Imagine the scene: It’s mid-October of any given year in the Bestival office, the staff are just about getting over their celebratory hangovers and setting their sights on the following year’s festivities, when Rob Da Bank, head honcho and promoter extraordinaire, enters, scuffing his shoes on the floor, hands fed deep into his pockets and chin slung to his chest. “What’s up Robbie?” a festival hand ventures. No response, not audible, at least. “Oh, you haven’t gone and blown your entire band budget only weeks after the last festival, have you? Y’know, like you do every year?” Robbie, looks up. No need to utter a word, it’s clear he has. “Oh Robbie.”
But if anyone knows how to fill a festival bill its Rob da Bank, real name Robbie Gorham. So what if he goes a bit hot and heavy on the bands, the first step is recognising the problem. “I can finally admit after 10 years I probably book too many bands,” says Robbie sheepishly. “There’s only a certain amount of bands allotted and I just love booking bands. I normally end up going crazy and by the end of October I’ve blown my entire budget and get depressed.”
There’s more to the Isle of Wight festival than bands and music – the after parties, the woods, the fancy dress – but there’s no doubt Bestival delivers impressive line ups year after year. This year Elton John, Snoop Dogg, The Knife and Richie Hawtin are just a few of the names on the bill, but Robbie does not go easy on himself: “Every year I say, ‘Be brave, Robbie,’. I’ve got an idea to book three headliners that have only been around for two years. Everyone always says, ‘Oh yeh, same old headliners,’ so I think I need to do something really brave or off the wall.”
What he really wants is Dolly Parton, Prince, Kate Bush, ZZ Top… AC/DC. “Don’t worry, there are plenty of sensible heads at Bestival HQ breathing down my neck, but I do really feel that festival land is ready for bravery and ready to do different things. I don’t think we’re in a rut but I want to make sure Bestival gets ahead of the game before everyone else catches up.
Robbie explains he’s always tried to punch above his weight with his choice of headliners, but with Bestival doubling in capacity its first four or so years and now a staple in the summer event diary, the weight classes of its top billings seem invariably fitting. So, presumably the rise and rise of Bestival is thanks to organisation, detail and rock-solid planning, eh, Robbie? “I’m not even sure we had a five-minute plan. We [his Sunday Best crowd] just sat in a pub six months before the first festival and were like, ‘yeh, yeh, yeh, we should do our own festival’. It was very last minute. The first few years just flew by in a whirl of ‘what the fuck are we doing?’ It was complete mayhem. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing.” Oh.
“It’s only really now after ten years I’ve been able to sit down, look back and think about where we’re going to go next,” Robbie muses. First things first, he wants to expand Bestival – and potentially its younger family-orientated sibling, Camp Bestival, too – overseas. “We’ve had people ringing up for years wanting to do it in Australia, South America, even China, and that could be really exciting for us. We definitely want to have another festival up and running in another territory in the next 12 months.” But back at Robin Hill Country Park, the changes will be more about the festival itself.
As is the trend with so many festivals, four or five days in a field costing an arm and a leg have to be about more than just the music. And so, Bestival, which is already doing pretty well in the extra-curricular fun stakes, is going to shift away from bands and towards other forms of entertainment, including art and leisure. Robbie says, “When we launched 10 years ago there weren’t that many festivals around and we were kinda’ spoiled. We pretty much had an open book, but now there’s umpteen festivals and everyone’s caught up with us in a way. It’s quite hard these days to keep ahead of the pack, but I think ultimately that’s what I think people look to Bestival for, to come out with new concepts.”
Bestival’s success has not translated into an easy day job for Robbie and his team as he says he sets the bar higher each year and the team always spend up to the limit of their means. “Nothing is certain,” he says. “There’s no certainty in the festival market, but we’re in it and we’re going to get through it. It’s like anyone’s else job, really. It’s quite boring. You have those incredible days at the end of the summer but for the other 360 days of the year you’re back to the grindstone.”
And that pressure is felt all the more by Robbie himself thanks to the figurehead role he plays for Bestival. In the same way Michael Eavis is Glastonbury, Rob da Bank is Bestival, which has its ups and downs. “I slightly fought against it,” Robbie explains, “but my manager sort of forced me into it. When it’s going well and people are saying Rob da Bank’s a fucking hero, then that’s ok, but when something goes wrong, then I get get it in the neck and I’m a villain. And I’m quite a shy guy. Those are the moments you wish you weren’t the figurehead.” But with Bestival going from strength to strength, those moments are growing fewer and further between.
Read the full interview in the new edition of DIY Weekly, available from iTunes now.
Bestival will take place from 5th - 8th September at Robin Hill Country Park, Isle Of Wight.