Cathy St Germans has three great loves. One: her husband, Peregrine. Two: surfing. Three: the Port Eliot Festival, held every year in the glorious grounds of her Cornish home, Port Eliot. This year, the festival runs from July 28-31 and is a feast of music, literature, food, ideas, fashion and imagination. The brilliantly eclectic line-up includes Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, Gloria Steinem, Ali Smith, Biba's Barbara Hulanicki - and hush! We're making our festival debut hosting a chill-out area with fashion talks, disco yoga, craft workshops, film screenings and more. Cathy told us what it’s like to host this “enchanted field of dreams” at her home...
*Sadly, shortly after this interview was published, Lord Peregrine passed away on 15th July 2016 after a short illness following surgery for cancer. Our thoughts are with Cathy and the family, and we're determined to help make this years Port Eliot Festival the best ever in his memory.
What is unique about Port Eliot Festival?
The house and garden are the most magical places you can imagine – it’s an incredible setting. We have fun and do things we want to do. We follow our instincts to create something which is truly original – and we try to do something different every year, but always ensuring we remain true to our roots.
The heart of the festival very much lies in it’s location – and links to Cornwall, do you worry this might become diluted as the guests come from further afield?
Not at all, actually, because, even as the festival expands, we keep it true to its roots; we ask all visiting chefs to use local produce, for instance. And we ensure there is always plenty of locals in the line-up.
Tell us the secret to hosting a garden party on this scale – and with such success…
Saying no. We say no to a lot of sponsors which don’t feel like the right fit; so [the festival] isn’t over-commercialised. We are very selective about our partnerships – we only work with people who we know will enter into the creative spirit of the festival. And follow your instincts, always.
What’s your ‘pinch me, I must be dreaming’ moment?
Sitting on a quad bike, seeing everyone arrive. It’s lovely watching the estate be filled with all these people – our home is theirs for this one magical weekend. It’s exactly like looking over Brigadoon.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
I’m really excited that Gloria Steinem is coming. I’m looking forward to going in a hot tub by the estuary (yes, it’s open to everyone). I’m looking forward to seeing what Hush get up to – honestly, I’m not just saying that! I love it when people really enter into the spirit of it and get creative. I’m definitely going to be having an Aperol Spritz and calamari from Polpo Bacaro. And just being there as part of the crowd, and the whole event.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t give up. And my husband adds: always have a plan b.
What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
Stop worrying so much. I spent so much time worrying about my body image and intelligence. I remember being on a holiday in France and being so paranoid about how I looked in a swimsuit I couldn’t enjoy myself. But I had a great figure! What was I thinking? I’d love to have that figure now! I would quote to her Nora Ephron: “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off ‘til you’re thirty-four.”
You get to choose six women – dead or alive – to spend the evening with. Who? And where do you go?
My mum – who’s sadly no longer here; my husband’s grandma, Nelly St Germans, because she brought him up; the photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron; Boudiccea; Joan Crawford would be great fun; Daphne du Maurier; Emily Bronte and Marie-Jeanne Rose Bertin, who was a milliner and dressmaker to Marie Antoinette. Am I allowed to choose eight? The the little dining room at Port Eliot is perfect for eight.
We think female friendships should be treasured – what one quality do all your friends share?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Learning to surf.
When were you happiest?
On a surfboard in Waimea Bay, Hawaii, with my husband watching me.
What did you want to be growing up?
A writer. Would I like to write a novel? One day.
How do you unwind?
I ought not to say surfing again, but…surfing!
What are you reading/ listening to at the moment?
My favourite writer is Susanna Moore and I’m reading her memoir, Light Years: A Girlhood in Hawaii, which is wonderful and looks beautiful, too. I’ve also been reading Elizabeth Jane Howard; Dart by Alice Oswald - an amazing young poet who lives near Totnes in Devon. And Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road in preparation. Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth is also coming, so I’m reading her memoir, Girl in a Band. I’m listening to Junk (ambient pop) by a French band M83 and Aloha Got Soul, reissued 70s funk and soul.
Night in or night out?
In. I’d go down to the estuary with my husband and a bottle of wine and listen to the birds.
Over or under dressed?
Favourite holiday destination?
The North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii.
Lazing on the beach or city break?
Beach every time, but with a surfboard.
Favourite UK spot?
Walking along the cliff path on Rame Head in Cornwall.
Desert island book?
My Old Sweetheart by Susanna Moore.
Summer or autumn?
Over or under packer?
Hugely over, if I can pick up suitcase I’ve not packed enough.
Last time you laughed out loud?
This morning with my husband Peregrine when our whippets jumped on the bed.
Late night online shopping… Moving furniture around – I suddenly get a desire to move very large sofas... Buying Manolo Blahniks… I’ve quite a lot of guilty pleasures.
What word do you overuse?
Find out more about Port Eliot Festival and our "Hush & Friends" area here!