After hosting the now-legendary Elephant Fayre music festival at Port Eliot from 1981 to 1986, Lord St Germans began a new festival at Port Eliot in 2003. The festival was founded by Peregrine St Germans and his wife, Catherine St Germans; actor and musician, Rick Worthy (also one of the original organisers of the Elephant Fayre); and Simon Prosser, long time friend of Lady St Germans and the publishing director of Hamish Hamilton.
This passionate and creative team believed there was room for a new kind of literary event, with the craic of a music festival. The writers, poets and journalists appearing at the festival were encouraged to perform material they would not be given the opportunity to present at orthodox literary festivals – using their creativity to devise imaginative, interesting and entertaining shows, they went far above and beyond merely reading aloud from their latest books and taking questions from the floor. Some created original works for the show, others performed spontaneous acts. All were asked to “do something different with words” – and so the Port Eliot Festival’s unique spirit was born.
The first year, the festival had 17 paying punters and three times as many performers, artists and crew. But it was a magical weekend of words and music, in the grounds of one of the most beautiful stately homes in England. Word quickly spread among young writers that at last here was a festival at which they could do what they wanted. The following year, 1,000 people attended. Part of the festival’s success was that many of the Elephant Fayre original site crew were involved, including Viva Hammell, Rick Worthy and MIki Sprosen – crew who really knew how to put together a memorable festival site. Catherine St Germans and Simon Prosser drew some of the brightest names in publishing, music and the visual arts and encouraged them to take risks with their performances. Novelist James Flint came to the first festival, and then joined the team, running the influential and highly acclaimed Film Tent.
An incredible array of performers have appeared at Port Eliot over the years – drawn by the festival’s laid-back approach, colourful atmosphere and friendly vibe. “Most festivals now, literature festivals in particular, are high pressure and high profile,” says Hanif Kureishi. “Port Eliot is a sort of upmarket pop festival… It’s fun… It’s nice for the kids. It’s a lovely place, it’s just very relaxing.” New areas have also been added, broadening the appeal to a younger audiences and others who might never have considered coming to a literary festival before – including the immensely popular Cabaret Tent (where you’ll dance late into the night), the Boat House, the Caught By The River stage and the enchanting House of Fairy Tales.
Amongst the many performers to have appeared at the festival are: Sarah Waters, Jung Chang, Dominic West, Hanif Kureishi, Hari Kunzru, Kate Summerscale, Ekow Eshun, Richard Benson, David Mitchell, Louis De Bernières, Barbara Hulanicki, Luella Bartley, Stephen Jones, Anna Sui, Anita Pallenberg, Alexander Masters, Immodesty Blaize, Aisle 16, Rosie Boycott, MJ Hyland, Francis Upritchard, Mike Figgis, Sally Potter, Martin Parr, Colin Wilson, Mick Brown, Simon Jameson, Louis Eliot, Gaz Mayall, Gavin Turk, Deborah Curtis, Murrary Lachlan-Young, Maria Alvarez, Alain de Botton, Jamie Brisick, Gavin Pretor Pinney, Tom Hodgkinson and Hugo Williams. The Port Eliot Festival has also developed a reputation for fantastic food with stall holders from Borough Market attending, and the likes of Moro, Skye Gyngell, Rose Prince, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen chefs and Angela Hartnett cooking here over the years.
Why not try something new and come and discover Port Eliot’s magic for yourself?