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Rob da Bank on Prince & Bowie Tributes, and His Dream of a 'Naked' Theme

Even with just 7 days to go until Camp Bestival kicks off for the 9th time, and even while sparing the time to speak to a music festivals magazine, founder Rob da Bank exudes nothing but calm.

In his own charming and almost disarmingly honest way, he told us about coming within inches of booking Prince, the tributes in store for two late legends at Bestival this year, and the themes he would love to see at future editions…

How would you describe the heart and soul of Bestival?

Well I suppose it's still the same as it was in the first place, which is just a big party for like-minded people. Great music, a lot of fun, sort of an escapist vibe to it. It's all about losing yourself. Obviously it's hundreds of things more than that, but at its heart it's just a big party.

Do you feel like the character of a festival changes over time to adapt to the changing culture around it?

We've definitely adapted over the years. I think our crowd has possibly got a bit younger – we've also got Camp Bestival and Common People, so I think some people who've grown up with Bestival have gone on to Camp Bestival which is more established as the family show. Then Bestival is still that slightly racy, a little bit daring, 20-somethings' party.

So we've tried to keep it young, and tried to move with the times. I've seen too many festivals get older with their crowd, and suddenly their crowd leaves to go somewhere else and the festival is left with nothing. So I think it's important – Reading and other fesitvals do it well – that we appeal to that festival crowd that are just starting to go to a lot of shows. That's kind of our market, I suppose.

I guess people who've grown up as kids at Camp Bestival could also start moving on to Bestival as well.

Yeah, almost certainly. [Laughing] We're not cynically trying to sort of hook everyone in, but it does work like that. At some point some 17- or 18-year-olds might have outgrown family holidays and start going to Bestival, so it's a bit circular in a way.

I think what we've done is build a faithful crowd who understand what we do, and we try and keep them happy every year and bring in a load of new people as well. It's a bit of a tightrope and it's not easy to keep that loyalty, but we're managing to do it at the moment.

So what's it been like transporting that strong identity all the way over to Toronto?

Toronto has been a massive learning curve. Doing anything outside of the UK is a whole different kettle of fish, but it's not us on our own – we've got great partners over there, SFX and Embrace. We still have the vision of how it will look and sound, and a lot of our stuff goes over there, but it's done with local expertise as well.

I'm really proud that we've got through our second year in Toronto, because I can't really see any other festival guys that are coming from the UK – I've seen so many come over and fail. It's been pretty knife-edge [for us], because Bestival kind of means nothing to anyone in Toronto or Canada, it's a totally new brand, so that's exciting but it's also kind of terrifying.

So how do you come up with the Bestival theme each year?

[Laughing] It's basically just me and Josie, and whoever else wants to get involved, arguing about it. It's The Future this year, and I just remember walking round the show last year and – because it had been Summer of Love and that was a little bit retro, harking back to the glory days – I thought, "Let's go the other way."

But in general, it's kind of anyone who's got a good idea. Then we test it out a few times through various people and try and work out if it's going to have legs. We've gone from Cowboys & Indians, and Pirates – quite simple, almost childlike themes – through to things that have have a few more layers to them.

Do you have any longstanding ideas that you haven't been able to use yet?

Yes: Cross-Dressing. I'm really keen to do that – [laughing] maybe not personally, but I'd like to do some quite daring things. Naked? Mud Party? I'm up for anything, really.

Can you tell us a bit about what the tributes to Prince and David Bowie are going to look like at Bestival this year?

Well the details of the Prince tribute are kind of ongoing, but essentially it's going to crown the Sunday night, the grand finale of the festival. So it's hopefully going to be a really powerful audio-visual tribute – perhaps with a holographic element to it, lots of fireworks and pyro. It'll be short and sweet, but a good way to pay tribute to him.

And the Bowie one, a bit smaller-scale. A few people doing DJ sets, and again just a good way to doff our caps to two incredible artists that we would have loved to have at Bestival.

You've said many times before that Prince was always one you'd worked hard to try and book.

Yeah, every year we went in for Prince and got a bit closer – this year it did feel tantalisingly close. I'd never say that we were definitely going to have booked him, but it had got to the point where I felt like it might happen.

Three or four years ago, his agent got in touch six weeks before the show and said, "Oh, Prince has changed his mind, he's up for it," but by that point all the money had gone, and he wasn't a cheap artist. So that's how close we got, and if we'd had a few hundred thousand, or more than that lying around, we could have done it.

Do you think the lineup is the most important thing for a festival to get right?

I do think it's very important, yes, and if you don't get it right you can face the consequences. To be honest, there are hundreds of things you can get wrong! And there are always one or two things we can improve, maybe it's moving the toilets to the wrong place, or rules about letting alcohol in.

It's amazing, people's perception of what's acceptable – it's constantly changing and you never quite know what's going to happen. Luckily we tend to get a lot of it right, and it's the tweaks on top that we have to try and make sure we get better at.

Are there any big surprises up your sleeve for this year's Bestival and Camp Bestival?

Well we just built the world's biggest bouncy castle, which is coming to both festivals. We unveiled that at Common People, and it's a huge beast at 23m2, so that's really cool. We don't chase world records just to get the headlines, but we've been working on this bouncy castle idea for 5 or 6 years so it's good to finally get it into operation.

Camp Bestival 2017 takes place from 27-30 July. Tickets and packages are available here.

Bestival 2017 is from 7-10 September, with tickets and packages available below.

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