Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Guess who’s rocking up at the Fawley Hill Vintage Festival?

THANK God. After my Gordon Ramsay-style hissy fit with Lady McAlpine’s butler last year,

THANK God. After my Gordon Ramsay-style hissy fit with Lady McAlpine’s butler last year, the Crooked Billet are allowed to bring our pop-up restaurant back to the Fawley festival,

writes Paul Clerehugh

Put these dates in your diary now — Friday, May 20, Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22. Seriously. The funkiest, funniest, most eccentric festival imaginable.

Hosted at Sir William and Lady McAlpine’s Fawley Hill estate, through whose unassuming gates over 10,000 people attended last time. A magical kingdom akin to Narnia, akin to Middle Earth.

With so much happening at the Fawley Hill festival, I’ll bet you dinner for two even more gallivanters attend this year. With a free shuttle bus from Henley Station, you’ll find Fawley Estate just outside of Henley, off the Marlow Road. Loads of car parking.

On the estate at Ironhenge (Henley’s secret Stonehenge), the festival reflects Sir William and Lady McAlpine’s passions and personalities — colour, love, generosity, happiness, nuttiness, food, music and steam. British eccentrics.

So what’s going down? Classic retro British fairground rides. Fascinating exquisite bands on stage. Racing camels. Shop till you drop around scores of charity stalls. Probably the UK’s best festival food. Licensed bars.

The estate is home to 1,000 adopted former zoo animals, now roaming free. Fortunately, none are carnivorous, although an emu tried having a go at the spit roast last time.

There’s stacks for all ages. Cast some bronze souvenirs. Join the Big Draw and find artistic skills you didn’t know you had. Try archery. Try the gliding simulator. Have a go at the forge. Heavy horses and Tornado — the only known living unicorn.

Lady McAlpine has the ability to badger her celebrity chums to attend the festival. Approach them for a charity celebrity selfie — £20 for the A-Listers, £15 for the Bs. You decide which list they’re on.

However, the festival’s crowning glory is steam. Sir William’s passion for kettle power is legendary — rescuing

The Flying Scotsman
from a scrapyard.

Jump on an iconic British steam train at Fawley Station and chuff around the estate. One of England’s largest traction engine gatherings, steam rollers and miniatures, hitch a ride.

Beg a lift in a steam bus, a tank, an amphibious car. Admire cars from steam to F1. Motorbikes, ancient bicycles, lawnmowers you won’t believe. Old buses, military everything, fire engines children can climb on. Take a guided tour around Fawley Steam Museum that rivals the National Rail Museum.

In the air: triplanes, biplanes, Spitfire, Hurricane and the Red Devils. At dusk each day a flurry of hot air balloons will rise from the arena.

Find myself and the Crooked Billet Pop-Up Restaurant in the circus big top. Cooking casual funky food all day and night. Crispy duck, salt beef, spicy goat stew, asparagus and bass, herb-grilled chicken, garlic prawn skewers, posh sarnies, sexy desserts, good coffee. Plenty of tables — no need to book. Real ale bar, delicious wines. Cocktails. Crooked Billet Pop-Up extends the big top’s perimeter, so you can eat inside or outside.

The big top will be centre stage, hosting exceptional eccentric entertainers from noon till late. Steel bands. Famous names. Male voice choir. Folk, skiffle and blues. The Kenton Theatre. Belly dancers. Acorn Theatre Group. Local acts including Annie and the Doughboys, The Average Wife Band, Mighty Triple O Band, The International Ukulele Orchestra of Sonning Common led by Sam Brown (with 80 ukes!).

There’s a myriad of top-drawer food outlets. The Vintage Tea Room. Spit roast lamb. Pizzas. Crêpes. Brett’s Burgers. Field Kitchen sausages. Lady McAlpine insists on local produce, reasonable pricing and quality. I’m delighted the Gurkhas’ famous curry tent, which I adored at the last Fawley Festival, is returning. Delicious.

At noon on Sunday, May 22, Ben Fogle and his dad will attempt to break the world record for an outdoor gathering of Labradors. Raising funds for medical assistance dogs. Get a signed copy of Ben’s book,

. For full details, see and bring your lab. How many Labradors can Ben get into the arena?

Alternatively, enter your family dog into Fawley’s “Companion Dog Show” run by the Ways & Means Trust on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

On Friday, May 20, in the circus big top, for one night only, there is the raunchiest-rockiest charity dinner ever. The Billet’s Pop-Up is taken over to host this amazing event.

Starring Ben Portsmouth and his band, who beat thousands to win the Memphis “Elvis” contest. To give you the idea, Ben has played the O2 and is booked for Wembley Stadium.

Ben and his band will give you goosebumps. Extremely special guests are also due on stage. The Crooked Billet are privileged to provide dinner. Most of the 400 charity tickets have been snapped up, but for details visit

Arrive early, ride the fairground, soak up the festival atmosphere, drink champagne, eat canapés, eat dinner, enjoy Elvis and Mike Read’s Fifties and Sixties late-night boogie. Miss it at your peril.

Most beautiful of all, late each evening, as the bar calls time and friends kiss their farewells, 80 traction engines circle the big top. At the stroke of 11pm, all let off steam. 80 simultaneous whistles blow and grown men shed a tear.

Paul Clerehugh is chef proprietor of the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row, and London Street Brasserie, Reading. Catch Paul every week on Food on Friday (2pm, BBC Radio Berkshire) for lighthearted food chat, recipes and current affairs.

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