‘I want to do it for another 15 years!’
For the past 15 years John Giddings has been the man responsible for bringing music to the ears of hundreds of thousands of people who have attended the annual Isle of Wight Festival.
Iconic acts such as the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, and the late David Bowie, along with scores more, have all visited the Island to stand on a stage in the middle of a field at Seaclose Park, Newport and entertain the masses.
It has all been down to the passion and hard work of John and his team. But now he has uttered the words that are perhaps even sweeter music to IW Festival revellers. He insists he is not about to quit as the event’s curator, or even move the music extravaganza off the Island.
In this exclusive interview he emphasised that provided Isle of Wight people give him the support he feels he deserves, he wants to stage Festivals here for another 15 years! He recently secured a deal for Live Nation Entertainment to become the Festival’s majority shareholder, but claims it was purely to try to secure the event’s future.
He smiled: “Yes, I want to do it for the next 15 years and make it successful. I think by doing what I have done will secure the event for the Island. I love coming to the Island and I love having a home here, but it’s not the easiest job in the world, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like doing it. I reckon I’m halfway through my tenure, and if I can make the next 15 years as successful as the last 15, then it would be incredible.”
But he was honest enough to admit: “It has crossed my mind lots of times that I might have to take it off the Island. You have to look at all your options because it’s all about finance, and you have to protect yourself all the time. If we don’t sell enough tickets to Island people, and there’s not enough support from here, then what’s the point of coming? It hasn’t got to that stage, but they are the facts.”
He also revealed that despite his vast experience, if he had only just been asked to promote a festival for the first time, he would ‘never do it in a million light years’. He said: “There are many more Festivals now than there were 15 years ago. Groups cost five times as much; it is a much more competitive field, and you have to stay ahead of the game. It’s 10 times harder now. People think it’s a gravy train, but believe me, it certainly isn’t. Every penny we have ever earned from the Festival we have ploughed back into it.
“It’s still a bit of a mystery to me why I pay to put the Festival on, and every one else benefits from it. I needed financial support so that’s why Live Nation Entertainment are now involved. I didn’t want to take the financial risk any more.
“I had been thinking about it for a while, it’s the nature of the game. When the train leaves the station, if you don’t get on it you will be left standing on your own. The Island has already lost one major Festival, so does it want to lose two? You are looking a gift horse in the mouth, and you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
Even so, whenever John talks IW Festival there is passion and determination in his voice. He said: “If you are not prepared to work 24 hours a day and put your heart and soul into it, you shouldn’t be doing it. Then once every five years it rains!
“The local church came and blessed the ground last year. I went on the Wednesday night before the Festival to address the congregation, and they were really welcoming. They came along and blessed the land the following morning, and it didn’t rain!”
John admits he always wanted to be a musician, but when he realised he might not be good enough, he turned to promoting instead. He continued: “I still have that passion for music. If I didn’t then I wouldn’t be doing this. It’s great to be standing next to real musicians who are capable of playing. It’s only when I’ve had a drink that I start playing myself. So you won’t be seeing me on main stage this year.
“Actually I did play on the Hard Rock Stage at the Festival two years ago. I didn’t tell anyone, but just as I was playing in front of one man and his dog, Markus Feehily from Westlife came over and started watching me. It was really embarrassing, I only played one song with my old school band – my stage, my gig! That was the first and only time, but it brought back memories of why I don’t do it any more.”
Away from music, John admits he would like to climb Mount Kilimanjaro if he had the time, but reckons organising the Festival really is a full time job. And just occasionally he senses it really is worthwhile. He added: “A few years ago just after a very wet IW Festival ended, I was helping push cars out of the field that were stuck in the mud.
“A guy came up to me and asked if I was John Giddings. I thought he as going to hit me, but instead he said ‘I would just like to thank you for my best weekend ever’. I actually burst out crying, and moments like that make it all worthwhile.”