A Weekend Away With The Fairies

Karen Kay (4th from right) with the 3 Wishes team at the 2023 UK Festival Awards

‘The fairies told me to do it’ might not work as a defence for childhood (or adult) misbehaviour but, for Karen Kay, flickers of light, flashes of inspiration and a lifelong passion for all things fairy have led to success as an author, publisher and festival organiser. Bringing a fairy flavour to the UK Festival Awards every year, the 3 Wishes Fairy Festival clan took the Grassroots gong at the 2022 awards and, after meeting, we just had to catch up and get the full story.

Before we get into festival chat, let’s talk fairies.

“For me personally, my connection with fairies started when I was a little girl. My parents had separated and I went to live with my grandmother in Charlton in South London. She loved flowers and was always out in her garden, and I was always there with her. My earliest memory recollection is that she’d be pruning the roses and the rose petals would fall; I would gather them all up, put them in a pot then mush them all up and make what I believed was perfume for the fairies. There were two garages adjoining, where I would leave this pot of what I believed it was perfume.  I’d go back pretty regularly and it would always be gone, so I felt like the fairies had taken my perfume. In my innocent, childlike heart I used to see them or perceive them as little bits of light, little dancing lights. And I know a lot of people say, well, that’s something wrong with your eyes or something like that, but they always stayed with me, and I just knew that there was something more within nature itself, that’s what has stayed with me.

“Then when I got to being a teenager, I had my little rebellious time, as we all do, but even when I was like a goth, a punk, I was still like a gothic fairy godmother. I was wearing black tutus and black wings, it was always with me.

“At one point I thought I’d better go to the opticians because maybe there is something wrong with me, like I’m seeing all these lights all the time. I went to the opticians and before I continue, I did not say, hey, I think I’m seeing fairies because they would have probably locked me up. I just said, can I have an eye test? And I did and I had 20 over 20 vision. He said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your eyes. For me that confirmed that what I was seeing was real; it wasn’t something I really spoke about because it was a natural thing since I was a child. And then I would get inspirations. I would say the fairies told me to do it, but you know, you hear these voices in your head sometimes and people say, ‘the voices made me do it’. Well, we all know the sound of our own internal dialogue, it’s quite familiar to us because we’ve grown up with it, but this always took on a kind of different feeling.

“It came with a feeling which I call the fairy fizzies, a bit like the tingles, and it would make you kind of go, oooh; it’s telepathic. So I’d hear the voices but it would be different. They actually told me, they can be quite bossy sometimes, they said, ‘you must organise a fairy festival, and it must be at the time of midsummer, and it must be in Cornwall, and you must announce it.’

“And I thought, I’m not announcing it, I don’t even know where it’s going to be. So I thought, I’m going to have a think about this and it felt like it might be a fun thing to do. So I did, I went for it and I didn’t know where the festival was going to be held.

“I’d been organizing events since 1996, where I was organizing little kind of mind body spirit events for my son’s playgroups. That started off as a little charity thing that I was just doing to raise funds. But it got so busy and so quickly and grew so quickly that it ended up becoming like a a side job, if you like.

“I thought, I’ve got quite a good reputation at this point, and I’m going to risk it all by announcing a festival. I don’t even have a venue, I don’t know anything about it, but I’m going to do it

“I will digress a little bit, and this is how the fairies work. They’re in and out betwixt between. I had been asked to organise a festival at a place called the Custard Factory in Birmingham it was called the Green Man Festival, not the Green Man Festival that we’re all familiar with. It was a little one day thing, but they’d heard about,they contacted me and said, hey, we want to give you a budget and you’ve got full creative control over putting on this event and I was like, okay, I’ll do this. I called in the Medieval Babes and I had like floating lotuses on the pond thing that they had…it was really, really fun. But it was just a one off and it was a great, great experience for me. I realized later on down the line when I started Three Wishes that that experience held me in good stead.”

You describe events as a little side job, what was your other occupation?

“I was a full time parent, a single parent at the time, bringing up two, I want to say troublesome boys, but they weren’t. They were full of life.”

An unpaid full time job, plus organising small charity events and you’re approached to put on an event in Birmingham. How did that come about?

“I came on their radar somehow, I have no idea how these things work. I always think, you know, it’s like metaphorical fairy doors opening and connections happening. So I think that’s how it happened.

“I thought, okay, I’m going to announce this event, I didn’t know what to call it.  In 2006 this inspiration came through and I thought, even back then, there was nothing fairy-related in the UK. There might have been like a little children’s fairy thing, but there was nothing like it is now. I even knew then, I did’t just want to call it a fairy festival, because that sounds a little bit too generic, and I’d got a feeling this is going to catch on. So I said to the fairies ‘okay, give me some ideas for what I can call this festival.’.

“I was in my garden one day hanging up the laundry. It was it wasn’t even a windy day. It was quite sunny, it was quite nice. And my grass, in the very rare occasion it had been, the lawn had been mowed, and I remember just noticing a single dandelion seed head with all the seeds, you know, the fluffy ones that you make wishes on. And I thought, oh, that’s interesting. It’s just been cut and and yet that’s there.  I just carried on hanging up my laundry. And then a little wish flew past me and I was like, oh, it’s not even windy. And then another wish flew by me and I was like, this is really weird. Like, it’s not windy, it’s sunny. I don’t even know where that dandelion seed head came from. And then another seed head flew by me and I was like three wishes. And then suddenly it was this light bulb moment and it was like, that’s it! And every time I say it, even now, I get the fairy fizzies. So I’m thinking Three Wishes Fairy Festival. And that is how the name came about.

“I announced it to my community. I think Facebook was very new back in those days, I had had a newsletter, I’d built a mailing list that has just grown steadily over the years, I announced it and that is how it happened. I still didn’t have a venue though.”

Before we get to the venue search, what you seem to have had at the time is an audience, a tribe, a clan. How did that develop?

“Well, I think they kind of found me really. Let’s try and put this in into perspective a little bit. When I was younger, I lived in London, I live in Cornwall now, I was a bit of a kind of party girl. I was out at all the clubs, I played in lots of bands, lots of punk bands and rock bands, I did session singing for some quite well known bands as well,I just loved that kind of London party lifestyle. And as I got older or more mature, I still loved the partying, the dressing up, but I didn’t really feel safe in those kind of pub club environments in London. It was more about when you’re walking home or when you’re getting there. It just didn’t feel comfortable for me, but I still wanted to party. So I thought, I’m going to organize an event where I can dress up, I can totally be myself, I can have exactly the music I want, it’s going to be a fairy themed event and I’m going to call it a fairy ball. I put it on at a tiny little place called the Acorn Theatre in Penzance. It’s interesting because from tiny acorns, like, it’s definitely growing into an oak tree.

“I didn’t have a clue if anyone would come, but all I cared about was, I’m doing this for me, and if anyone feels drawn, they’ll come. Well, that event sold out and I haven’t got a clue how it sold out or how people found out about it. I just basically followed my heart, followed my passion, and lots of people came. And I’m very, very good friends with this community now, a community was born from this. I realised I’m not alone. I’m not the only one, there are  others like me, who love fairies, who are mature adults and and they love fairies. A lot of people felt like they couldn’t say it in their public everyday lives because people would laugh, So that’s how the community was actually born within the UK. It’s already been a thing in America but I hadn’t been there. Over here, that was the seed, the acorn that started it all off. So I already had that enthusiastic clan, if you like.”

With fairies providing the inspiration, a name and a mailing list, did you have to look to them for investment?

“Not in a direct way. The thing is, when you’re working with fairies or playing with fairies, however you want to describe it, it’s never straightforward. But as I said earlier, metaphorical fairy doors open. You might not wake up with a golden platter with hundreds of pounds on or thousands of pounds, but you will get inspiration and opportunities that will lead to that funding. But my main concern was that I’d put my whole reputation on the line, announced an event and I didn’t know where it was going to be.

“I can’t remember the exact details, but one thing led to another and I ended up being introduced to a person who owned some land, which was the first location where the Fairy Festival took place, a place called Colliford Lake Park on Bodmin Moor. It was like a kind of fun theme park. I went there and I said, I was so naive, actually, when I think about it, I went there and said, ‘I’ve got this idea…the fairies told me and I want to put this festival on, and la la la la la, and I’ve got the Medieval Babes I can bring in. I was just so excited and enthusiastic and he said, ‘okay, I’ll work with you on this, you can use this land.’ That’s basically what happened and that’s where the first fairy festival was in 2007. So that’s how we got the location. All the licensing was in place. He already had a stage on the land, he already had permission to do three events on the land, he had close relations with the council, everything was in place. All I had to do was bring the fairies and I did, and we outgrew that location as well, because it only had a very small capacity.

“He’s remained my site manager and when he sold that land a few years later, he then moved to Mount Edgcombe Country Park, which then became our second home. He’s been the manager all the way through. He said to me a few years ago: “You know what, Karen? The reason I said yes to you is because you were just beautifully bonkers and you seemed a bit crazy, but you also seem to have some really good ideas. I liked your enthusiasm, so I said yes” And now we’re kind of 17, 18 years down the line and it’s like, wow, how did that happen?”

You don’t only getting a site, but a site with some of those things in place that you might not know you need. Did your initial enthusiasm and naivety lead to any of those new festival organizer situations, the ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ moments?

“I actually get that every single year, you’re always tweaking and fine tuning. The one thing I do remember about, about the first festival at Colliford Lake is that there were no showers there. We hastily called in this solar shower and Chris, my site manager, had placed it in the middle of the camping field with nothing else around it, and it had this flimsy little thing. Everybody that was brave enough to have a shower in it, everyone cheered them because it was just so funny. So we learned from that. But yeah, every year there’s something that that you learn, and I just feel very blessed to have had things just aligned for me. And I do believe, whatever anyone thinks, that that is with the help of the fairies.”

I guess fairies are not really au fait with bathroom privacy.

“No they’re not.”

There’s another site move for 2024, yet to be revealed but close to Glastonbury. Is that move through inspiration, through messaging or through necessity?

“A little bit of everything, actually. So the Fairy Festival at Mount Edgecombe, which has been great for many years, [has meant] people have to  travel to get there if they’re not within Cornwall. It’s a ferry ride, it’s a very exciting adventure and for real fairy enthusiasts. They love it, but not everyone wants to. Everyone thinks Cornwall is a million miles away. Sometimes people would make the effort, sometimes they wouldn’t. We were kind of sticking at a certain amount of people, which was great, but I really felt the festival needed to grow, just expand a bit because.

“I organise other fairy weekends in Glastonbury, indoors. I’ve been doing them since 2009, and we get thousands and thousands of people through the doors. It’s a free event in the daytime, then in the evening I put on this fairy ball, and I’ve been doing that for ages, and the community finds it very easy to get to that location. They really enjoy it, they feel like they can walk around with wings and sparkle in their hair, and nobody will bat an eyelid because it’s normal for Glastonbury. I’ve got more friends in Glastonbury than I do where I live in Cornwall.

“So, it felt like it’s time to move it. I know initially the fairies said in Cornwall, but that was 17 years ago and I did check in with them because you don’t want to…well, you don’t want to piss off the fairies. That’s the saying, isn’t it? And I definitely don’t want to, because I’ve built up quite a nice friendship with them. So I did meditate on it and said, look, it really feels like it’s time to take this out because it’s too precious t for not everyone to experience it or have the opportunity to experience this event. And it is family friendly and it’s just a beautiful gathering. The people that do come never want to leave.”

It seems like you feel a pressure, a duty to deliver for your community.

“Actually, something else that that has kept me going through all this time is that every festival I do is the last festival, I’m going to put everything into it and I don’t have to do it again. I just treat it as that, and then that way it’s always fresh so it doesn’t feel like a chore.”

At what point do you get the ‘fairy fizzies’ and want to do another festival?

“If I’m honest, before I leave the site, before we’ve done the cleanup. We’re cleaning up and everyone’s so high and happy, and they all can’t wait. They tell me ‘I’ve booked my accommodation for next year and when can I buy tickets?’ Every single time it happens like that, then I’m straight back in again. I do give myself a couple of weeks off and then I just get excited and, yeah…”

So what kind of increase in capacity are you are you have you got with the move of site.

“The capacity is 5000 but we’re looking to increase from 1000 to 1500 for 2024.”

You won best Grassroots Festival at the 2022 UK Festival Awards and you were shortlisted this year in Best Family Festival.

“We did make the shortlist for the family festival, which is really close to my heart. I’m very, very pleased about that because I feel like the kind of inspiration is about socialising in a family unit, but not just going to a festival and there’s lots of children’s entertainment, but going to a festival and you’ve got something for the adults, you’ve got main stages, you’ve got late night silent discos, you’ve got lots of things going on, you’ve got bars but alongside it, within view of the parents, there are children’s activities going on. It’s a way that you can socialise as a family and everyone feels catered for, and that’s the family aspect of it. And also keeping families together, socialising because I feel like there’s so many distractions in society in general, without wanting to go down a political route, that the family unit is a very, very important structure that is very, very important and close to my heart.”

Play together, stay together?

“Yeah, definitely. That’s the thing.”

And last year’s Grassroots Festival Award, you’re self-sustaining without sponsorship, Have you found that easy to achieve?

“I’ve never had sponsors. It’s not because I didn’t want sponsors, it’s just that, I don’t know if this is a word, I felt like my festival was unsponsorable. Actually, that was a tiny white lie because there was a little local clothing company who make kind of alternative clothing; they used to do little fashion shows at the original festivals, and they did sponsor the tickets once. So we have had that. I am definitely open to sponsorship, but it’s finding the right fit. It’s really important do that.”

Aside from the festival and Fairy Ball events, how do you keep in touch with your audience?

“I also run a magazine which started in 2007, after my first sell out fairy ball. I saw that there was a community, and I saw that this community needs a publication because I can’t be organising events all the time. So I created FAE magazine, which stands for Fairies and Enchantment,that is the kind of virtual gathering space. It’s always been a printed thing, Except when we got to lockdown and the distributor went into liquidation and it just really had a knock on effect. I’m on the verge of just printing the first one since the lockdown.

“But even in that magazine, I get lots of advertising requests. I say no to a lot of people because they’re not in alignment with the event. They just want to reach the audience and I’m very protective of the audience, I’m really protective of the community and the event. It’s very, very important to me.”

We’re British, you run a festival in Britain, we have to talk about the weather fairies. Have they been kind to you?

“It depends how you define kind, I’m pretty sure I understand what you mean by kind. One thing about the fairies, they’re also known as elementals, which means they bring in the sunshine, the rain, they bring everything in. So a priority at my events, which has grown over the last few years, is always ensuring that there are undercover areas for people to be in. For a couple of years I put the main stage in a big top because we had to close the main stage a couple of times due to winds.

“Cornwall is notorious for crazy weather, especially at Bodmin Moor where once we almost had to cancel the festival. We managed to not [cancel] but during the setup,even the roof in one of the indoor things was flooding, it was torrential, it was really bad. During the festival, and the whole UK was like it, and we were all looking at the news, people were messaging me saying, oh, we can’t get there, it’s really bad. But, during the festival, the sun came out. You could see the peripheries of the land all around, and it was lightning, and it over us was sunshine and rainbows.  I’m not saying that, although I am getting the fairy fizzies, I’m not saying that’s down to the fairies, It might just be luck, whatever you want to call it, but to to date, we’ve never had to cancel a festival for the weather.

“We also have different daily themes at the event; one day it’ll be mermaids, one day it’ll be flower fairies or unicorns, always different every year. But whenever we have a mermaid day, you can guarantee it’s going to rain, because mermaids are water elemental, so you can guarantee it’s gonna rain. And I’m sorry, everybody, but that’s just the way it goes. But rain is good, the earth needs rain too, but not too much.”

We’ve all had flashes of inspiration, we’ve all made moves that have worked, we’ve all gone in directions that just feel right, but few of us can explain where those flashes and feelings come from. Karen Kay, however, has an explanation that is shared by enough people to create that one essential element for a successful festival – an audience.

Maybe the next time you have an inspiration that you’re struggling to explain, you’ll have the answer.

3 Wishes Fairy Festival takes place fro 16–18 August 2024 (early entry on Thursday 15th) Location: Garslade Farm, Godney, Nr Glastonbury, Somerset BA5 1RX