It’s Big Feastival time again this August Bank Holiday, taking place on Alex James’s farm. Yes, that’s correct – the farm where the famous Froggie in the Well incident took place. Katie Jarvis and Alex reminisce

The Big Feastival, August 25-27

I’m interviewing Alex!

Alex James! The one from Blur.

‘Hello, Katie,’ he says, as we speak on the phone. ‘Is that Katie Jarvis?’

‘Yes!’ I confirm, overexcitedly. The one from Blur! No, hang on. That’s you.

Deep breaths. The thing is, I first interviewed him way back, when I did what everybody longs to do with a Britpop star. I helped rescue a frog from down his well. (Not a euphemism.) We found it trapped under the padlocked grating that stopped children from going the same way.

In the nail-biting drama that followed, I played the action-part (*suggest Angelina Jolie for future film version*) of parkour-ing to the back door to grab crayfish nets.

Not that he’ll remember any of that.

Great British Life: Alex James at The Big Feastival, 2018Alex James at The Big Feastival, 2018 (Image: Max Miechowski/Fanatic)

‘My word,’ Alex James says ‘The Froggie in the Well incident. That must be at least 15 years ago... Or – maybe not 20 but – getting on for 20 years ago.’

(November 2006. I looked it up. I was a mere child.)

‘I hope the frog is all right,’ I say. ‘Is it well?’

‘There’s a whole froggie eco-system in there now. They’ve got a way of getting out.’

‘Is the infrastructure named after me?’

‘The frog situation here has gone through the roof,’ he continues, deftly. (Bet he’s named it after Damon Albarn.) ‘It’s brilliant. Lots of tadpoles wriggling about in the pond.’

I’ve written down 137 questions for him; but, actually, I want to rip them up and ask, ‘What’s new?’ Because we have literally got around 20/16 years to catch up on.

Great British Life: Alex James celebrating the eighth year of The Big Feastival in 2019Alex James celebrating the eighth year of The Big Feastival in 2019 (Image: Justin Goff)

‘It’s incredible what’s happened to this neighbourhood in that time,’ he says. ‘I keep thinking: Surely the Daylesford bubble is going to burst! But now there’s a Chadlington bubble. It just seems to be going from strength to strength. It really, really is.’

I’m guessing he’s talking about the Beckhams, David Cameron, et Al-ex. Jeremy Clarkson with his Diddly Squat farm shop, named for the amount Clarkson earned from it; (and now for the amount of change customers get from a £50 note).

But he could as easily be referencing Mrs Jones from down the road who does the flowers in church. He’s truly integrated.

‘You’ve got to look after the grand dames and chatelaines,’ he nods, ‘otherwise…’

Otherwise you don’t get Victoria sandwiches left on your doorstep?

Sensible man.

Great British Life: Alex James in the Oxfordshire CotswoldsAlex James in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds (Image: GOFF)

I’VE LOOKED UP several things that are new. For one, alongside his well-established artisan cheese-making, he’s now producing a cider (‘5.5% fresh juice, oak-conditioned, made with bittersweet and sharp apples’) called Britpop. Didn’t have that back then.

‘I trademarked the name Britpop ages ago because every time I hear that word a little piece of me dies. I thought, I need to seize control.’

He wasn’t sure what Britpop was going to be until he went over to France with his wife – producer Claire Neate – to celebrate his 50th birthday some four years ago.

‘We did the Route du Cidre – the little tourist trail – went to every cider-maker; brought every single kind of cider back here and did a huge taste test. I actually tasted some of them alongside fine champagnes – it’s amazing how good some of them are. Cider is really underrated.’

(Bet you couldn’t have convinced him of that in his Groucho Club days when he spent a million pounds on champagne in three years.)

(Mind you, the early 90s price-equivalent of ‘I spent £47.35 on cider in three years’ just doesn’t carry the same cachet.)

Great British Life: Alex James with Jo Whiley at The Big Feastival in 2018Alex James with Jo Whiley at The Big Feastival in 2018 (Image: CAROLINA FARUOLO)

Besides which, he and Claire had planted thousands of apple trees at their farm, near Kingham. So he took the Dabinetts and Michelins and the rest (he knows his stuff), messed about with recipes; then got Westons – the family cider-and-perry producers in Much Marcle, just over the Cotswold border – to help scale it all up.

Yes, Britpop The Cider is (presumably) another money-maker. It’s sold at the Big Feastival, the music and food festival that takes place on Alex’s farm each August Bank Holiday. (Honestly, much more about that shortly.)

But – and I don’t say this lightly – there is utter authenticity to what he does.

Great British Life: Alex James promoting his Britpop cider on tapAlex James promoting his Britpop cider on tap (Image: Justin Goff)

Viz the rest of our conversation on the subject. Such as about the remains of a beautiful Victorian garden that once graced the farm.

‘Every time we excavated a silage clamp or a concrete pad, we’d find what must have been an incredible nuttery or orchard. We’ve got old maps of the farm and there were copious orchards there; but they grubbed them all up as farms became more monoculture and people tended to specialise in one thing.

‘If you’re looking at planting fruit trees – and anyone with a garden should – they’re such good value. You can buy like a whip for a tenner; whack it in the ground and more or less forget about it. In three to five years, you’re getting copious amounts of fruit – they look beautiful all year round, especially spring, with the blossom.’

Bet the birds love them, too.

‘I’m looking behind me to the cherry orchard – the cherries are about a week off. As they get closer, you pop out every couple of hours – nearly ready, nearly ready… Then, as soon as they’re ripe, the birds strip them. I was going to net them but I quite like sharing with the birds.’

Cider. Cheese. Cherries.

‘What Feastival has taught me is that there’s a huge appetite for classic British food and drink. People really want to explore it. And there’s just so much going on.’

Great British Life: Alex James at home in the Oxfordshire CotswoldsAlex James at home in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds (Image: GOFF)

Great British Life: Alex James at The Big Feastival, 2018Alex James at The Big Feastival, 2018 (Image: Copyright Justine Trickett)

YEP, THE BIG FEASTIVAL. A three-day family-friendly food and music festival he runs on the farm, founded alongside Jamie Oliver in 2011. In those early days – as Alex pointed out at the time – there were 750 festivals up and down the UK each summer. Now there are 1,000.

Yet Feastival still stands out.

For one, it manages to attract not only the best in music, but the best chefs around. (Not to mention posh festival-goers, such as the Camerons, who seem regularly to boogie on down.)

This year, Nathan Outlaw, the extraordinary chef who worked under Rick Stein in Padstow and earned his first Michelin star aged just 25, is one of the coup appearances. Ching He Huang MBE, Crystelle Perreira, Jesse Wells, James Strawbridge... Loads. And so varied.

‘What’s great is how many chefs come back every year. We give them their own chefs’ camping enclosure – gets very geeky around breakfast time.’

Great British Life: Alex James outside his Cheese Hub at The Big Feastival in 2017Alex James outside his Cheese Hub at The Big Feastival in 2017 (Image: Richard Johnson)

Great British Life: Alex James chills at The Big Feastival in 2017Alex James chills at The Big Feastival in 2017 (Image: Richard Johnson)

Must be great networking, I say. Chefs who wouldn’t normally get chance to meet up.

‘Absolutely. I don’t think you could have a bunch of musicians all camping together. But chefs – there’s a sort of brotherhood, isn’t there, in the way there isn’t with musicians. We tend to squabble.’

It goes without saying that you won’t find cheap burgers here. ‘We got hold of the best beef I’ve ever tasted from Peter Hannan in Northern Ireland. He spent years constructing the Himalayan Salt Chamber, which means you can age beef. Like no beef I’ve ever tasted.’

Marco Pierre White advised to keep that beef simple. Serve a really thin slice with Alex’s own Blue Monday cheese atop.

‘Whacked it in a sandwich with a bit of coleslaw from the garden – and amazing! We’d sold out by the Saturday lunchtime. It was a huge success. So we’re building on that this year.’

The Smokin’ Brothers will be there. ‘They’re based at Daylesford – and it’s the most ridiculously brilliant smoked salmon I’ve ever had. These guys are super geeks. You ask them what wood they use to smoke the salmon. They start telling you; 20 minutes later they’re still explaining!’ (NB This is high praise.)

The music is class, too. Rick Astley is among this year’s headliners.

Great British Life: Alex at The Big Feastival with Dick and DomAlex at The Big Feastival with Dick and Dom (Image: Joshua Atkins (Fanatic))

Great British Life: Alex James at The Big Feastival, 2019Alex James at The Big Feastival, 2019 (Image: ©Richard Johnson)

He’s got intellectual Feastival plans, too. To bring in more professors – real professors: ‘Expertise is so sexy, and it’s kind of cheaper than celebrity.’

Great British Life: Alex James at home in OxfordshireAlex James at home in Oxfordshire (Image: GOFF)

ALEX JAMES. Cotswold success story. Happily married to Claire since 2003. Five kids who love helping at Feastival. Thriving farm.

Dead cert he couldn’t have envisaged this sort of life in the days when he was crashing on drugs, groupies and champagne.

Does he worry about his kids growing up, knowing what he got up to?

‘Absolutely, yes. Terrifyingly, yes. 100 per cent. ‘

There again, who doesn’t.

He laughs. ‘Do you know what? I just gave up smoking so I’ve been sucking on Chupa Chups lollies. I spoke to my mum last week and she said, ‘You’re still not smoking?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ And she said, ‘Alex, I’m a bit worried about how many lollypops you’re eating…’

For a full music and food line up, plus tickets, visit

Great British Life: Jo Whiley, Alex James and a sizeable audience at The Big Feastival, 2018Jo Whiley, Alex James and a sizeable audience at The Big Feastival, 2018 (Image: Max Miechowski)

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