Get this show on the road

Boutique festivals are big business. But what does it take to set one up? We took an Audi Q7 to Cornbury to help with preparations for this year's event.


The Cornbury Festival: Great Tew Park

Rising up from the green of The Great Tew Park in Oxfordshire, Cornbury is a boutique festival with family and luxury very much at its heart. In its own words, it’s “a lovingly crafted, top notch, very English open air party,” headlined this year by Brian Ferry, Jamie Cullum and Seal. With that in mind, we jumped into the Audi Q7 SUV to see first-hand how Festival Director Hugh Phillimore ensures he’s true to his word.

  “‘Personal taste is a luxury I can’t afford.’ That was a saying a boss of mine used to have. But for me, a lot of this is personal,” he says when we meet under the oak beams of a pub in nearby Chipping Norton. So much so that he says his focus has always been on the music, rather than the money. Whether that’s championing artists he loves, to ensuring guests enjoy the best experience possible, Hugh scrutinises every detail and dedicates as much of his own resource and energy as he can.

  “Being a concert promoter means you have to know everything about everything and be involved in everything. You can’t ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do. I make sure that everything is tucked in and neat, that there’s no rubbish and the signs are put up - that’s what I do.”

  “And that’s important because I think people notice that we’re trying to put on a quality event and how proud I am of it.” Today, with only a few days to go until the event starts, there’s still plenty of “tucking in” to be done, so we’re lending Hugh the Q7 for the day to help with the heavy-lifting. It’s not long before the car’s quattro all-wheel technology is being tested along the winding, bumpy roads on the way to the site’s lock-up.

  Here, the five back seats are quickly laid flat to take the Q7’s boot space up to 1,955 litres so we can transport unwieldy posters and site signage. We manoeuvre along a crooked track through woodland to get back to the site, where Hugh is keen to catch up on plans for Cornbury’s own-brand wine, Goan seafood curry stalls and “posh-wash” showers with the 50-or-so core staff already there.

  Many of them have worked on Cornbury for 10 years and clearly consider the festival team family. A proud Hugh is convinced that rubs off on festival-goers too: “Guests say to me, ‘every single person on the way in was really lovely. Where did you find these people?’”

  “We’re just spreading the love. Coming to a festival should be a joyous experience.”

  “74% of our audience are regulars. I see people walking around the site in Cornbury 2004 T-shirts. Even I don’t own one of them!”

  But why do they keep coming back? Perhaps it’s the mix of both established and emerging music acts (this year’s lineup also includes rising stars Gabrielle Aplin, The Shires and The Lottery Winners). Perhaps it’s the comedy and words stages, or the roaming entertainers. Whatever it is, it’s working. So with such an eclectic mix, how would Hugh describe the festival?

   “I’d say we’re premium. We like everything to be done properly, we like it done thoughtfully, professionally, by people who really care about getting it right.” Cornbury Festival takes place between 8-10 July. Visit to find out more.

Written by Simon Vincent, Photographs by Scott Dennis


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