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The rise and fall of the V Festival

By Toby Neal | Telford | Music | Published:

1999: Some residents complained that they were virtual prisoners in their own homes.

An aerial view of the V Festival at Weston Park in 1999.

Their gardens had ended up looking like rubbish tips, they said.

Their message to the massive pop festival on their doorstep 20 years ago was: Please don't come back.

Other than that, the V99 festival held for the first time at Weston Park, on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border, was a tremendous success. And it did come back, again and again.

Before you get the idea that everybody living in the area hated it, well, yes, some did – but many others did not.

Indeed, when one of our reporters chatted with residents in Watling Street at Weston-under-Lizard after V99, they gave the music extravaganza the thumbs up.

Festival goers arriving at Weston Park

Here's 73-year-old Rose Kirby: “I really enjoyed it. I sat in the garden, listened to the music and watched people travelling to the event. It was a bit of excitement for the village.”

Pat Pedley from the village post office: “It was a wonderful event. Everyone who came was very polite and although there was a bit of mess, most people cleaned up after themselves.

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“There wasn’t a problem with noise, in fact it was very good for business and I look forward to the next festival.”

So the V Festival became for a time an annual Weston Park fixture, and when it became clear last year that the two-day festival would not be returning for 2018, there was widespread disappointment among the local communities.

Apart from anything else, the festival organisers made donations to local causes, which supported projects such as, for instance, at Tong's St Bartholomew's Church, which had its roof replaced.

However, the writing had been on the wall when attendance was 25 per cent down for the 2017 event.

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Let's turn back the clock to the weekend of August 21 and 22, 1999, when the V Festival – the V stood for the sponsors, Richard Branson's Virgin company – came to the estate grounds of Weston Park for the first time, although the first V Festival of all had been in 1996.

Fans in front of the main stage.

The cost for the weekend was £70 with camping, £60 without camping, and £35 for a day ticket.

The way the festival worked was that it was held at two sites, the other being at Chelmsford, and the line-up of acts alternated at the two venues over the weekend.

Over 50,000 music lovers were at Weston Park and enjoyed great weather.

In 1999 the line-up included the Manic Street Preachers, Suede, Gomez, and the Stereophonics, to name just a few.

There was also a set from Mel C of the Spice Girls, who sported a new image and new sound for her first major solo gig.

With shorn hair and wearing a sleeveless tight fitting vest and black shorts, she tried to win over the crowd with an aggressive guitar-based performance, with included her new single Goin' Down and her version of the Sex Pistols' Anarchy In The UK.

However the reception was mixed, as she was jeered and pelted with oranges and plastic bottles during her 20 minutes on stage.

Mel C performing at Weston Park in 1999 when she sported a radical new image.

When it came to the time for everybody to go home, there was mayhem, with festival goers sitting in their cars for hours, while others darted around the car parks trying to find the quickest way out.

In the immediate aftermath, the organisers hailed the event as a huge success and said they would be speaking to Weston Park to discuss plans for a V2000.

Lord Bradford – Weston Park was the ancestral family home but the hall and grounds was by 1999 run by the Weston Park Foundation – was less keen.

"I feel that it's absolutely appalling, the whole thing. It should never have been held here," he said.

Shortly afterwards he resigned from the foundation following a row over a television interview he had given in the wake of the event.

There was further fallout with Michael Tebbutt, who had been administrator of the estate between 1972 and 1982, saying: “Anyone who knows the landscaped park at Weston will realise that to hold a pop concert in it is a misjudgment of the first magnitude and totally alien to the immediate environment.

“It is also a brutal affront to the local population."

Police, though, seemed happy. They said it had been a very successful event which in the main had passed off peacefully.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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