellness area, I’m really excited to have our own yoga teacher, Laura Lotus, who I think is one of the best yoga teachers in the country. If the music is all getting too much and you need a break from the kids, then I think getting into the slow motion wellness area is a really good place to escape and Laura is going to be doing some amazing yoga up there.

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