I went to Parklife for the first time and one thing stood out on a joyous day at Manchester's Heaton Park

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“The real highlight of the day wasn’t the food or drink, or even the music.”

Parklife Festival is one of the premier events on Manchester’s social schedule. It promises great music and great people - and this year it truly delivered.

Now, I am not your usual festival-goer - as a teenager, I was always too fearful of slightly older people offering me drugs and being far too rowdy, and now, as a 22-year-old, I’m too fearful of people my own age offering me drugs - I’m just fine with the rowdiness.

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Despite that, being offered the chance to go to Parklife this Saturday was a chance I couldn’t turn down. I’d always heard stories of people coming away from festivals having made some amazing friends and having some amazing experiences, and I was determined to do the same.

The Parklife 2024 site with the Manchester skyline in the background. Picture: Parklife The Parklife 2024 site with the Manchester skyline in the background. Picture: Parklife
The Parklife 2024 site with the Manchester skyline in the background. Picture: Parklife | Parklife

Right from the point that I got off the bus at Heaton Park, that atmosphere was electric. Thousands of people - mainly young but with a fair few more mature - flocking towards the North Gate.

The air was full of the smell of flowers and cigarettes, with throngs of neon-clad teenagers necking cans and bottles before they reached the dreaded disposal bin. It was probably a 10-minute walk towards the gate, and when I finally reached the back of the queue, my heart sank - I wasn’t sure how I was going to get on if I had to wait in a line that was surely the biggest to ever exist.

There really should have been signs telling me that the VIP entrance was on the other side of the park, but I did eventually find out. 

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When I did get in through the gates, I was struck by how full it was. The time was only 12.15pm, and yet already there were people gathered in front of stages and queuing at the concession stands.

The range of activities was wide, from a Waltzer that had just the right level of excitement, to a Jӓgermeister tent that doubled as a club, everyone was catered to, and the range of food was excellent. Taco trucks, Greek gyros, burgers, vegan options and pizzas - all must have done a roaring trade.

A packed Parklife crowd danced the weekend away at Heaton Park. Picture: Parklife A packed Parklife crowd danced the weekend away at Heaton Park. Picture: Parklife
A packed Parklife crowd danced the weekend away at Heaton Park. Picture: Parklife | Parklife

So the food was good, what of the drinks? The range was as you’d expect, beer and cider were popular, with spirits available too and even a couple of cocktails floating around. Surprisingly, the drink I saw most was Liquid Death, a water brand who have clearly mastered the art of marketing to young people. I also want to throw out a quick kudos to the organisers for the inclusion of multiple soft drinks bars, and a specifically non-alcoholic bar that served 0% cocktails and wines.

The one thing that has to be said about all of this, is that nothing was cheap. Three vegan Katsu strips set me back £8, a meat and rice burrito was £12, and a pint of beer was £6.80. All of this was expected though, it’s just something that you have to know going in.

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The real highlight of the day however wasn’t the food or drink, or even the music - though KiLLOWEN performed excellently early on and headliners Disclosure got the place rocking - it was the people that made it.

I had to sit for a few hours working and would always be willing to give up some space on the table for people to sit. Firstly there was a couple from Portsmouth who had come the year earlier and loved it. They had tried to convince some of the woman’s children along but couldn’t convince them. I heard repeatedly how much they loved it and how much the Jӓgerbombs were - four for £28 if you’re wondering. They sat with me for a long time before plucking up the energy to get back out there.

Later I was joined by another couple who were getting married soon and saw Parklife as the start of a sort of ceremonial tour before their wedding. They offered me a drink and then spoke with them for what felt like a long time about their plans and lives. Again, they had been before and couldn’t imagine not coming again.

There are endless more stories of that, from the group of lads who needed a sit-down before Disclosure started to a group of guys and girls who had not met before noon that day and yet were joined at the hip as though they had been lifelong friends.

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Each of these interactions perfectly sums up what Parklife was and should be. It was  well-organised, well-policed - there were clearly a few people who had managed to sneak in illicit substances, but it would be an impossible task to achieve 100% efficiency - and not to mention well-lit, with the weather providing a welcome backdrop to a brilliant day on Saturday. 

I had not been to Parklife before, but I shall certainly be going again.

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