Access headed to an upscale bar in The Ivy, London, to meet Henley Festival’s CEO Charlotte Geeves, who started in the arts industry as a stage manager many years ago and has been at Henley Festival since 2014.
Here are some choice excerpts from our chat:
I grew up in the Henley area, but had never been to the festival before I joined. My remit was to grow the festival, give it financial resilience and broaden the audience.
We’ve grown by 40% since 2014 and the musical element has expanded greatly. We’ve bought in comedy, visual arts, sculpture and street theatre. We now do world music, classical, folk, jazz, and of course big scale pop.
We’re a charity and we fund other charities so we want lots of people to experience the event.
Our demographic are older so we’re not marketing to a younger audience. Our market is 35-75 and older. Generations of families come, and bring their children.
Some of the older people might not have heard of our headliner Rita Ora but their younger relatives will have. We also have the iconic Grace Jones and Nile Rogers with CHIC. Many won’t immediately know who Nile is, but he is a master producer and performer who has worked with everyone and he’ll take people by surprise.
We take over the site of the world famous Henley Royal Regatta, and there’s a very tight turnaround of 66 hours. We use a lot of their infrastructure build and erect a stage on the river. We change most of the Regatta structures and turn it into a music festival.
We work with ES Global Solutions for staging They’re really good and know how to build a stage on a river. We used to use divers, but now we have a pontoon installed by Northern Pontoon.
PRG handle our lighting and RG Jones handles sound and are one of the best in the UK and globally, contracted to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. Arena handles our structures and they also work with Regatta. We also use a lot of local companies on the ground.
The lawn we use is very precious to Regatta and we take great care with it. We can’t drive on it so we use buggies. When moving shipping containers in, the no vehicle rule is a challenge.
We keep a lot of regular contractors so as not to put pressure on the event by introducing new ones.
We’re purely funded by tickets, corporate and commercial funding.
Our security bill is one of our biggest now. We use a variety of companies including WH Security who handle a lot of polo and large scale horse events. After the terror incidents last year we had to double our security just to let people know we’re doing things right by them.
We have 7,200 people attending the event, but the site can take 20,000 so we’re well covered. The site is long and thin so has a few pinch points for crowds who tend to all move at the same time. Our Health & Safety guy Jeff Protheroe is brilliant and let’s us push the boundaries safely. We don’t want any drunk people falling in the river!