Weekly Column

RIAT and Rockstars; Womad and Westonbirt; Badminton and Bishops

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I wonder what percentage of our local economy in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire may derive directly or indirectly from great events and festivals? Hotels and pubs, B and B, contractors. I should think it’s quite a bit, as we have more than our fair share of them.The Horse Trials at Badminton claim to be the largest spectator attended sporting event in the world (contested I think by the Indianapolis 500.) 250,000 people or thereabouts cram into Badminton Great Park- some for the horses and riders; but many for the retail experience. It was the late Duke of Beaufort who first thought of creating an internationally renowned sport- eventing- around the three main equestrian skills - Dressage, Showjumping and Cross-country; and now it’s an Olympic event. (Badminton also gave its name to another sport when some young house guests couldn’t go out in the rain so amused themselves instead by sticking a few goose feathers into a champagne cork and batting it back and forth across a net in the Great Hall).90,000 people will attend over the four days of the World of Music and Dance Festival- WOMAD at Charlton Park near Malmesbury in a couple of weeks time. It is Peter Gabriel’s baby and hugely popular with local people and incomers alike. It was a few years ago now that I went to the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend in Lydiard Park. My 10-year-old escort was not very impressed by being whisked off to the VIP Reception for a chat with the Lord Lieutenant and a couple of Bishops- not why she had come to the festival at all! So she dragged me away to one of the stages to have my ear drums battered. Rod Stewart and The Who were performing at Worcester Lodge near Didmarton last week much to the consternation of some local people, although others more readily entered into the spirit. The main objectors were the first applicants for the free local tickets.My ear drums took another bashing at the wonderful Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in Fairford on Friday. It was good to see the Prince of Wales and family there, alongside a host of local people staring at the sky. It’s a great opportunity for business- the 30 or 40 biggest aircraft manufacturers and a host of SMEs from the supply chain were there touting their wares to a big gathering of overseas buyers. It’s a showcase for all that’s best about British aerospace manufacturing.So why on earth can the organisers, or the Gloucestershire Police, not do something about the traffic? I sailed into Fairford Village, but then spent an hour and a half getting from there to the airshow itself- a journey which would normally take 5 minutes. The traffic marshals were doing their best in shocking weather to overcome delays caused by badger bridges amongst other things. But the entry routes and entrances are an ill thought-through shambles. Billions of pounds worth of aeroplanes on display but we cannot manage a sensible traffic management regime. I shall write to the Gloucestershire Police about it. If Fairford lost the Air Tattoo the area would be a great deal poorer. Much the same applies to the National Arboretum at Westonbirt where local support is destroyed by appalling traffic management. Highgrove and Gatcombe are models of how it ought to be.All of these great events inevitably mean some degree of inconvenience or nuisance for we locals. But even leaving aside the economic benefit for the area, I am glad that we are able to offer people from all over England the opportunity to have some fun and get involved in their particular interest- from horses to horsepower; from music to Mirage jets. It’s something we can offer the world because of our wide-open spaces and fresh air. So let’s rejoice in it, put up with a bit of noise or a few traffic jams once or twice a year and just be glad of it.

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James Gray
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Published Date
July 17, 2023