Download is thriving. What's the big secret?
The site has real history. Back in 2002 the idea was to relaunch Monsters of Rock as a more contemporary event. It's worked, because we have a very diverse bill and we've gone from two days to three, and two stages to five. We wanted to see ZZ Top fans watching Slipknot and Marilyn Manson fans watching Journey. It's a broad church of rock, from Black Sabbath to The Prodigy. The location is also great – five minutes off the M1, slap in the middle of England.
When do you start your planning?
I was working on this year's event last April, and I'm already booking 2013. You need to get on radars early. Your top acts on the main two stages are key, but you want to keep the whole bill fresh, too.
How often do you play business hardball with big bands?
Every day. Bands feel they're worth more than they are, they feel they should be higher up the bill, they think they're bigger than other acts. It's pure politics. It's managing expectations and egos. But none of them come cheap. The festival costs maybe £15m, and half of that will go on acts.
What has been your highlight?
Getting AC/DC in 2010 was my greatest achievement! They don't do festivals and I doubt they'll ever do one again. But it happened easily, because it was the 30th anniversary of Donnington, the 30th anniversary of Back In Black, and they had sentimental links with the site. All that helped, as well as a huge wallop of cash!
Have their been any horror stories?
We had Metallica booked and their drummer Lars Ulrich got hospitalised. My heart dropped. Somehow, they managed to get drummers from three other bands to cover for him! But there's always stress. Something will happen this year, and I'll think it's the worst moment of my life.
How much have festivals changed?
Massively. You have to show real customer care and value for money now. The first Monsters of Rock in 1980 had a burger van and a portable toilet. Now people want showers, decent food. Some people buy tickets to Download regardless of who's on the bill. But we need to make sure there is something different every year. I'm always on Twitter, forums and our Facebook page. Listening to people is the best way to keep it successful. NM
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