The Idler Festival review.
Inspired by Dr Johnson’s collection of essays with the same title, the Idler is a philosophical lifestyle magazine that was launched by Tom Hodgkinson and Gavin Pretor-Pinney in 1993. The Idler’s philosophy is to explore fun, freedom and fulfilment in a busy world focused on jobs, and is based on Dr Johnson’s ideas regarding living life at a slower pace, in order to achieve self mastery and a better quality of life.
The Idler festival, an extension of their Idler Academy, curates some of its courses in the classical liberal arts and practical skills into a varied programme of entertainment, at an idyllic setting in north west London. The elegant 17th century National Trust owned Fenton House, tucked away on a hill in Hampstead, with a luscious orchard and elegant reception rooms seems the perfect fit for a three day programme of idling. With a wandering minstrel in the orchard, dancing on the lawn and wine tasting inside, a uniquely free spirited scene is set for the weekend long festival.
The programme of talks throughout the three days take place on the lawn and inside the dinning room of the house, where topics from Mary Shelley to Cambridge Analytica are discussed. Sunday’s headliner Sally Phillips, brings a bright energy to the stage and despite discussing the more serious topic of utilitarianism and the impact this doctrine has for the likes of her disabled son, she also delights the audience with some of her whimsical comedy monologues.
Zoe’s Ghana kitchen can also be found on the lawn serving delicious Ghanian chicken recipes with a twist, and the ladies of the Piccalilli Caff also provide a variety of refreshing drinks including wine and cider along with inventive baked treats.
The attic floor of the house is filled with eclectic gifts and art from various makers around London, such as shoes by designer Tracey Neuls. On the first floor there is a book shop with an intriguing selection of philosophy, literature and recipe books. National Trust staff can also be found dotted around the property to answer any questions about the house and give tours to festival goers.
The Idler festival unsurprisingly seems to attract a dedicated crowd of well off bohemians, keen for some thoughtful idling. The event manages to avoid feeling like a pompous affair however, and the whole occasion has a distinctively relaxed and free spirited atmosphere. Guests seem interested in one another, passionate and really enjoy sharing the experience together.
The setting and intimate nature of the festival gave me the feeling of being at a private summer party, which happens to have a well curated menu of inspiration, relaxation and education, and an ambience of do as you wish, at your own pace.
If you ever feel like learning the ukulele, listening to a philosophical talk from Michael Palin and attending an alternative business class in the same day, I really recommend paying a visit to the Idler festival. A cosy, laidback festival can be hard to come by in 2018 when most seem intent on trying to expand themselves. Idler, however, seem very content with their intimate retreat of idleness in Hampstead, and I look forward to attending next year's celebration of freedom and fulfilment.