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Cathy St Germans: My West Country

Cathy St Germans: My West Country

Last year at the Port Eliot Festival I watched the iconic feminist, writer and activist Gloria Steinem being interviewed by Port Eliot’s Countess and festival founder Cathy St Germans. It was one of the highlights of the event for me not just because Gloria was as compelling and inspirational as you would expect but because of the evident closeness, support and warmth the two women shared. Cathy’s husband, Peregrine, 10th Earl of Germans had sadly passed away only a few days before the festival and a devastated Cathy was fulfilling his final wishes to make the festival the best yet. It felt like the entire audience, steered by Gloria, was willing her on.

Cathy pulled off that festival with the style, grace and fortitude that I imagine accompanied her throughout her career as a journalist, that caught the heart of Peregrine and that has co-created the brilliant summer festival in the garden of her home. Inspired by literature, music, craft, food and fashion, this year’s festival has the welcome and much needed theme of The Summer Of Love.

We caught up with Cathy as she heads into the final few weeks of organisation and asked her to share her West Country with us.

We cannot wait for the end of July! Where did The Summer of Love idea come from and what can we expect?

The inspiration came direct from our friendship and partnership with the great countercultural artist, Nigel Waymouth, founder of the genuinely legendary ‘60s boutique, Granny Takes a Trip. We have been friends for ages and he has kindly created this year’s distinctive and beautiful artwork for us. The combination of his images and the anniversary of the original Summer of Love, of which he was a big part, led us to think about a ‘new’ Summer of Love theme. Added to this, the unremittingly downbeat and depressing news that has been foisted upon us in the past year or so has meant that we’re all a bit desperate for a bit of love and positivity in the world for a change and a reminder that people are kind and generous.

Is there anyone or anything you would love at the festival who has eluded you so far?

Patti Smith and Alice Oswald: I would love them to come and hope someday they will both make it.

What are you most looking forward to over the festival weekend?

I am really excited about the new Art School Stage I have created, in the Orangery garden, we are going to have life drawing, Fashion Illustration, landscape drawing, botanical drawing, and also Master Class Tutorials with the likes of Giles Deacon, Zandra Rhodes, Stephen Jones and Plymouth College of Art. With what is happening to arts subjects in schools and the huge cuts to the syllabus the new Art School stage has an important role to fill.  

I think one of the great moments is when the gates open and people come on to the site for the first time. There’s a certain unmistakable atmosphere that settles on the site once the festival starts. It’s a combination of feverish activity  but also a lovely half-paced feeling of relaxation that only increases as the event moves into the weekend.

How does your schedule work across those four days?

I’m busy with all manner of things – on stage and off – and things crop up all the time – problems to be solved but also lovely meetings with festivalgoers and friends and artists. Sunday evening feels very pleasant!

How do you relax when you take time away from the organisation of a successful festival and the running of an estate?!

I go to Hawaii and surf!

Where is the best place for a beach campfire party?

By the boathouse at Port Eliot, looking out on St Germans estuary, and hearing the night jars calling as it is gets dark.

Where do you like to eat out in the southwest?

I love the Carew Arms in Torpoint, which has a woman head chef  - Emily Watkins - (Great British Menu, Kingham Plough & The Fat Duck) and Jack Clayton (The Gurnard’s Head) and I like to support women.

What do you like to cook in the kitchen at Port Eliot?

I love cooking anything really, but some favourites are crab, and other shell fish from Mathew Stevens in St Ives. I love making poke, a Hawaiian raw fish dish which is incredible with Mathew’s stunningly fresh fish.

What is your favourite place to sit in the house and/or gardens?

On a bench tucked into a laurel hedge below the maze and above the view looking out across the estuary to Brunel’s viaduct, which traverses the garden.

You have such a brilliant team around you, how do you all celebrate during or after the festival when everyone else has packed up and gone home?

The Festival works because it is not put together by just one person, but a whole dedicated team. We stay up v late on the Sunday night usually. No one can sleep on the last night, we are usually all exhausted but so happy.

Pictured below Port Eliiot by Michael Bowles


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