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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 August 2006, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Losing my festival virginity
By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

A trip to the V Festival - one of the UK's biggest outdoor music events - gave our reporter the chance to experience festival life for the very first time.

Wellies
Funky wellies: Essential footwear in muddy Hylands Park
Travelling to Hylands Park in Essex, one of the V festival's two centres, went with military precision as fleets of double deckers were on hand to ferry revellers to the action.

But that was the easy part. A drop-off at the edge of the site and an endless trek down muddy tracks made it clear how huge this festival is.

Another new arrival bemoaned the state of her delicate footwear, making countless pairs of trendy, brightly-coloured wellington boots appear to be the must-have accessory.

In a quest to identify fellow festival virgins, I ran into more seasoned revellers, who offered me their wisdom.

"An easy way to tell a festival virgin is by the shoes they're wearing," said Stephanie Newcombe from Mid-Glamorgan, attending her fifth V Festival.

"Wear comfortable clothes," was her sound advice. But she added that Glastonbury would be the festival where more "intriguing" people would be encountered.

Low-grade celebrities

Crossing the ceaseless traffic of music fans, it was time to brandish a sparkling red wristband and experience the other side of festival life - the so-called VIP tent.

Stephanie Newcombe
Festival regular: Stephanie Newcombe (left) and friend
In this apparently exclusive corner of the park, the drinks were complementary and there was a smattering of low-grade celebrities and a piped-in disco soundtrack.

Despite the comfortable wicker furnishings, it was still set in the midst of a rutted field, but with the none of the charm of the real festival outside.

The faithful were here to see some of their favourite bands live and in the raw, and the appearance of Keane on the main stage had throngs of people belting out their hit songs - and with it, a pleasant fuzziness washed over the park.

Chart staples Girls Aloud took the stage in a vast, dark circus-like marquee which curiously emptied as their performance wore on.

V Festival, Essex

A pivotal moment was a rip-roaring set by Mercury Music Prize hopefuls Editors in the midst of a devoted crowd.

The light was beginning to fade beneath a blue sky, and the point of summer music events became clear - it's a gig, but it's in the great outdoors. Simple, but true.

The music festival world becomes a different place when day turns to night, with bright lights, aimlessly thronging people and enticing smells from every imaginable type of on-site cuisine giving the place an exciting, evocative fairground feel.

Seething mass

Time also slides past at an unimaginable rate, with headliners Radiohead already preparing to take their place on the main stage.

While life around the fringes of the festival crowd is relaxed and disengaged, attempting to cut into the centre of a seething mass is only for the fit and young.

Tea lady
Cup that cheers: The tea ladies were doing good business
My efforts to see Thom Yorke and his men next to the stage were thwarted, so I settled for a nice cuppa instead, courtesy of a group of tea ladies and their faithful trolley - an unusual brew when beer is the festival drink of choice.

Walking vast distances was starting to take its toll. But I wasn't the only one suffering on the treacherously slippery path to the bus stop, passing the robust campers making a weekend of it.

"My back's killing me. Not going to that again," muttered another festival-goer, clearly tired and emotional.

You have to go to a festival prepared for all eventualities - rain, sunburn and mud - and have the staying power to last the course at such a large event, even if it's just a day trip.

This experience felt mainstream, accessible and challenged any lingering thoughts of festival-phobia - a first foray into the great outdoor music experience which will make the next one much easier.


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