Fantasy Forest is a brand new festival, organised by a very experienced group of people, and it will introduce its concept for the first time to England this year! At a gorgeous location, Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds, they will bring amazing bands to their visitors, like Harmony Glen, PerKelt, The Dolmen and Greenrose Faire. They will organise a market filled with merchants that will cater to all fantasy wishes, and they will even host a costume competition to give people the chance to show off their amazing creations. And that isn’t even the whole of it!
It will also be CeltCast’s first official venture into the UK! In the coming time we will bring you updates on Fantasy Forest, but right now we are starting with an in-depth interview. We had the honour to speak to Martin about organising a festival, about bringing something like this to an area that doesn’t have any experience with it yet. About which bands to book, and how to go about finding a location. And about so much more. If you’ve ever been to a fantasy festival, or you’ve just always been interested in what such an organisation looks like, you can read all about it here. Enjoy, and hopefully we’ll see you all at this beautiful new event!
– First off, please introduce yourselves! Who are you, how old are you, where are you from, and of course, what are your backgrounds regarding festivals?
Well, my name is Martin
and I am 48 years old. Born, raised and living in Friesland which is an area in the north of The Netherlands. I started visiting fantasy festivals a long time ago and fell absolutely in love with the concept after the first time. The atmosphere, the friendly people, the music and the smell of campfires and food stalls. Just being there is enough to lift my spirit.
After about 5 years I signed up as a festival volunteer for the first time. That was an amazing experience and I never could have imagined how much festivals depend on volunteers and how much effort goes into preparing the venue for a two day festival. Now I volunteer for 4 weeks each year and that basically eats up all my vacation days. 🙂
– When did the first dream of Fantasy Forest emerge?
That was in the summer of 2016. I remember the exact moment well: I had been working as a volunteer at a festival for 7 days already (construction) and the last band was playing their last song on the last day of the festival. I was standing on the stage, to the side where the audience could not see me, but the location gave me a great view of the people dancing in front of the stage. I noticed how happy the people were. How much this festival, this weekend, meant to them and my exact thought was “It must be fantastic to be the organiser of such a festival, stand here and see how much joy it brings to sow many people”. This idea stuck with me and developed in my mind for a while until I decided to move forward and register the company in May 2017.
– We presume that before any plans were made you had to first get your core group of organisers together. How did you go about forming this core group?
After the decision was made to move forward I had to take a good look at the tasks ahead and at my own strengths and weaknesses. What I wanted in the team were people that supplement each other and while each on our own we might not be able to organise a festival, as a group we form the perfect team.
I myself am a project manager (that is my actual paying day job as well) and I can create a whole festival plan on paper, create budgets, host meetings, keep track of tasks and make sure they are completed on time and utterly confuse anyone by producing sheets, overviews and backup plans of backup plans until they are buried in paperwork. But I am at my best in the office. Delegating, organising, problem solving. I needed some “boots on the ground” during the festival. The key to “surviving” a festival as organiser is to surround yourself with people you can rely on when the going gets tough. Enter… Stefan
. I had met Stefan before at festivals and had also worked with him at several occasions. Having seen him deal quickly and calmly and efficiently with security and safety incidents I knew he would be the one I would like to have by my side. As a stage manager, often working at festivals throughout Europe, he also had personal contacts with many artists and by adding his personal network to mine we greatly extended our circle of contacts.
That still left a gap though as we are both located in The Netherlands and we had only a few contacts in the UK. I would never have started this adventure without Guy
, the third man in our core team. His people skills are second to none. Everybody he meets likes him instantly and I am pretty sure he knows everybody in the UK in one way or another. From his own network and by visiting festivals and meeting people, Guy is responsible for pulling in most of the traders at Fantasy Forest as well as a very big part of the entertainment. He is also our “friendly faced” media contact and our “fixer”. We need a coach company? Guy arranges a coach company. We need a voice over? Guy arranges a voice over. We need an accountant? Guy knows an accountant.
Besides the core team there is a second group of people that play a very important role. Jantien
, who is our volunteer coordinator, André
who is our Safety Officer, Maria
who is our (decoration) advisor, Jurrien
who is our design and social media manager and Jessica
, our cashflow manager.
– Of course, after forming the initial group there are still a lot of steps to take when organising a festival. How did you end up to where you are now?
Do you have a few hours? 🙂 Selecting a general area in the UK, then the specific venue and the festival dates took the most time. Six months if I recall correct. A process that involved details such using average annual rainfall charts, population density, rail and road connections and creating a huge list of all festivals in the UK, their date, location and genre. And it may sound silly but many people forget about the dull administrative part. Registering a company, setting up a bank account, hiring an accountant, trademarking the name, registering for VAT etc takes a lot of time especially if you are not a UK citizen. Setting up social media accounts, registering and developing websites, insurances, designing and printing flyers comes on top of that.
From January 2018 onward bands and entertainment have been contracted, safety plans created, licenses arranged. And we had to hire stages, trackmats, showers, marquees, market stalls, toilets, offices, fork-lifts, fences, barriers, security, technicians, electricians, generators and several miles of electrical cables, first aid, hotels, crew catering, radios, tables and benches, chairs, a shuttle bus…. the list goes on for a while. Today we are in the final stages of planning, which includes an endless list of details to go through to ensure everything runs smoothly in the weekend.
– How did you find such a stunning location as Sudeley Castle? Were they as excited as you were, or did they need some convincing?
After the decision on date and general area within the UK was made I started searching for possible locations within that area. We started with around 11 possible venues and Guy and I visited each of them.
was the second location we visited and we were both blown away.
With the castle, the gardens and the amazing views. We did not discuss price with them on that occasion but as we walked out we both said “Wow, how great would it be if we could have the festival at this dream location. But we will probably never be able to afford something like this.” Well we could and here we are!
(event manager at Sudeley Castle & Gardens) embraced the idea from the very first meeting. She played a big role in our final decision on the location. We were very lucky to arrive at just the right moment as well. Sudeley was at that moment not hosting any large events and it was mainly used as a wedding location. One of the most sought after wedding locations in the UK. They had just decided to allow 2 large events each year and we just slid right in. Today it is no longer possible to organise a new event at this location as all slots are filled. We truly have been very lucky!
– Fantasy Forest seems to combine several aspects, be it music, costumes, markets, re-enactment etc, into one event, but what would you say is the main aspect? Which is the most defining element of the event?
I would say the main aspect is different for each visitor. We have added an abundance of entertainment and activities throughout both days so that if there is something going on that does not interest you that much you still have several other activities going on at the same time. If you would ask me personal I could not even make a choice. I think we excel in many areas. I could not even name you my personal favourite but I am very pleased with the Wickerman Ceremony. That is going to be absolutely amazing. The Wickerman will be built on site by
who create the most beautiful structures. And Stefan has been working for months on the ceremony itself. Also the costume shows are slowly developing into something amazing. “Costume and Play” is the company that takes care of the organisation and each meeting we have they manage to impress me with their ideas. With a stage, catwalk, monitors and professional sound and light equipment this will be quite a spectacle. The line-up of the bands is a dream line-up. Not just for a first-time festival but for any festival. We also have the top of the fantasy artists worldwide. Imagine
all together at one festival on the same field! And I’m particularly proud about the quality of the trader stalls. We have a very impressive selection of around 100 high quality stalls, selling items you are not able to buy in the mainstreet.
So a main aspect.. no, I really could not name it.
– Like the organisers themselves, the bands you invited come from several different countries. Can you tell us a bit about them, and about how you chose these particular bands for your first ever edition?
Well most of them we knew already through Stefan’s network and of course we have seen them play many times at different festivals. That was not the main reason for asking them to come though, we actually did have a plan. 🙂
From day 1 we wanted
as our headliner, closing the festival on Saturday and Sunday. They may not be that well-known in the UK yet but their performance is highly energetic, is very accessible and easy to dance to even if you have never heard it before.
And they will get any crowd dancing and singing in no time. And that is how we want people to go home after the festival.
of course is very well-known in the UK.
They have a very large fan base and it is a pleasure working with them and an honour that they will perform on this first edition.
from Finland is another band that was our personal favourite. They are very well-known in the Nordic and Baltic countries and even organise their own festival in Finland once a year. Very talented and professional musicians who compose all their own songs. They have never performed in the UK before but having seen them play before we just know they will be a big hit with the UK audience!
– Fantasy Forest is of course a brand-new concept, but we presume it has its background in one or more other festivals. Which festivals would you say have had the most influence in forming the concept of Fantasy Forest?
Haha, well in preparation I have visited a lot of festivals in 2018. A terrible job but someone had to do it. 🙂 I cannot name a specific festival but I have seen a lot and learned a lot. Not only about what does work but even more important ideas that did not work.
– Did you need and receive a lot of cooperation from the local government with things like permits?
I don’t think they gave us any special treatment but they are familiar with large festivals in their area so they were not afraid to allow this festival to take place and also knew how things worked and which questions to ask. During our first meeting we handed them an impressive amount of documentation which clearly they were not expecting (their actual words: “Wow, we have never seen anything like this before, you are very well prepared”). They took it home with them to read and during the second meeting we received the green light without having to provide any additional information.
– We are all obviously actively hoping for a massive success for this first ever edition. Even though you are still in preparation mode, would you say that there are already things that you would like to do different next year?
Oh yes! In my mind I’m already working on the 2020 edition. We are already discussing which bands we would like to have in 2020 and have reserved the dates (July 18th and 19th 2020, mark it in your agenda). 🙂 Of course the real evaluation will come after the festival, which will also include feedback from visitor experiences, traders and entertainment.
– Where can people find more information about the festival, like dates, sleeping or camping options, and how to acquire tickets?
All the information can be found on our
Also follow our
to stay updated on the latest developments. The festival will take place at
(near Cheltenham) on July 20th and 21st. Camping is available on the venue (though selling out fast!).
– Lastly, what message would you like to pass on to the people reading this interview?
Don’t be one of those people who afterwards posts on Facebook “That looks amazing, I wish I would have been there…”. Just come. It will be grand, amazing and over the top. You cannot compare this with anything in the UK that you have ever been to before.
– Arjan de Groot
Photo Harmony Glen:
– Hans-Heinrich Breuer of Heiners art
Photo Greenrose Faire:
– Mariëlle Groot Obbink
Photos castle gardens: (excl. aerial shot)
– Alex Sealgaire