The ninth annual Cornbury Festival took place this weekend on the picturesque, 4,000-acre Great Tew Estate in Oxfordshire, a little under seven miles from Chipping Norton. Among the attractions were kids' yoga classes, morris dancing, and Alison Moyet. The event is popular with such Tatler-bait as Jemima Khan and Tamara Beckwith Veroni. But only those lucky enough to gain admittance to the VIP area had the opportunity to witness Saturday's star turn: David Cameron, making awkward small-talk with his former spin doctor, Andy Coulson.
Ted Heath used to be a fixture at Glyndebourne, John Major at Lords, but for the present Conservative Prime Minister, Cornbury – frequently referred to as "Poshstock" – is the biggest date of the social season. Cameron's encounter with Coulson was unplanned, and he avoided a similar meeting with fellow Chipping Norton Settee, Rebekah Brooks, who also attended the festival. But it's a social minefield that the CNS may have to navigate more than once this summer, due to the Cotswolds' high concentration of genteel music festivals.
Until 2010, Cornbury was held a few miles away, on Lord and Lady Rotherwick's 6,500-acre Cornbury Estate, close to the delightful village of Charlbury. When its organiser, Hugh Phillimore, fell out with the Rotherwicks, he moved his festival to Great Tew. The original site is now home to the HMV-backed Wilderness Festival, which this year features (alongside its musical line-up) talks organised by Intelligence Squared and The School of Life, and "banquets" prepared by chefs Valentine Warner, Fergus Henderson and Yotam Ottolenghi.
Graeme Merifield founded the Wychwood Festival in 2005, and hoped to hold it in the Wychwood Forest, also part of Cornbury Park. Phillimore, however, had an exclusive deal for the site, so Merifield settled instead on Cheltenham Racecourse, that staple of the traditional social season. Womad, the original world music festival, is now staged in nearby Malmesbury.
No less embarrassing than bumping into Coulson was Cameron's much-papped chat with Jeremy Clarkson and cheesemaker Alex James, both card-carrying CNS members, at last year's Harvest Festival, on James's farm in Kingham (just over the Burford Road from Charlbury). Harvest's organisers Big Wheel Promotions went into administration soon afterwards, leaving many participants out of pocket. So in Harvest's place, this coming September, we have "Jamie Oliver presents The Big Feastival with Alex James".
There has been an explosion in summer festivals across Britain in the past decade, but why so many in the same neighbourhood? Is it the density of private estates, or the well-heeled demographic? According to Old Etonian Phillimore, 52, "It's a collection of lunatics who all happen to be living close together. The grandfather of them all is Fairport Convention's Cropredy Festival, which is just the other side of Banbury. It's more than 30 years old now. Everyone thinks festivals are easy, and that there's money in it, neither of which is true. I saw Alex [James] at Cornbury. His festival got quite bad press last year, but he said, 'I had such a good time, I wanted another one.'" Meet you at Razorlight, Rebekah? LOLxReuse content