Secret Garden Party's spectacular return after five-year hiatus

The Secret Garden Party paint fight

The Secret Garden Party paint fight - Credit: MIKE HOFFMAN

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Secret Garden Party went back to its roots for the 2022 edition - with the line-up kept a secret until midday (and even then, the schedule remained offline, only visible by squinting at posters dotted across the Huntingdonshire site).

While this decision might have proved too risky for some festival promoters, the first SGP since 2017 was an instant sell-out, with 20,000 revellers snapping up their tickets on release morning - an impressive feat in a current climate where many events are being cancelled at the last minute due to poor sales. 

Making its long-awaited return after a five-year hiatus, the theme of ‘All You Need Is Love’ felt particularly poignant - harking back to easier, more carefree times, especially considering that the festival kicked off on the same day that The Beatles song of the same name went to number one back in 1967. 

True to this ethos, you’d be hard-pressed to find a friendlier and loving crowd than the wide-ranging ensemble of people from all walks of life who filled the fields of Abbots Ripton last weekend.

Leaving all inhibitions at the entrance gate, it was almost like stepping into another world - a surreal utopia of equality, happiness and silliness (security guards were going for it just as much as festival-goers). 

The Drop stage at Secret Garden Party

The Drop stage at Secret Garden Party - Credit: MIKE HOFFMAN

Equally impressive was the fact the festival team delivered a gender-balanced line-up; in fact, there were more female and female-identifying artists than male. Although it shouldn’t be a big deal, this felt like a real statement as some promoters still don't recognise the imbalance as an issue. 

While many of the artists returned to perform on bigger stages than those they previously played (including Saturday night headliners London Grammar), the Where The Wild Things Are stage (which had a cabin-style makeover) remained a hive of new-music discovery (Joe Unkown, Tommy Lefroy and BEKA were among the highlights).  

As has always been the case, though, it was about way more than just the music. Alongside a hilltop slip 'n' slide, well-being area with yoga classes, lake swimming, Tat Modern offering life drawing classes and countless vintage stalls, the secret sunflower field was once again accessible by stepping through a portable loo.

The fireworks spectacular at Secret Garden Party

The fireworks spectacular at Secret Garden Party - Credit: MIKE HOFFMAN

Additionally, perhaps due to the rise in mental health awareness, there was a real emphasis on welfare this year: My Black Dog and Psycare hosted tents all weekend to encourage people to go in and open up,  a sensory room offered a space for ravers to relax and take a moment away from the madness, and The Loop team were also on-hand for drug testing. 

Aside from the horrendous toilet situation and overflowing bins (which the festival team has since apologised for), everything was pretty spot-on; impressive for a crew who had been out of the game since the last party in 2017, and considering the impact of the pandemic. 

True to its legacy, SGP remained a festival defined by the unexpected and surreal, for example aircrafts spiralling overhead to create steam hearts while DJs Jaguar and ABSOLUTE. played the Vengaboys banger ‘Vengabus’.

The Pagoda stage at Secret Garden Party

The Pagoda stage at Secret Garden Party - Credit: MIKE HOFFMAN

With several signature SGP moments returning (the spectacular fireworks display and Sunday’s paint fight which resulted in an explosion of colour being just two examples) it felt like being back home, with the half-decade gap forgotten. 

It was this wide-ranging combination that elevated SGP 2022 above the competition: back with a bang and, hopefully, for good.

The Naughty Corner stage at Secret Garden Party

The Naughty Corner stage at Secret Garden Party - Credit: MIKE HOFFMAN