AT FIRST glance it looks like a typical slice of English country life.

Smartly dressed couples sip gin cocktails enjoying the thwack of leather on willow as cricketers in white flannels take their runs. A pair of nuns wander by to the strains of a brass band in a marquee, and under trees a choir is warming up for an evening concert.

Look again closely, however, and things are not quite what they seem. The drinkers are dressed in sparkly tops and glitter, the cricketers are sporting tutus, and the nuns are twin sisters on their way to an irreverent comedy show. The horn section are blasting out 90s club classics to a tent of ravers and the choir are working through a medley of Beatles and Elvis tunes. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Wilderness.

The most eccentric of summer events, Wilderness is to the average music festival what Rio Carnival is to your typical village fete. A feast of music, dancing, theatre, comedy, craft, rural pursuits and food, it is a painstakingly curated weekend of performing arts designed around the rolling acres of Cornbury Park, near Charlbury.

Instead of burger vans, revellers tuck into delights at celebrity chef Angela Hartnett’s Cafe Murano or join long table banquets catered by Yotam Ottolenghi, Nuno Mendes and Thomasina Miers, and while lesser events throw in a dance tent or silent disco, Wilderness hosts outdoor raves in a secret valley, complete with aerial acrobatics and lasers.

And forget interminable queues for dodgy shower blocks; revellers dive into lakes in forest glades or luxuriate in a waterside hot tubs while sipping fizz.

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The first of 30,000 revellers, artists and crew members will today begin to descend on the historic deer park, part of the ancient Forest of Wychwood. There they will be treated to headline sets by Grace Jones, Two Door Cinema Club and Bonobo. There will also be performances by Swedish duo First Aid Kit, soul singer Michael Kiwanuka, reggae stars Toots & The Maytals, Norwegian folk artist Aurora, and special guest appearances by Will Young and Laura Mvula – among scores of other shows, performances, talks and workshops.

“Wilderness is a unique event and we are always trying to combine new ideas,

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break the status quo and push boundaries,” says the creative genius behind Wilderness, Rory Bett, CEO of festival operator Mama group.

“The number one reason people say they come back is because of the extraordinary environment. We use the topography of Cornbury Park as a place in which to make memories. People often tell us ‘this festival changed my life’.

“The audience feel relaxed and carefree and we create unique moments for them. There’s an extraordinary natural balance so that people might feel these things have always been there. No one would ever guess how much work we do. Nothing jars.”

Offbeat attractions include a Folk Barn, a stage designed around a traditional carousel, hosting gypsy bass, Balkan beats, electro-swing, breaks, roots and funk, a new party venue called The Hustle and a Japanese style venue called the Love Hotel– adorned with cherry blossom.

Among the most popular attractions is the Sunday cricket match – taken very seriously despite the strange attire of some of the players and the preponderance of streakers. This year there will also be a Saturday match – and rather than stopping the streakers, exhibitionists will be positively encouraged with a record attempt for the most streakers at a game. Last year’s total was 57, which shows the size of the challenge.

“When you’ve got something as popular as the cricket match, it’s hard to know what to do with it,” says Rory. “So we are having a second match, and also trying to beat the world streaking record. But any would-be streakers have to remember that it’s all or nothing – and once they start their streak they’ve got to follow it through to the end!”

And what is Rory most looking forward to? “I’m really up for Sunday,” he says. “That’s going to be the day, and anyone thinking of leaving is broadly mental. There’s a brilliant programme with lots of great stuff going on.”

Wilderness encourages revellers to dress up if they want to. Themes this year are ‘seeing double’ tomorrow, with festival-goers dressing the same as their friends; ‘mirror ball’ for reflective glamour on Saturday and, to fit in with headliner Grace Jones, ‘warrior’, for tribal Amazon-style posturing on Sunday.

Wilderness regular Lauren Meehan, from East Oxford, is one of the aforementioned ‘nuns’ and will be appearing in her habit with comedy trio Shesus & the Sistas in the festival’s Playhouse.

“It’s a bit mad, being early August, but we are performing our Christmas show The Gift of Presents,” she said.

“Those lucky enough to have a ticket to the festival can expect high energy routines, pass the parcel, plenty of Mariah Carey, complete lunatic behaviour and a slice of Yule log each.”

Lauren, who is also the Press and Marketing manager at the Oxford Playhouse, performs with her sister Danielle and self-confessed professional fool Loose Baker.

She says: “We were all brought up within the Christian faith and are aware of the potency of the imagery we are working with.” Loose says: “The heart of what we do is not about ripping apart religion or making cheap gags, it’s about the re-telling of stories and the connection between us and the audience. We work with the stories of our personal lives, our experiences of gender identity and group understanding of feminism.

“We sing, dance and play with the audience and for an hour or so, and we create a community – like the best kind of church. There is a small part in all of us that thinks we can save the world. Shesus plays with that. And that makes it perfect for Wilderness!”

Wilderness runs from today to Sunday at Cornbury Park, Charlbury. Go to

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Champagne lovers can enjoy this weekend's Wilderness festival in style - and a dash of 'hyperrealism'.

For the first time, Veuve Clicquot will be bringing its fine champagne and creative twist to life across several sites within the festival.
During the four-day festival, which starts today, guests will venture into a world of 'hyperrealism' where champagne-lovers can re-connect with nature through the creative lens of technology, music and performance.

In a picturesque setting overlooking one of the Cornbury estate's lakes, the champagne house has set up a bar full of hanging foliage and with vibrant pop-art inspired fruit adorning the bar.

Staying true to Veuve Clicquot’s passion for creativity, the Veuve Clicquot Champagne bar will also host a series of performances from visual dance piece Kimatica, who use body movement and interactive technology to intensify the realms of fantasy and reality.

Revellers will be invited to sip on Veuve Clicquot’s signature Yellow Label and Veuve Clicquot RICH - a champagne made to be drunk over ice.

For the foodies, there will also be bubbles at the long table banquet with renowned chef Nuno Mendes, Executive Chef at Chiltern Firehouse and Taberna do Mercado, who will be creating a unique menu
complemented by Veuve Clicquot’s Yellow Label on arrival.

“Wilderness is my favourite festival and an event I look forward to every year," he said. "It’s a perfect mix of food, arts and music, with a beautifully scenic backdrop, and all within a family setting.

"I’m excited to be back and look forward to hosting a banquet this year.”

Across the rest of the festival, Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label will be available from five separate bar locations, including the Spa Bar and in Boutique camping. Like we said, Wilderness is not your usual festival.

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