We were very lucky on the weekend to have been invited to attend the LolliBop Children's Festival, in London as an ambassador family. I am not so naive that I'm not aware that as an ambassador family, our experience might have been slightly different from families who paid to go, and didn't have access to the press tent as we did, however I did go with my ever discerning eye. My eye that assesses whether things are worth the value of the ticket, worth the queues and the travel, and whether the event has been fun for my child or not. Yes 'free' is good, but I've been to some rubbish complementary events and been more than happy to 'critique objectively'.
The LolliBop festival has had a mixed reaction from parent bloggers this year, and I think that the response is very much based on what visitors are looking for from the festival. Personally, I went with a few 'must-sees' and the aim to 'go with the flow'. Our aim was to see Alex Winters and give him some Welsh cakes (admittedly, this wouldn't have happened without our little hospitality wristbands), and watch Justin Fletcher and Katy Ashworth. That's all I had planned. Anything else was a bonus.
To start at the beginning, LolliBop is an annual children's festival based in London which is now in its third year. Using the philosophy of a 'big bash for little people', it bills itself as Glastonbury for children. I think that paints the wrong impression, it's far more entertaining and comfortable with far less mud! There is a central stage for the main acts, and plenty of other smaller tents with shows running alongside the main stage throughout the day. Combined with some of the best toy companies around sponsoring play areas (Little Tikes, WOW Toys, etc.) and the variety of activities available (design a River Island t-shirt, create a Sand Art picture, etc.), along with areas to picnic, relax and play, then the whole event lends itself to some great family time enjoying a Summer's day.
The main attraction for us though was how many prominant CBeebies personalities were there, almost like an unofficial CBeebies event; Alex, Sid, Andy, Katy and Justin all were present and made it a child's dream! Combined with Dick and Dom, Rastamouse, Hello Kitty, Skylanders, Peppa Pig, Postman Pat, Mr. Men, Cloudbabies, Tickety Toc, Poppy Cat, and Titan the Robot, there was a character there to please every child.
As far as were concerned, Katy Ashworth stole the show with her antics on the Lolli Kitchen stage. A complete natural, she interacted with both parents and children, bringing squeals of laughter during a fairly rubbish rainstorm. Ever the professional, she persevered with a wet stage and a seven month pregnant baby-bump to really show the children a good time and enthrall them. Alex Winters and his partner in crime Jem Frazer, were excellent comperes for the main stage and kept the atmosphere buzzing the entire time.
I will however admit to being a little disappointed with the Justin Fletcher segment. We'd seen him only a few months ago in Cardiff on his tour and he was excellent then, albeit aided by wonderful sets and an excellent cast. This weekend, some of the sparkle had gone from his act although I'm not sure if that was more to do with him being Justin and not dressing up as any of his characters (note to Justin: choosing to do their voices when not dressed as them is a bad move for infants; it confuses and distressed them!). We actually left his show after ten minutes due to poor visibility at the back of the very large crowd, and a daddy with a sore back from The Boy sitting on his shoulders.
Tips for LolliBop
- LolliBop 2013 was sold out on Saturday and Sunday; that means 15,000 tickets were sold for each day. 15,000 people attending mean that visitors will have to queue for some things; toilets, activity sessions and food. However, most of those queues were fairly fast moving, and if comfort breaks and food stops are timed carefully, then the waiting time is reduced.
- There is a huge bank of portaloos along the edge of the park, meaning queues were never very long. They are portaloos so there isn't running water for hand-washing; take wet wipes and antibacterial handgel. Toilet paper was plentiful, but I'm old fashioned and take enough to keep an Andrex factory on its toes.
- There is a huge selection of food stands available around the entire park, there is no need to take a picnic but I would suggest packing grazing snacks so that blood sugar levels (and happiness levels!) are kept even throughout the day. There are also several stands providing free samples of their food, Barny sponge cakes and Chobani yoghurts were two.
- Buy a lanyard programme at the main entrance and identify no more than three or four shows your children would like to see, evenly spaced throughout the day. We found ourselves having to cut off the Sid & Andy show in order to get to see Katy. Likewise we arrived too late for Justin's show and had to stand right at the back with poor visibility. Allow plenty of time beforehand to obtain prime viewing position.
- If doing one of the very popular activities like designing a t-shirt with River Island is a must, then time it carefully and either do it straight away or at the end of the day. Lunchtime and early afternoon will see gargantuan queues.
- Take time out to play under the trees in the Lollipromenade or The Meadows, it will help refresh and calm your nerves!
- Do explore the discovery tents, but do it during one of the larger shows that you won't mind missing as there is more space. We missed out on the National Science Museum tent completely, much to my annoyance and by the time we walked past at 5.50 they were beginning to pack up.
- Take plenty of water and drink a lot. Last year I didn't and ended up dehydrated with near heatstroke.
- Avoid taking a pushchair around the site! We did take one, but only because I was able to dump it in the hospitality tent and I knew that The Boy would be tired walking back to the station afterwards. There were three pushchair parks and I recommend using them, as the main pathway which flowed through the venue was overrun with fraught pushchair parents and even more fraught people trying to guard their ankles. Use a baby carrier or sling if your child is young enough.
Yes, there were queues. Of course there are going to be with 15,000 people on site. I think if a family goes with a strict timetable in mind, and tries to fit in too much or too many organised activities, then that is where discontent (and parental stress!) will set in.
I went last year when the event was held in Regent's Park, and while it was superficially prettier than this year's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, I found it less organised with fewer things to do, and I didn't particularly enjoy it. This year's venue was in the heart of the East End which made travelling to it a little more fraught, but it was in a fairly decent location and much larger with more exciting things to do.
Criticism has been made in other reviews of the lack of trees, quality of the grass and the industrial style building nearby, all of which are unfair on the LolliBop organisers; they are not in control of the wonderful Summer we've had which has blanched the grass, nor were they able to prevent another event happening weeks before which deadened the grass (LolliBop was supposed to have been the only event there this Summer). Likewise they can't control the demolition rate of the building alongside. And trees take a while to grow…
Super Earlybird Tickets for LolliBop were £16.00 each or £62.00 for a family of four. That is incredible value for money, and I would thoroughly recommend buying that price if you're looking to go next year. They then rose in price to £20.00/£78.00 (Earlybird), £23.50/£92.00 (Pre-advanced) and £28.00/£110.00 (Standard Advanced).
Would I have paid £84.00 for the three of us to attend? Yes I would. I paid £75.00 (& booking fee) to see Justin Fletcher in Cardiff for an hour and a half, so I would consider an additional £9.00 to see all of the above stars, shows and activities well worth the money. The Boy had a wonderful time, as did we.
I received free entry into the event and hospitality tent wristbands for the purpose of this review. My opinion is honest and unbiased.