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June 2020

Ask 'the festivals': John Giddings on celebrating Isle of Wight Festival's 50th year

"My advice? Don't do it; it costs too much money!"
Published: 9:29 am, June 21, 2018
Ask 'the festivals': John Giddings on celebrating Isle of Wight Festival's 50th year
"They should have booked INSERT MASSIVE BAND HERE!", we all cry. "Why don't they just put on more loos?", we ask. Seriously, when it comes down to it, we don't know much about running a festival. But that's okay, because we've tracked down the people behind your favourite events, and asked them all the questions you'll ever need to know. (Okay, maybe not the toilet one.) Next up, we have John Giddings from Isle of Wight Festival, which is taking place this weekend (21st-24th June) with Kasabian, Depeche Mode, Liam Gallagher, The Killers, Blossoms, Sigrid, The Wombats and loads more.

Hi John, tell us about your involvement with Isle Of Wight - how did you come to work on the festival?
In 2001 the Isle of Wight Council decided to restart the festival after it had been banned for 32 years, and they asked everyone in the music business to make a tender for it. Nobody was interested because they thought, 'Who wants to go to a festival on an island you can only get to by boat?' I went down there for a laugh because I was there in 1970, and when I was sitting on the ferry on the Solent with the sun shining I thought, well, I've been going to everybody else's festivals for the last 40 years why can't I have my own? That started the ball rolling. 

Congratulations on the festival’s 50th anniversary - what do you think has been key to Isle of Wight’s success?
I think part of the key to the festival's success is the tradition and heritage. Having had Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Doors play. I think also the island itself is a holiday destination and because you can only get there by boat it puts everybody in a great frame of mind, and it feels like they're going on holiday. It's got the best climate in the UK, out of 72 days of running the festival we've only ever had four days of rain - which is incredible. 
How has the event evolved during your time there?
It's got slightly bigger than I could have ever have imagined. In the first year we had 7,500 people on the one day event, the second year we had over 15,000 people over two days, the third year with David Bowie and The Who we had over 35,000 people and the rest is history. We now sell over 50,000 and 60,000 tickets - we've had Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Muse and Foo Fighters all perform. I think it's on every artist's bucket list because it's so famous -because of its tradition and heritage.  
What are your main points of consideration when it comes to booking bands?
My main consideration is booking an artist that can project to an audience in a field and appeal to 50,000 people. It doesn't necessarily mean that they are in the charts at this moment in time, but they have to have some form of catalogue and have an ability to be able to perform. Just because someone is in the charts doesn't mean they can command an audience of this size. I choose artists from past, present and future and you get an incredible demographic, I'm very pleased with the way we go about it. 

Do you have a favourite act who’s played?
It would be difficult for me to say who my favourite act is who has played. There have been so many high points. I'll never forget when Jay-Z was performing; I thought an audience couldn't get wilder and then Kanye West walked on to sing with him, it was amazing. I tend to watch the audience more than the music, to see how they are reacting because it's so exciting, it sends a thrill down my spine. 
What’s going to be the best thing about Isle of Wight 2018?
The weather, the audience, the groups - everything that goes with it. The surprises because it's going to be the 50th anniversary. Just come on down and find out for yourself. 
What advice would you give others who’d like to work on live events like Isle of Wight?
Don't do it; it costs too much money! It's the biggest risk you could ever enter. I think if somebody else asked me to do it again I would never do it. It's the best and the worst thing I've ever done because risking 10million pounds of your own money every year isn't the best way to sit down to your Christmas dinner, but when you see 55,000 people going wild in a field, it's the best thing you've ever done. 

You can find out more about this summer's festival fun in Dork's Festival Guide 2018 - order your copy below. Isle of Wight takes place from 21st-24th June on the Isle of Wight.

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