“It’s not a cheap hobby. It’s a huge gamble and you need people to support you in every which way possible to make it happen.”
Next month the Isle of Wight Festival will return to Seaclose Park for the sixteenth time. Organiser John Giddings was interviewed by Island Business editor Tom Stroud at the recent Visit Isle of Wight Tourism Conference.
What part does the Isle of Wight location play in the success of the event?
The Isle of Wight is a hidden treasure of England. People in London often still think it’s hard to get here and it’s actually the easiest place to get to. The Island is a holiday destination and it puts people in a unique frame of mind when they get here. It has a unique microclimate and with 74 days of the festival we’ve only had two or three really bad days of wet weather. Lots of people have memories of building sandcastles here as kids and I think the festival really dragged the Island into the twentieth century and enhanced the brand world-wide.
I think the festival is a big promo for the Isle of Wight. The Island itself is a major selling point for the Isle of Wight Festival. There are a million and one things to do here, from Osborne House to Carisbrooke Castle. You can walk into Newport town in 10 minutes. We’re not in the middle of nowhere and the location of the event is part of its attraction. We should have people dressed as Charles the First or Queen Victoria walking through the crowd to talk about the Island’s heritage…
Who is the Isle of Wight Festival for? Do you have a demographic in mind?
I grew up in the sixties and the golden age of rock and roll. You need a combo of music that appeals to 15 year olds and 50 year olds, with past present and future. Getting a band for the future is harder and it’s a bit of a gamble. I try and appeal to everyone. Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones will appeal to older people, the Foo Fighters and Coldplay are what I call mid-range and Little Mix and Zara Larson are for young people. You need an eclectic mix and entertaining experience.
Will the festival always be here?
The festival will happen for as long as people keep coming and as long as I can afford to keep running it. It costs me £10million to put it on. What nobody realises is that if you sell 50,000 tickets at £200 each, £2million goes to the VAT man before you start. People don’t understand how much groups or production costs. We pay a million pound on security and police alone. It’s not a cheap hobby. It’s a huge gamble and you need people to support you in every which way possible to make it happen. If everybody helps then it will keep happening, but I can’t tell you it will still be here in 20 years time because it needs the support of the local community and people to buy tickets.
I was in a taxi in Ryde the other day and the driver told me that the festival was like four New Year’s Eve’s for him. I thought ‘well, I don’t get any of your money’. We supposedly bring £10 million to the local economy and I think that’s fantastic. Two thirds of people camp on-site but a third will stay in hotels and B&Bs and that brings the community to life. We can do things on this island that we couldn’t do in central London. People will help us to make things happen easily.
What can you do to support businesses who have a quiet weekend when the festival is on?
We’ll do as much as possible as long as it doesn’t cost me more money. We did those gigs at Osborne House and believe you me they didn’t make money. You get 8,000 people and it’s not enough money to pay for Tom Jones or Girls Aloud or Westlife to perfom there.
We thought about running a bus trip around the Island to see the site of the original festival and I built a statue of Jimi Hendrix at Dimbola Lodge because I thought it would drag people to the West Wight as a tourist attraction. Someone needs to come up with the ideas to help the audience – I can’t do it all myself. I do understand the concept. Anything that’s good for the Island is good for us, and vice versa. I really, really love coming here and I own a place here. I appreciate everyone’s support. I love all the feedback. I’m not perfect. Everyone has good ideas, please tell me yours.