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The Big Feastival with Jamie Oliver and Alex James

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: July 28, 2012

  • Festival fan Jamie Oliver

  • Jamie Oliver and Alex James

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One is a super-cool rock star turned cheese-maker with a passion for the good life, the other is the nation’s best-loved chef on a mission to get us all eating better food. So when they get together to put on a festival, it’s sure to hit the spot. Elaine McLaren meets Jamie Oliver to find out more:

WHETHER it's turning beautiful old buildings into great family restaurants, helping disadvantaged young people get their lives back on track or cleaning up the nation's school dinners, it seems everything Jamie Oliver touches turns to gold.

So there's no surprise that the excitement surrounding his latest venture, a late summer fiesta celebrating the best in music and, of course, food, is palpable.

You only have to watch one of Jamie's latest TV shows to get the idea.

In Jamie's Summer Food Rave-Up, filmed during last year's Big Feastival at London's Clapham Common, we see him cooking up an al fresco storm, sampling what must be the tastiest festival food ever produced and appearing on stage, beer in hand, to introduce some great music.

There's not a bowl of dodgy noodles in sight, the sun is shining and the camera can't move for beautiful people.

There's surely no better advert for the Big Feastival # 2, which will this year be bigger, better and, more importantly for us, in the Cotswolds.

Add to the equation the involvement of former Blur bass player Alex James, who is hosting the festival at his farm just over the border near Kingham, in Oxfordshire, on September 1 and 2.

"I'd met Alex a few times over the years and we didn't really know each other, but collaborating on this seemed like the natural thing to do," said Jamie.

"I'd done the Big Feastival in Clapham which went down so well we wanted to do it again but this time introduce the camping element, which you just can't do in central London.

"Alex had had a similar idea with Harvest, but while the event itself was a huge success, it ended badly and he was really unhappy about how it turned out."

The company behind Harvest, Big Wheel Promotions, collapsed in the days after the festival, which meant many local food producers, musicians and even the village primary school were out of pocket.

So perhaps no one is hoping Jamie's Midas touch works its magic again more than Alex, who will be hoping to make amends.

For Jamie, it's another way to show off his now legendary philanthropic nature, with all of the profits from the festival going to good causes.

"It has a good heart," said Jamie. "We're giving 100 per cent of the profits to charity.

"It'll be a real family event, with plenty going on for the kids as well as all the great music and great food."

On the music front, Big Feastival has secured some big names to help the weekend go off with a bang.

Paloma Faith will headline on the Saturday night, appearing alongside Noisettes, Gaz Coombes of Supergrass fame, Producers and The Cuban Brothers, while Texas, Razorlight and Guillemots will take to the stage on Sunday.

Unsurprisingly, Jamie will be leading the chefs showing how it's done in the Big Kitchen.

He'll be joined by Valentine Warner, Simon Rogan from the Michelin-starred L'Enclume restaurant in Cumbria and Roganic in London's Marylebone and the French chef Bruno Loubet, from the Bistrot Bruno Loubet at The Zetter Hotel.

Gennaro Contaldo, the chef credited with giving Jamie his love of Italian food will also be there. "He's my best friend," said Jamie.

And to eat, there'll be pop-up restaurants from the likes of The Cinnamon Club, Barbecoa and, of course, Jamie's Italian, as well as street food from, among others, Byron Hamburgers, Brindian Roast and Paellaria.

Festival-goers will be spoilt for choice.

For Jamie, the festival will be a good excuse to spend time with his family – wife Jools, daughters Poppy, 10, Daisy, nine, Petal, three, and son Buddy, 20 months.

"I'm very lucky," he said. "I decided pretty early on that I wanted to spend as much time with the kids as possible when they were young and, although it's busy times, I can do that.

"It's chaos at home, but I wouldn't have it any other way."

The festival is also an opportunity for Jamie to get back to nature and show off his boy scout side, building fires and cooking food over it, just as he does with his pal Gennaro in his latest TV series, where they're often seen making a fire pit in the wood to barbecue some fish or a spit-roast chicken.

"I'll be there, camping with the family," said Jamie. "Alex has offered us a place in his home, but I want to get involved and do it properly.

"I love that sort of thing. If you're ever stuck on a desert island, I'm the person to be stuck with.

"Your heart would say David Beckham, but what you really need is me. I'd take care of you, catch your food, cook it for you over an open fire, you'd be fine."

It's just the light-hearted, cheeky chappy thing you'd expect Jamie to say, but mention his on-going row with the education secretary Michael Gove over school dinners, an issue close to Jamie's heart, and you see an altogether more serious side.

He visibly deflates, clearly weary of the long-running battle to improve the quality of the food served to our children every day.

Jamie fears the food revolution he kick-started a decade ago is in danger of unravelling because the current government are allowing standards to slip.

"I'm not surprised, but I'm constantly disappointed," he said.

"So many schools made great progress, improving the food they served more than anyone ever expected they could, but there's a real chance we could head straight back to the Turkey Twizzler stage.

"We're basically being told that academies don't need to follow the nutrition standards put in place by the last government, which is utter nonsense.

"I'm not in the business of trying to waste people's time. Why would I want to do that? I'd rather be cooking something. I'm just a bit of a geek, like every other chef.

"But it's so sad. We were making so much progress. People should write to their MP and tell them they're not happy."

With all the other ventures on his plate, it's a wonder he has time for anything else, let alone taking on the government once again, but you get the feeling that when Jamie Oliver puts his mind to something, he doesn't stop until it's a success.

And that's got to be good for the rest of us.

■ Tickets for the festival cost £95 for the weekend or £50 for the day. Under 12s are free. For more details, log on to The Big Feastival

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