A bright Wednesday in June, waves lap against the sides of a ferry as it makes its way through the clear horizon, to the promise of a new world. Drawn by the siren call of this sunny microcosm of sound, Oxfam’s off to the island for its first year of stewarding the Isle of Wight Festival. Reporting back to base we chat with one our brave explorers and veteran steward, Des, about his experience stepping out on this unchartered territory. What can he tell us about this thriving society that has existed in 50 years of summer? From hosting the legendary likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Amy Winehouse what have its people become? And ultimately, what may we learn from living among them as Oxfam stewards?
What was the ferry over like?
Well normally I miss the ferry because I get there late, but this time I was in such a rush that I was driving in a pair of flip-flops. I got there with half an hour to spare and said to the people at the terminal that this is the first time I’ve not missed the ferry, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself! So I had time to chill out and take some pictures like the one of the archway. Entrance to the Isle of Wight ferry- Photo Credit: Des Fitzgerald
I always like getting the ferry because it’s part of the fun, it’s like going on holiday! On the way as well there were a few dinghies, I think they were in a regatta or something, and it was just a really nice view, you knew you were going to the holiday island! I was so excited because I wanted to go to the Isle of Wight festival for years and years and had never been able to go and suddenly out of the blue Oxfam were doing it! So by the time I got there I was in really good spirits, and in my flip flops, I was one of the very first to arrive on site and it was like being a pioneer!
Des’s view of the Regatta whilst approaching the island- Photo Credit: Des Fitzgerald
How many years have you been stewarding?
I’ve been stewarding for 13 years, the Isle of Wight will be my 75th festival and the 70th I’ve supervised at.
So what keeps you coming back to steward with Oxfam?
Well, it’s a whole variety of things! I started off thinking this is just a great way to enjoy the music. It’s also working and socialising with people I would otherwise not always meet, I find that inspiring, and I think there’s also a refreshing outlook of newcomers on the team and that keeps me young! I think it’s satisfying and fulfilling to know you’re making a difference as a team, both to the festival goers and also for the vital humanitarian work that Oxfam is doing.
Des to the far left, with his happy stewarding squad-Photo Credit: Des Fitzgerald
Having stewarded for so many years with Oxfam you must have a lot of experience going to festivals, what makes the Isle of Wight special for you?
The Isle of Wight for me is the iconic festival island, you see the footage of Jimi Hendrix and all those artists times ago, and it’s always been a holiday place – and for me I keep going back. It’s a very unusual and special place, it feels like you’re going to Narnia! And all the local people are very nice and easy going, and the weather was hot.
How about it being the festivals 50th anniversary, did they do anything special for that?
There were all sorts of things, and from talking to the organisers all the artists really wanted to be there and felt like it was a special occasion, an important thing to do – Liam Gallagher was even in quite a good mood! They had an exhibition of Fender guitars and Fender had actually made a really beautiful guitar in the Isle of Wight turquoise for the anniversary that all the artists signed and the auctioned off for charity. They had these banners they put up of all of the festivals that had been, so you could see all the artists names on them, they had a Strawberry Fields anniversary cow – you could see there was that extra bit of effort. They also had a day where everyone dressed up in gold, I didn’t think anyone would dress up on that hot Saturday, but actually it was a good celebration party.
From right to left: the signed Fender guitar, the couple who won the gold competition and the anniversary cow- Photo Credit: Des Fitzgerald
The Island has a looks like it has a lot of interesting areas to explore, From the Big Top to the Octupus’ Garden and Speakers’ Corner, when you were off shift where was your favourite place to hang out?
I only actually discovered it later on, but this place called Kashmir that I thought was really nice, Octopus Gardens was really good, there was a kiwi Camp place and that was good – it had lots of games, but I think the Kashmir tent was my favourite.
The line-up this year looks amazing too, it’s got a real mix! Indie favourites like the Killers, Kasabian and Depeche Mode, some classic hits like CHIC and Sheryl Crow that are perfect for a boogie, plus current chart-toppers like Camila Cabello, Rita Ora and Chase and Status. What genre did you enjoy the most?
It’s a really difficult question, because sometimes there are a few bands I like on the bill, but I liked almost everyone there and it was a real mix! I was looking forward to seeing Liam Gallagher especially though, indie bands and old rockers, Manic Street Preachers and Van Morrison I was really looking forward to seeing and they were great. I also like strong female singers – Camilla Cabello was good, Sheryl Crow was really good. The Pretty Things, a real sort of trancey band from the 60s who played the first Isle of Wight festival, were in the big top on the Sunday and I thought that was a really special kind of moment.
Liam Gallagher on the main stage- Photo Credit: Des Fitzgerald
Finally, what’s the best thing that’s happened so far at the festival?
Everyone dressing in gold and celebrating the 50th anniversary together in the sun, and the sunsets, the sunsets were amazing! Musically, I think Van Morrison would take a lot of beating, but also just the reaction to us as Oxfam stewards from festival goers – so out of all that I’d say just the overall anniversary vibe!
An amazing sunset over the Isle of Wight- Photo Credit: Des Fitzgerald
So what have we learnt from chatting to Des? Firstly, that over its 50 years, the Isle of Wight Festival has still not lost it. With its gorgeous sunsets, welcoming crowds, the range of exciting artists and thoughtful little touches, there’s no doubt that the Isle of Wight is still the holiday island! Secondly, it’s that the experience of stewarding with the Oxfamily can become a bit of an addiction, so why not try one and see if it leads to a 75th? Also if you feel like developing your skills and becoming a supervisor in the future just like Des you can take part in our training in the future!
Lastly a massive thank you to Des, for not only providing all the photos used in this post and giving his time to be interviewed but for the all the time he has given to Oxfam Festivals! Pioneer of the Isle of Wight, and veteran of 13 years of stewarding, THANK YOU DES!