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The secret behind success of Latitude Festival

PUBLISHED: 07:48 03 June 2009 | UPDATED: 09:54 06 July 2010

The booming Latitude festival

The booming Latitude festival

In 2006 when the gates opened on the first ever Latitude Festival it gave "green" revellers a low-key antidote to mega rock gatherings. Victoria Nicholls speaks to the creator of Latitude, which continues to gather momentum, evolving from an eco-friendly niche event to a mainstream arts extravaganza within just three years.

Latitude Festival

In 2006 when the gates opened on the first ever Latitude Festival it gave “green” revellers a low-key antidote to mega rock gatherings. Victoria Nicholls speaks to the creator of Latitude, which continues to gather momentum, evolving from an eco-friendly niche event to a mainstream arts extravaganza within just three years.

With a couple of big names thrown in as headliners but an emphasis on showcasing up-and-coming talent and local bands, the first Latitude Festival drew in 12,000 people.

Since then its doors have been flung wide open to embrace every style of music and art imaginable and the footfall has doubled, making it one of the biggest cultural events in Suffolk's calendar.

This year's headline acts electro-pop group Pet Shop Boys and 80s disco diva Grace Jones will take to the stage, as well as rock stalwarts Pretenders, Indie-rock band Doves, and synth-pop queen Little Boots, proving that Latitude is an ever-evolving phenomenon.

Taking place in the stunning setting of the meadows and lakes at Henham Park Estate near Southwold, the fourth edition, on July 16-19, will feature more than 700 performers.

Festival creator Melvin Benn said he believed that Latitude's success lay in its wide-ranging appeal to all ages and tastes.

“In the first year we had very small numbers and people didn't know what it was,” he said. “One of the amazing things about Latitude is that it has grown by word of mouth - people come because one of their friends has recommended it, and that's what really makes it very special.”

He said it was a very “inclusive” festival, in that it was a place where parents could take teenagers as well as toddlers.

Highlighting the vastness of the event's artistic spectrum, he said: “If Latitude achieves nothing else it can say it achieved Chas 'n' Dave and the poet laureate on the same bill.”

With fewer than 3,000 weekend tickets and 300 day tickets remaining, Mr Benn said: “Looking at the way it's tracking it will definitely sell out before the festival. If people haven't got their tickets they really ought to now.”

He said the 25,000 tickets were selling a little more slowly than last year, adding: “In fairness in what is an incredibly difficult economic climate, the fact that I'm certain it will sell out I'm delighted with.”

This year the organisers, whose quest to be green moves up a notch each year, have increased the number of compostable toilets to 80, after five were trialled successfully at last year's event, while for the first time all campsite generators will run on waste vegetable oil biodiesel. Also new this year is a 20p deposit charged to customers buying bottled water, which will be refunded when they return the bottle for recycling.

But it was for other reasons that the festival came into the spotlight earlier this year when organisers denied a newspaper report that said they had banned Latitude fan Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon from buying a ticket from the green event, due to his involvement in the approval of the third runway at Heathrow.

Mr Benn said although he knew of certain celebrities who would be making the journey to Suffolk next month, he did not know if Mr Hoon or any other politicians were planning to attend, adding: “You don't get very many receipts when you buy things at Latitude so the MPs really will need to think harder about their spending.”

Recommended in various national publications, including Time-Out, Latitude has also become a favourite with revellers and performers alike, with e-mails already coming in from agents promoting acts for next year's event. And Mr Benn revealed that headline act Pet Shop Boys were adamant about playing Latitude after enjoying their visit as spectators last year.

“I didn't even know they had come to it,” he said, adding that the band told their agent: “If we don't play Latitude next year, you're sacked.”

As well as the main music stages, there will be arenas in poetry, literature, comedy, cabaret, film and music, where a varied line-up features fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, comedians Frank Skinner and Jo Brand and former poet laureate Andrew Motion, as well as the Royal Shakespeare Company and Sadler's Wells.

More importantly, Mr Benn confirmed that the festival's biggest trademark stars - coloured sheep - would be returning this year.

He said that the behind the scenes work was in its final stages for Latitude 2009, but that the festival was a year-round project.

“There's definitely one next year,” he said. “There's no question about it. It really has become a focal point for the summer both locally and nationally.”

He added: “I think Latitude Festival will be here in the Sunrise Coast for many, many years to come.”

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