For over 25 years, the Henley Festival has been one of England’s most unique festival experiences, bringing together visual art and dance, leading performers from all genres of music and some of the world’s finest cuisine for five days every July on the beautiful banks of the Thames. Following directly on after the iconic Henley Regatta each year, the Henley Festival is hugely popular both with locals and visitors alike, so on Saturday night we got together with some friends and headed off to join in the festivities. (That’s my husband and I on the left.)
One of the things I love about the Henley Festival is its combination of elegance and revelry. It is a black tie event, so everyone dresses to the nines, gents in dinner jackets joining ladies wearing beautiful dresses. There is something for everyone and tickets for the headline performances on the floating stage range from the very expensive ‘best seats in the house’ to much more affordable standing room only lawn tickets directly in front of the stage. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere, with chaps in bow ties dancing alongside ladies in their finest frocks, Jimmy Choos and Louboutins in hand as they dance barefoot on the banks of the Thames.
In terms of dining options, you can bring your own picnic to eat in by your car before the festival opens, dine in one of the restaurants (ranging from the mid-priced Terrace Restaurant to the more expensive La Scala or Albert Roux’s Roux at the Riverside) or you can pick up a snack at one of the kiosks scattered throughout the festival. There are even mini pubs - Heston Blumenthal’s The Hinds Head at Bray had an outdoor location at this year’s festival. We ate in The Terrace Restaurant again this year. It is lovely dining by the Thames, watching the beautiful boats cruising by, slowing down as they approach the festival, and mooring up alongside if they can find a space to do so!
Performance artists wander amongst the revellers, interacting with the crowds and keeping everyone smiling. Up and coming artists are showcased at the exhibits in many of the marquees and there are sculptures and art everywhere. The Henley Festival is a great opportunity for young artists and performers. As well as the floating stage, there are other performance venues offering everything from classical to contemporary music, comedy and this year there was even a burlesque artist! The main performance on the floating stage the night we attended was Symphonic Queen featuring performers from the West End show ‘We Will Rock You’. Other performers this year included Will Young, Ronan Keating and Nigel Kennedy.
Festivities and performances carry on late into the night, but after the main performances end around ten o’clock, there is a fantastic fireworks display - the night sky above the Thames alive with colour.
After that, you can wander along to one of the other fringe performances, peruse the galleries some more, or simply have a glass of champagne and listen to some jazz. We went along to a comedy performance and finished off the evening dancing to a 1940’s style orchestra. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening.
Next year’s Henley Festival will be in July 2011 following the Henley Regatta. For more details as they become available, please click here.