Wilderness festival: Where Made in Chelsea Meets a Midsummer Night's Dream

Set over 1,700 acres of the Cornbury Park estate in Oxfordshire, Mr and Mrs Rotherwick lend their beautiful grounds once a year to the UK's biggest public school alumni gathering - but only the cool kids are invited, the ones that can dance.

Standing in the slow-moving queue at the Redchurch St coffee stall in a field on a sleepy Sunday morning, I'm earwigging the conversation taking place behind me between three girls who have so far discussed yoga, being thin and the sash/belt thing one of them was wearing that was 'rather nice'.

"So where are the kids this weekend?"

"At home in Brizzle. We're really lucky, we have an au pair."


"It really is. She's a lovely Austrian. She lives in the annex so we're out of each other's hair. She does pretty much everything, works 35 hours a week and we pay her only £100. It's brilliant!"


"We're rather spoilt, we have a maid too who does the other stuff."


"You can get Spanish ones now, there are no jobs in Spain so they're all coming over here."


The conversation comes to an abrupt halt when one of them spots a friend in the distance, shouting and waving like a maniac. I'm sad it's over but I can't wait to tell someone about it, doing their voices.

This is Wilderness festival, where glittery Titania-type girls sip Courvoisier straight from the bottle and boys wear animal tails, top hats and sport impressively-groomed moustaches.

Now in its third year, Wilderness is becoming as famous for its high-end food offerings as it is for its music. Set over 1,700 acres of the Cornbury Park estate in Oxfordshire, Mr and Mrs Rotherwick lend their beautiful grounds once a year to the UK's biggest public school alumni gathering - but only the cool kids are invited, the ones that can dance.

If you're not into the music you might fill your time at the spa - a collection of hot tubs positioned, with optimum picturesqueness in mind, on the banks of a tree-lined lake where revellers can sip on prosecco (and marinate in a weekend's worth of each other's sweat).

You could partake in a banquet hosted by the folks behind Ottolenghi, Moro or St John where hungry masses gather round long tables under candle-lit gazebo - resembling, at a distance, a wedding party.

You could watch a full-length play in the middle of the day, or you could simply spend four days working your way around all the deliciously tempting food stall offerings from the likes of Moro, J Sheekey, The Breakfast Club, and countless other independent traders.

If there is an ounce of ponce in either my boyfriend or myself - and I think there probably is - it was totally lost on this crowd.

Primarily, we came for our eyes and ears to be entertained, and Wilderness 2013 delivered. Friday evening got off to a magical start with Transe Express's visual spectacle Maudit Sonnats which drew the crowds at sunset to their giant flower-like structure hanging over our heads from a crane, on which Medieval-attired bell-ringers spun and dangled and beguiled like a giant jewellery box.

Aussie electro duo Empire of the Sun headlined that night. Kicking off with a bang, literally - they blew the electrics within 10 seconds with a cacophony flashing lights, heavy smoke, and loud beats.

They were back 10 minutes later but three or four songs into the set and I began to spot a theme: all their songs sound the same, with the exception of We Are the People (still their best, I think), which I had the pleasure to listen to from a distant Portaloo.

It's lunchtime on Saturday and socialist writer, journalist and self-proclaimed 'rent-a-gob' Owen Jones lollops enthusiastically into our sleepy brains with leftist ideology on the sober subject of 'the state of our nation'.

Just why Jones pontificating on politics makes you want to cuddle him is a mystery; is it his optimism? The way he talks out of the side of his mouth? Maybe it's just knowing that he wrote a book defending Chavs.

Time to gather on the hay bales and deck chairs of the Wilderness tent where Icelandic musician Olafur Arnalds hypnotises the crowd into near silence with vast ambient instrumental soundscapes that Icelandics in particular seem to be very good at.

'You think it's because of the beautiful volcanoes and open spaces,' Arnalds says of one track that has received YouTube acclaim, 'but this one was written for a bathroom advert,' the crowd chuckles. Interspersing his melancholic tunes with deadpan jokes, Arnalds' off-beat set is one I will remember.

But the reason we're all here is, of course, Sugar Man. We've seen the film and we want to see the legend-that-never-was-but-now-is Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, with our very own eyes. Optimally positioned at the very front (next to the bassy speaker which rattled my bones and, bizarrely, made me burp), I watch Rodriguez's pained face behind dark glasses and a fedora as he is escorted onto the main stage, a helper on either side, before being slowly lowered into his chair.

The crowd is rapturous but he takes his time picking up his guitar and settling in. A couple of chords later and he's away, frailty forgotten as he swims through a rich and soulful playlist of songs including I Wonder and Sugar Man to a euphoric audience; taking his band by surprise at every turn by not telling them what he's playing next. Sometimes he even stands up.

He seems happy to see us too as he delivers old-man pearls of wisdom between songs: "Hate is a very powerful emotion, don't waste it on people you don't really like," he says with a cheeky grin.

Sunday was a wind-down for most, for me and my boyfriend it was two hours in a hot dark tent watching The Indian Tempest by Footsbarn and wishing I'd done my homework beforehand so I could follow it. Pathetic, I know.

By the evening, those that hadn't left the festival already - and many had - gathered in the Wilderness tent for one last hooray: The Wilderness Orchestra performing classic film scores.

Giddy and tired like the last day of term, we sit crossed-legged on the ground, shoulder-to-shoulder with poshies, united by nostalgia, we sway and hum along as the orchestra studiously navigate their way through the rousing scores of John Williams' E.T., Star Wars and Jurassic Park.

And so sees another year put to bed.

Wilderness knows exactly what it's doing and it works. Yes, dressed crab and sourdough bread is a lunchtime option and yes, you might even bump into Samantha Cameron, but there's absolutely no doubt that music remains at the heart of it all.

Here's to posh-stock 2014!


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