A real highlight of the British Summer Season, Henley Festival kicked off on Wednesday 11th July. The festival screening of the World Cup Semi-Final match between England and Sweden was watched by hundreds of black-tie festival goers sipping champagne. Rita Ora even delayed her opening headline set by an hour to ensure festival goers could enjoy the football. Ora then proceeded to wow the crowed with renditions of her pop hits including For You and Girls, as fireworks exploded overhead (this year, the famous Henley fireworks were put on by Titanium, the firework company behind the 2012 Olympics).
On the following night, 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, I’m Coming Out, Le Freak and Lost In Music. Nile then invited members of the festival audience onto the stage to dance with him for We Are Family.
On Saturday, festival goers were treated to a night of Frank Sinatra by 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, and Turandot as well as a little Gilbert & Sullivan, with award-winning young Welsh Soloist Natalya Romaniw taking the female solo parts.
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. Our favourite act was Cecil, who told us that “being on the Floating Stage is quite an experience – Henley is an amazing festival!” Read our full interview with Cecil here.
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 Flo & Joan, best known for being on the Nationwide adverts. The girls told us that “Henley is brilliant, and it’s nice to perform to people who are dressed up. Although it’s probably the first time we have played to people in black tie!” Read our full interview here.
Some of the biggest names in contemporary art exhibited brand new works at the Festival in the pop-up galleries across the site. The Alex Hammersley Art pop-up gallery in particular was a huge success, showcasing art works from some of Britain’s most talented artists, including Michael Bennett, David Cass, Holly Frean, Nicola Green, Marcus Hodge and Biddy Hodgkinson. Alex Hammersley Art is well-known for sourcing original, contemporary art work for a wide range of clients, from private individuals to corporations. Always on the lookout for interesting and exciting talent, AHA finds artists whose unique works satisfy a range of tastes and styles, and the art on show at their Festival pop-up certainly typified this.
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.
Charlotte Geeves, Henley Festival Director, said “2018 has been a fantastic year for Henley Festival, with the return of the fireworks and 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.”
Overall, some 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 1000 people partying from their boats each night as they glided past the Festival on the river.
For more information about Henley Festival, go to www.henley-festival.co.uk.