Simon Reeve: celebrating family festivals
The idea of taking children to a raucous sunny summer festival seems to split us all into warring factions. On one side are parents who think festival weekends are a vital part of turning littlers into rounded creative types. In opposition are those who shudder at the thought of crowded campsites and vomming teenagers, and think parents should grow up and accept their Lives Changed from the moment of conception.
One newspaper columnist even said taking youngsters to festivals is the ‘cruel and selfish indulgence of parents not willing to make sacrifices’. But then, she was stupid enough to book a ticket for a famously family-friendly event and daftly use cotton wool as earplugs to try to block the morning sounds of parents parenting.
I come down firmly on the side of mud and partying. Most festivals are an incredible experience for both parents and children. Admittedly, the really massive events can be a bit tricky. At Glastonbury, the chances are you’ll never get closer than half a mile from a stage, and you’ll have to cart little ones huge distances. But the smaller festivals can be a kid’s dream.
We took our lad Jake to Wilderness this year, and had a fantastic time. Paying a bit more for Family Plus camping, with a decent-sized pitch, loos and showers within stumbling distance, and adjacent parking, worked a treat. Booking with my brother’s clan and a group of other families meant we could pitch next to each other to create our own mini festival, and have mutual childcare guaranteed. It was camping, but in a community, with a lot more to do.
The best festivals are like a crazy carnival that rolls on for an entire long weekend. There was awe on our children’s faces as we marched in through the festival gates and found a kaleidoscope of costumes on a procession of performers and punters.
The children danced, whittled swords, chomped burgers, danced, wild-swam, bowled, helter-skeltered and danced some more. I had my seven-year-old niece Alice jigging on my shoulders outside a party tent as midnight struck, to her utter delight. ‘I was up after 12!’ she kept telling folk the next day. Children love it. With the right kit, there’s no reason you can’t either.
Get a festival trolley, ideally one that folds up, for shifting children, food and bottles around, plus a tent with a porch for drying soggy clothes. Safety bracelets for the kids with your name and number are a must, or use Biro on their arm. Take photos of them as they change costumes, just in case organisers need a description, and put a glowstick or LED lights on you and them so you can find each other in the dark.
If you’re a festival newbie, try to lose your inhibitions. If you’re a veteran, accept that with kids you’ll now be spending more time in the family field than the moshpit. Are you ready? If so, now’s a good time to start planning your festival experiences for next summer, and get booking.
If not, and taking children sounds like a complete nightmare, you probably just need to try a festival on your own to remind yourself what they’re now missing. Leave the children with their grandparents and get yourself off to a parent-friendly event to recapture some of your misspent youth.
Simon Reeve has travelled extensively in more than 120 countries and presented multiple award-winning BBC TV series, including Australia, Sacred Rivers, Tropic of Cancer, Indian Ocean and Caribbean. His latest series is Arctic Live.