The singer, broadcaster and mama of three has recently added a new string to her bow…
Words Beth Evans
Cerys Matthews is one busy lady: programmer and presenter for her ratings-smashing BBC Radio 6 Music show, roving reporter for TV’s The One Show, numerous writing projects, a second radio show for the BBC’s World Service and the main carer for her three children (Glenys, 12; Johnny,11, and Red Owen, 6). You’d think that was enough but – unsurprisingly for a woman with more energy than an Olympic hopeful – she’s adding another trophy to her cabinet, as owner of the award-winning (yes, another award, to go with her MBE and St David Award for contribution to culture) Flintshire festival The Good Life Experience. Move over, Michael Eavis: there’s a new festival icon in town.
Started in 2014 by Matthews, her husband Steve and friends Charlie and Caroline Gladstone, The Good Life Experience is now in its third year and, while still in its infancy, Matthews’ youngest baby is coming on a treat. Recently named one of the best festivals in the world by Condé Nast, this boutique weekender is certainly one for the diary, packed with an eclectic array of music from around the world, ethically sourced food often cooked on open campfires, plus leatherworking, axe-throwing, vintage fairground rides, ‘mass sing-alongs, comedy, abseiling, poetry, butchery displays, literature, endless how-to talks, a café run by and for children, a gin palace…’
Matthews takes a breath, the list far from exhausted. ‘The Good Life Experience is all about the good things in life,’ she says, ‘like the thrill you get from roly-polying down a hill, reconnecting with nature, just feeding the imagination.’
Never short of imagination herself, Matthews is a self-confessed ‘big kid at heart’. Creating the line-up for her own festival is a dream come true. In fact, ‘all roads have led to this,’ she says. ‘With everything that I’ve done, I just thought “if you have this platform, use it”. We’re not putting this on as a money-making scheme, we’re putting it on because we like the company of likeminded people that are curious about the world. It’s great value for money, totally and utterly un-patronising, filled with the passionate people I meet doing my job. Being a huge festival fan, I felt like there was room for a different kind of festival, one that was bespoke, without the corporate, money-making feel. There’s scope to enjoy the physical aspect of things like offering people the chance to try out new skills because I know that’s what I like. I don’t want things for my birthday and Christmas anymore, I don’t have room in my house [for anything]. I prefer experiences. And that’s how it started…
For Matthews, one bonus is that she’s able to wear two of her many hats at the same time – mum and festival owner. ‘The best feedback I got was from my world-weary, very cynical, SnapChat- and WhatsApp-loving 12 year-old daughter, who said to me on the Sunday after the last weekend – with straw in her hair and sweaty, rosy cheeks – “that’s the best weekend I’ve ever had. And she spent the weekend building straw slides for the other kids at the festival to slide down the hill, that was her invention. You can put on all these attractions for children but at the end of the day, given enough freedom, they make their own entertainment.’
For families nervous about taking their brood away to a festival for the first time, Matthews advises trying the smaller events on offer. ‘Ours is a good one to try first! It’s a small, manageable site, a safe space.’ But beyond festival choice, the biggy is to ‘pack weather-appropriate clothes. Mainly though, just go with an open mind. The thing I’ve always loved as a performer is to encourage the inner child and don’t plan too much. I used to love it just wandering around the festival and seeing who you’d bump into and which music sounded the best on the breeze, then going towards it.’
Matthews’ outlook is aptly summed up in the piece of advice she thinks most important to offer fellow parents: ‘I’m in charge’. She’s travelled the world, taken her career to unexpected places and learned to like the person in the mirror. Similarly, she knows what she likes when it comes to her kids and her home life. ‘It’s chaos, absolute chaos – but when they’re not in the house and that silence descends, that’s bonkers.’
The Good Life Experience Festival of Food, Music, Craft and The Great Outdoors
16-18 September, Hawarden Castle, 8 minutes from Chester by car. Tickets are priced from £69 (all children go free).