For over ten years I have worked at Secret Garden Party; the festival now runs over 4 days, but if you work there, you’ll know that this is a mere pin-prick of the time you’ll spend on site. Sometimes, depending on what you are doing, it might mean you are living on site for months on end. This happens yearly for the core crew, we have become hugely close; really we are like one big family.
I have a particularly favorite year; that year, I made friends with people who I will know all of my life, who are forever in my heart. It is also the year and the reason why The River Kitchen began. I was living in my converted horse box full time and I quite simply because I could take my home wherever I wished, arrived on site earlier than I was due to begin my work in production…. MUCH earlier (we are talking about 3 weeks here) but I wanted to catch up with friends I’d not seen for a whole winter and I had no commitments so this was easy. But not wanting to stand around kicking my heels in the dust whilst others worked,
I began to run odd jobs for friends who were pulling their hair out over strict deadlines that had to be met. I helped them wherever I could; I did tesco runs for fags and chocolate, bought mother’s birthday cards for those who had forgotten their private lives and remembered important bits just in time.
Help sometimes came in the form of taking bags of smelly socks to away to get them washed or simply charging up dying mobile phones. When you work on live-events, festivals in particular, there is no such thing as down time, everything goes out the window, time somehow speeds up and you simply can’t get what you need to be done in the space of 24hrs. You can’t get an extension on a deadline, because the deadline involved 20 plus thousand people arriving in one space for a big old party.
Naturally this means crew become stressed, overly tired, exhausted, quite simply there will never be enough hours given to create the playground that becomes a site for a festival. With all this said; it wasn’t long before I began to cook for people. It started really only as little snacks that I would make during the day between meals, just nice treats for hard working souls, like cakes and cookies, or bacon sandwiches and cups of tea, but with festival crew food being notoriously beige and miserable, the little taps at my truck door were becoming more and more frequent.
And upon each of these little taps, as I would slide back my front door, I would see another poor little festival-whelp in a high-vis and a pair of riggers about to lose their shit unless I fed them, gave them a hug and an ear to off load onto. I would sit them down, flick the kettle on, hand them something sugary I had made and we would right things out over a cup of tea and then off they would go, back to work, a little bit chirpier and stronger than when they had turned up 10 minutes prior.
Feeding a team felt great. It was mainly a big group of men. Overnight they became ma-boys, I had somehow become their festival mother!! And snack-time at Ella’s truck, well, it had become something so regular that you could set your watch by it. Then, as it should do; the show went live and I became a Night-Manager again and cook no more. I did the job that I had been brought in to do. When the show was over, when all the revelers had left our garden and gone home; I packed my things up and went to leave; it was time for me to return to the golf course I usually parked up on.
Only I could not move. On each side of the truck, where I had parked almost a month ago were very tightly parked vehicles. I went to see the build crew manager, who is now one of my closest friends, who admittedly freely that he had arranged for my vehicle to be blocked in. The plan was to keep me there. The boys were staying on another 3 weeks to take down the festival and he had decided to relieve the caterers of their duty early so that I could cook full time.
Now I hd full custody of 20 hungry men who would need feeding 3 times a day. Of course a budget was handed over to me and a kitchen and off I went. I had never done anything like it before, I felt enormously out of my depth, but there it was, the moment where cooking for an army became real. It was one of the most wonderful times of my life, the sun was hot, the team was close; I remember watching them working out in the fields taking away all the odd bits of décor, harass paneling and trackway.
I would be there cooking away, looking forward to feeding people and making them happy, filling them with something that could make their day go a little bit better, it was great. I would ring a bell and get them back in from the field to eat and they were all so grateful. It was always nice to see them eating, after that I was asked to work more festivals like this. Cooking during the build and break and running my normal job in between.
Christian joined me last year which made it even more fun. We worked our socks off making food for a crew of 80, 3 meals a day every day. Our food gained in popularity and that was when we decided to take things a bit more seriously and run the river kitchen on a daily basis – mainly at the Cambridge Market, sometimes at weddings, but The River Kitchen, will always have its heart planted in festivals. I will never forget those days. It was blissful, precious beyond words. I loved them all, this band of brothers, who were always so kind to me, to each other, we are a family of sorts. The garden party will finish this year, yes, it will be the very last one, I have been blessed and honored to be a part of it. Thank you so very very much sgp xxx