Bestival founders aim to bring the party to brand experiences

Ahead of Bestival this weekend, Ziggy Gilsenan, a co-founder of the festival, talks to Maisie McCabe about why after 11 years of running festivals, she wants to start creating experiences for brands.


Since it launched in 2004, Bestival has grown from an offshoot of an independent record label to an international event business. In addition to the main festival, which takes place at Robin Hill Country Park between 10 and 13 September this year, there was a Canadian Bestival in Toronto in June and then the family-friendly Camp Bestival this weekend.

Ziggy Gilsenan and her partner John Hughes, who own the PR agency Get Involved, run Bestival and Camp Bestival alongside Rob da Bank, the former Radio 1 DJ, and his wife, Josie da Bank, the festivals’ creative director. But House of Bestival, the new brand consultancy arm of the Bestival empire, is firmly the domain of the women of the quartet. It will bring together Gilsenan’s brand marketing experience with da Bank’s creative flair.

"We’re very excited about two women coming together and being able to develop a new bit of the business,"  says Gilsenan, who, as well as running her own agency for the past 11 years, has also been Orange's head of consumer PR. 

"When creative installations are the key piece of a campaign they can engage huge audiences. Some of the briefs that are coming through are really exciting. It’s about being inspired by our clients as much as them being inspired by us," she adds.

Bestival has always tried to work with brands on experiences that benefit the people paying to come to its events. For example, at last year’s Bestival, Listerine gave out free mouthwash (and makeovers) to festivalgoers as part of a commercial deal. The House of Bestival will draw on this to build installations for brands that can live in other environments.

Gilsenan says Bestival has always been about "creating ideas that can make a noise". House of Bestival is about "bringing a slice of Bestival creativity and vision" to third parties, she explains.

In addition to commissioning House of Bestival to create something from scratch, brands can hire existing props to use at their own events. Signage, furniture and centerpieces that were created for specific festivals (such as last year’s Desert Island Disco theme at Bestival) are available for hire, as are elements of returning stages and areas (like Camp Bestival’s The Den).

So far, House of Bestival has worked with brands including Soho House & Co, Honor smart phones and Penguin Books. Elle and Rimmel London have commissioned the House of Bestival to create a beauty cupboard complete with a photo booth to allow people to take photos of themselves and share on social media. The shop was also involved in creating a number of new arenas for this weekend's Bestival including the Love-Bot, a robot that glows when people kiss in front of it as part of the festival's "summer of love" theme.

But it does not all have to be inspired by things Bestival has done in the past. "If it’s a white label solution it doesn’t need to have the Bestival look and feel," Gilsenan explains. "We can offer something a little bit different."

After years of creating exciting experiences for punters it will be interesting to see what Gilsenan and da Bank can do for brands. If they get it right, House of Bestival might end up being bigger than the festivals that kicked it all off in the first place.