Belladrum: ‘How we grew a music festival in the Highlands’

Over the last 15 years, Belladrum has grown from a small one-day event to become one of Scotland’s biggest music festivals. Other festivals have fallen by the wayside in recent years – so why has this Highland gathering thrived?

The Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival was the brainchild of Joe Gibbs, the owner of the Belladrum Estate near Beauly.

It started small in 2004 as a one-day event with tickets for just 2,000 people.

“When Joe asked me about starting a festival I said it would never work,” says Pete Campbell, who has been a member of the organising team since day one.

But the first festival exceeded expectations. It was a sell-out.

“That was quite an achievement for a first-time event in the Highlands,” says Rob Ellen, who has helped with booking acts and publicising Belladrum since 2004.

“I don’t think it had ever been done before.”

Bella, as the festival is affectionately known, continued to be run as a small festival in the following years. It then moved to a two-day format, and became a three-day event in 2015.

This year’s festival, which gets under way on Thursday, will attract a 20,000-capacity crowd, about 14,000 of whom will be camping.

But as Bella has grown, some other Scottish festivals have struggled in recent years.

This year Electric Fields tried to switch from a rural location in southern Scotland to Glasgow, before being cancelled.

The organisers of T in the Park admitted this year that it had “run its course”, with their focus now on the TRNSMT event in Glasgow. It also attracts big-name acts over a three-day festival, but without the camping element of T in the Park.

In the Highlands, RockNess last took place in 2013 and Loopallu will take place for the last time later this year.

Joe Gibbs said there had been occasions when he feared that Belladrum might not make it.

“There were many times in the first five years when we were physically and mentally exhausted, pushing hard to make it work,” he says.

“There were times we were terrified of losing a lot of money.”

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