The 37th edition of Henley Festival kicked off on Wednesday 11th July, with the festival screening the World Cup Semi-Final match between England and Sweden which was watched by hundreds of black-tie festival goers sipping champagne. Despite England’s defeat in the World Cup, spirits were lifted by an upbeat Rita Ora, who delayed her opening headline set by an hour to ensure festival-goers could enjoy the football. Ora wowed the crowed with renditions of her pop hits For You, Girls and I Will Never Let You Down, with the first night of the festival coming to a close as fireworks exploded overhead. This year the famous Henley fireworks returned to the far side of the river and were put on by Titanium, the firework company behind the 2012 Olympics.
On Thursday, legendary 70s singer and icon Grace Jones kept the crowds waiting for nearly an hour before appearing on stage wearing white body paint and a gold skull, telling the audience that she couldn’t come out until after the sun went down. Jones went through a total of eight costume changes as she ran through her classic hits La Vie En Rose and Love is the Drug. She ended her set by coming out into the crowd wearing a huge white wig and riding on the back of a security guard during Pull Up to the Bumper.
Friday night saw Nile Rodgers with his band CHIC take to the floating stage with some of the biggest hits of the last 50 years. Festival goers took to their feet as they danced the night away to hits including Get Lucky, Like A Virgin, I’m Coming Out, Le Freak, Lost in Music and We Are Family. Nile invited members of the Henley Festival audience onto the stage to dance with him for We Are Family.
Saturday lunchtime saw the Henley Symphony Orchestra performing a concert on the floating stage with the virtuoso violinist Min Kym performing a number of solos.
On Saturday Henley Festival goers were treated to a night of Frank Sinatra by the Ronnie Scott’s Big Band with American jazz vocalist Curtis Stigers performing some of Sinatra’s biggest songs including Fly Me to the Moon and All that Matters To Me. Stigers was joined onstage by British Comedian Rob Brydon who sang fly me to the moon in the voices of famous people including Alan Bennett, Michael Cain, Ronnie Corbett and Roger Moore.
The festival came to a triumphant close on Sunday night with the English National Orchestra under the baton of ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins performing operatic favourites Carmen, The Marriage of Figaro, Madam Butterfly, Turandot and La Traviata as well as a little Gilbert & Sullivan, with award-winning young Welsh Soloist Natalya Romaniw taking the female solo parts.
Tickets sold to the 25,000 festival goers over the five-day festival have helped to raise funds for the festival’s two charities: Dedicated to supporting young people with depression, and encouraging discussions around mental health, the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust was set up in memory of a young man who took his own life whilst suffering from depression. The Teenage Wilderness Trust supports students who find it difficult to engage with mainstream education by offering reengagement courses using bush craft, wilderness learning techniques and practical life skills to encourage students to get back into learning. As part of their partnership with the festival the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust placed angel wings around the festival site to raise awareness for how to help young people cope with depression.
Charlotte Geeves, Henley Festival Director, said “2018 has been a fantastic year for Henley Festival, with the return of the fireworks and two classical concerts with Henley Symphony Orchestra on Saturday and the English National Opera on Sunday, as well as electric performances from Nile Rodgers, Grace Jones and Rita Ora. Once again Henley Festival has lived up to its reputation one of the most glamourous events in the summer calendar. We are thrilled that we had three sell out nights during the festival and that festival goers have been generously supporting this year’s chosen charities the Charlie Waller Memorial and The Teenage Wilderness Trust.”
For the first time this year, Henley partnered with BBC Introducing Berkshire who picked five up and coming local artists to performing on the floating stage ahead of the headline concert each night. The BBC Introducing Berkshire artists performing the festival this year included: Pearl TN, Lorne, Alex Green, Cecil and WolfNote.
The comedy line-up was no less starry, with stellar performances from some of the biggest names in British comedy including Phil Jupitus, Paul Merton, Jon Culshaw, Lee Nelson, Lucy Porter, Mark Watson and Dominic Holland as well as up and coming comics including Suzi Ruffell, Rhys James, Flo & Joan, Alfie Brown and Adam Rowe as well as jaw-achingly funny cabaret from Tina C and Vellma Celli.
This year Michelin starred chef Angela Hartnett took the reins of Europe’s largest field restaurant, while Henley local Paul Clerehugh returned with his Crooked Billet pop up, also taking over the iconic Spiegeltent for the first time. Guests could also choose from a plethora of pop ups, including Spice Merchant, Snob Lobster, Jessica Prosecco, Moët champagne bars, Black Cab Coffee Cocktails and much more.
Overall 25,000 people attended the festival over the five days, with 250 people arriving by boat, and mooring to the side of the festival site, with an additional 1,000 people partying from their boats each night as they glided past the festival on the river.
Some of the biggest names in contemporary art exhibited brand new works in the pop-up galleries across the festival site. Scottish sculpture and Turner prize nominee David Mach showcased his monumental Spike sculpture, a leopard made entirely out of coat hangers, alongside photo collages made specially for Henley and brand-new works form his Commando series. Also appearing at Henley Festival was the UK’s premiere landscape photographer Charlie Waite, wildlife sculptor Rosamond Lloyd, and Dellasposa Gallery who featured works by the likes of Francis Bacon and Alexander James Hamilton.
Finally, today’s Family Sunday saw the festival site transformed into a children’s paradise, with Mr Bloom delighting children by handing out vegetables to the crowd to eagerly outstretched arms, as well as children’s entertainers, magicians, comedians, musicians, glitter tattooists, unicorn balloons and more keeping families entertained, while babies boogied in Baby Loves Disco at the Festival’s Pure Heaven nightclub.