The Isle of Wight waited over 30 years for a chance to revive its legendary 60s festival - and now two have come along at once
When the biggest story to come out of the Isle of Wight all year is about a missing penguin (remember Toga?), I can forgive you for thinking flap all happens on the so-called "Garden Isle", my home for the first 17 years of my life.
Dubbed a haven for OAPs by The Beatles in When I'm 64 ("Every summer we could rent a cottage on the Isle of Wight"), its reputation for deckchair-bound fogies sinking their dentures into 99s and fluorescent sticks of rock gives the island a profile more grave than rave.But it's rock of a different kind that once drew visitors here and which, four decades on, is rekindling a revolution set to blast the oldies from their Zimmers. The original IOW Festival grew exponentially from 1968 to 1970, the final year culminating in 600,000 loved-up hippies congregating to witness the Doors, the Who, Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix's famous last performance before his untimely death just 18 days later. The 1970 festival also marked the death of the conflict-ridden extravaganza: with rampaging dopeheads creating havoc for police, the "Isle of Wight" Act was passed in parliament, outlawing all gatherings of 10,000 people or more and the final, far-out festie became the stuff of legend.
Fast forward 32 years to 2002. The act has been lifted and the sleeping spell broken by John Giddens, promoter of the new generation of Nokia IOW Festivals. Growing quietly in big-name line-ups and numbers (10,000 in 2002; 50,000 expected this year), Giddens attributes its pull to the island's cultural history: "It's not like we're trying to start something new in Cleethorpes; we're plugged into a heritage of literature and culture the likes of Coldplay [this year's headliners] and REM  are fascinated by."
The fact that Keats and Tennyson resided here is something the crowd at Bestival, set up three years ago by island-born Radio 1 DJ, Rob Da Bank, are less likely to be swayed by. It's attracted this year's headliners the Pet Shop Boys and Scissor Sisters, a dance-orientated clientele, as well as plenty of column inches in the local press about drug arrests - as has Giddens' event.
As well as the festies, celebrity endorsements from the likes of Kate Moss (papped sweet-shopping in the island's capital, Newport) are helping it attract the Heat generation (if Kate can flog lipsticks and mobiles, she can sell holidays, too).
While retaining its traditionally quaint holidaying roots, the island now boasts gastropubs, hip hotels and creative camping alongside crazy golf, B&Bs, fish'n'chips; old and new coexist to offer the best of both worlds.
Well-heeled yachties still splash about in Cowes and Yarmouth, but the southern side of the island is the place to witness the new, youthful Wight. Ventnor, a steep, zig-zagging Victorian coastal town is home to The Hambrough, a new deluxe hotel offering sea views, underfloor heating and a chef who previously sharpened knives with Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White.
Ventnor is the island's creative epicentre, brimming with musicians, artists and, well, dopeheads (many left over from 1970). Proud of their roots, Mercury-prize-nominated band The Bees refuse to leave the town, and for good reason. The place is undergoing a resurgent music scene: a new night, The Blueroom at the Central Tap, is a showcase for upcoming hip-hop and house DJs and bands.
Ventnor also boasts a warm micro-climate, best enjoyed in the clifftop Botanical Gardens and secret Steephill Cove beach, directly below. Accessible only by foot, it's perfect for dodging the bucket-and-spade brigade that swamp Blue-Flagged Sandown, the town where London fashion collective PPQ (worn by Alison Goldfrapp, playing Friday at the Nokia Festival) own a holiday home. Ex-islanders, they regularly decamp from Hoxton to be with mates Babyshambles (that Kate Moss effect again).
In nearby postcard-perfect Bonchurch, the Pond Café is decidedly new Wight, with crisp-fried confit pork belly and ballantine of poached foie gras on the menu, leave all notions of bangers in baskets at the door.
Slightly inland from here, at Chale, is the country's coolest caravan site, with four silver 1960s trailers that have been restored to their kitsch glory by Vintage Vacations. The 24ft-long Airstream sleeps four, complete with sofa, bathroom and kitchenette. Original interiors were sourced by Suzes Room (10a Pier St, Ventnor), a new vintage homeware/clothing store. In fact, the island is an unbeatable treasure trove of thrift shops; morbid it may be, but a high turnover of pensioners equals an endless supply of retro wear. Shanklin and Ryde are best; rummaging in Cameo of Cowes (16 Bath Road) throws up oddities and designer gems (think false limbs and Louis Vuitton wallets).
But before I give the new-look island a big head, bear in mind the next major gig here is from Westlife. Hmmm. Perhaps Toga the penguin (favourite Westlife track? Flying Without Wings) wasn't snatched after all? He was just making a well-anticipated escape bid.
· The Nokia IOW Festival, June 9-11, £85 non camping, £105 camping (isleofwightfestival.com, ticketzone.co.uk). Bestival, September 8-10, £105 (bestival.net, ticketline.co.uk). Wightlink ferries (wightlink.co.uk) for cars and foot passengers. The Hambrough (01983 856 333, thehambrough.com) from £160 per room, per night. Vintage Vacations, (vintagevacations.co.uk) American trailers from £140 per weekend, sleep 4.
There are no comments to display.