Realising The Good Life: Charlie Gladstone on why the world needs his feel-good festival

Now in its fourth year, The Good Life Experience festival is a carefully curated response to consumerist fatigue. 

Credit: Nenad Obradovic

“We’re not about wooly jumpers – we’re about people taking traditional crafts and making them into something that’s relevant in 2017,” says Charlie Gladstone, co-founder of The Good Life Experience festival.

“We’re one of the foremost places now where really good craftspeople can come and demonstrate their work.”

Gladstone’s confidence seems well-placed. This Friday the serial entrepreneur and clean living enthusiast will welcome over 6,000 guests to his Hawarden farm estate in North Wales for the fourth annual Good Life Experience – marking 40% growth on last year.

Running over the weekend (15-17 September), the festival will combine food, drink, literature and music with the wider notion of rediscovering ‘the good life’. That means swapping the worst trappings of the modern world – from unhealthy food to rampant consumerism – with a focus on mental and physical wellbeing and getting back to nature. Visitors are able to camp on-site, while all the food at the festival is cooked using traditional, artisanal methods such as campfires.

“It’s a bit of an overused word but we are building a community of people,” says Gladstone. “It’s a small festival but 1,000 people bought their tickets in the first few days after last year’s festival because they knew they wanted to come again.

“There are some great literary and music festivals in this country, but most of them sell their tickets based on who’s appearing. We want to be something a bit like Glastonbury – obviously not in terms of scale, but in terms of an event where people say I’m going to go even if I don’t know who’s playing.”

Gladstone launched the event in 2014 in partnership with his wife Caroline and their friends Cerys Matthews, the Catatonia singer and BBC Radio 6 Music DJ, and her husband and agent Steve Abbott, who all remain closely involved in its curation.

Shunning big-name sponsors and mainstream brands, the festival has since its inception served as an intimate showcase of some of the most skilled craftspeople in their respective fields. The programme presents a mix of talks, performances and hands-on demonstrations, as well as marketplace areas of carefully selected traders. All of the artists, speakers and small businesses on show fit with the four founders’ notion of ‘the good life’.

Credit: Vic Phillips

The line-up this year includes TV chef and food writer Valentine Warner, beer tasting and subscription service BeerBods and Caught by the River, an online forum and book publisher for all things outdoors including angling, bird watching and hiking.

In terms of his own not-to-be-missed picks, Gladstone highlights presentations by The Do Book Company, maker of the positive-mindset guidebook series, and a performance by veteran experimental British songwriter Michael Chapman.

“Curated means there’s nothing on site that we haven’t chosen,” he says. “That applies to the headline band as much as it does to the beer or the pizza being served. We’re turning down far more [businesses] than we’re saying yes to.

“We have a couple of marketplaces where people sell their goods and I think we’re saying yes to about one in six applicants – that’s not based on anything except that we don’t think their products are right for us.”

This selective, idiosyncratic approach mirrors Gladstone’s wider career background. Alongside The Good Life Experience, he and his wife also own Pedlars, the online vintage marketplace that has a physical shop and café in London; The Glynne Arms pub next to his Hawarden farm estate in Flintshire; and The Magnificent Hound dog products brand.

Gladstone is also the great-great grandson of nineteenth century British Liberal prime minister William Ewart Gladstone. After beginning his career as an A&R man in the music industry (where he met Cerys Matthews and Steve Abbott), he inherited the family estate at Hawarden, as well as Balbegno Castle in Scotland, and set about building an eclectic business empire.

Pedlars, which was founded in 1997, reflects his preference for quality, crafted goods over mass-produced products and brands. At the same time Gladstone is a keen advocate of outdoor pursuits, a passion he and his wife impart to their six children. To share their ideas with other families, he and Caroline authored the 2013 book The Family Guide to the Great Outdoors.

The Pedlars shop and café just off Portobello Road, London

The Good Life Experience is really a manifestation of the way the Gladstones live their own life. At a time when the world is facing multiple existential crises – from climate change to the threat of nuclear war – their festival is a reprieve, a beacon even for change. According to Gladstone, a large proportion of attendees are young people, often creatives, who are seeking new perspectives on the wider world.

“The fast fixes, the cheap stuff – those things have their place, but they’re not going to give you a deep sense that you’re living ‘the good life’,” he says.

“The festival essentially does what it says on the tin, and although we came up with the name quite quickly, I think it’s rather good. If you get it, you just get it.”

For more information on The Good Life Experience visit the festival site here

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