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Keeping it real with Debbie Harry at Camp Bestival 2011

Debbie Harry at Camp Bestival, Dorset, August 2011

ON FRIDAY night Debbie Harry was going to have to work hard to impress me. Since MarilynMonroe each decade has thrown up its iconic blondes: Twiggy in the Sixties, Madonna in the Eighties, Britney Spears in the Nineties. The Seventies gave us Ms Harry, frontwoman of the band Blondie. Men of a certain age - no matter how much we disagree on a lot of stuff - will cease our petty squabbling at the mention of her name, draw in air through our teeth and nod in thoughtful agreement. The Unified Theory of Hotness. The combined heavyweight belts of hot. One glance from her dilated inky pupils could send anyone's adolescence into meltdown. On Friday night, however, she was up against it.

It’s one thing blowing a boy’s mind when all he knew about sex was Benny Hill and Barbara Windsor.
But I was watching her over 30 years later at Camp Bestival in Dorset – a music festival for families. I had already spent several backbreaking hours either towing my children in trolleys or carrying them on my shoulders before she came on stage. Children that Debbie Harry – arguably – was partly responsible for because she made this whole sex thing seem like an interesting idea in the first place.
Neither Debbie nor I are as young as we used to be. Would the magic still be there? How could it still be there after putting up tents, queueing up for wristbands, walking up campsite hills and down with all the little consequences of sex (which she invented) running around wanting the toilet, sweets or their own unicorn?

Bonnie examines the tree stump house near Dingly Dell

Clearly things were not going to be like they were but there was a different kind of magic at work here.
You have to spend a few years acquiring cynicism to fully appreciate the feeling of having it swept away unexpectedly at a stroke.
And the hairs on the back of my neck stood up to be counted when 30,000 people started to sing “one waaaay or another, I’m gonna gitcha, I’m gonna gitcha gitcha gitcha…” at precisely the same moment the little blonde on stage did.
The way she moved on stage, her trademark floating blonde bob, the dangerously sharp angle of her cheekbones, the smokey knowingness of her vocals – it was all still there, a living pop classic and a survivor.
The following night Mark Ronson played and his set was peppered with references to his musical collaborator and friend Amy Winehouse who had died the previous week. Dave McCabe, the lead singer of the Zutons, came on to sing Valery, the song Amy Winehouse made massive.
Later the audience of people at a stage in life she never reached sang it accompanied by Ronson’s band. It was a poignant reminder that it is not a meaningless thing to survive the fairytale world of pop stardom.
The final night’s headline act was Primal Scream – rock survivors par excellence if only ten percent of what is rumoured about their past excesses is true. With cool conviction they played through their 20-year-old hit album Screamadelica to an audience that had been camping on a hillside for three days waiting for them to do it. We danced like no-one was watching and it doesn’t get better than that.
At the sides a traffic jam of prams and trolleys containing snoozing, ear-plugged toddlers was unpicked before the fireworks began.
I put my daughter on my shoulders and at that point I am convinced that the 90’s TV frontwoman Gaby Roslin appeared in front of us and smiled at the way Bonnie was clamping her hands over her ears as she enjoyed the spectacle.
Hell raising and child raising don’t really mix. Weren’t we all just pretending to be something we weren’t – young? Even the venue, Lulworth Castle, was really a country house pretending to be a castle courtesy of living-the-dream architecture.

Jed observes that this is bigger than our back garden and they've got a castle

But then again, let’s be honest, isn’t faking it what it is all about? When we were young weren’t we always pretending to be older? When we went to festivals just to get wrecked we pretended we were going for the music. And now we’re old enough to be honest about getting wrecked we’re pretending to be a little bit wilder than we really are.
The truth is one of my Camp Bestival highlights was nothing to do with sex, drugs or rock and roll. My second son Dougie crept up to a portaloo door at one point to inform me curtly that the rest of the family had waited for me long enough and were heading back to the tent.
At almost exactly the same moment I emerged from a portaloo further down the line a stranger’s voice answered Dougie with an confused but apologetic: “Okay.”
Someone pretends to be someone else and makes a golden moment.
It’s okay to fake it. An obsession with keeping it too real can be a dangerous thing. I hope for our children’s sakes that their heroes survive because they deserve their own summertime evenings in the English countryside at some Camp Bestival of the future, taking a weekend break for the soul and celebrating the fact that not all the good people die young.

This article first appeared as a column in the Northampton Chronicle & Echo
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