This much I know: Avril Stanley

Running festivals is a roller coaster, white-knuckle ride of a job.

This much I know: Avril Stanley

It’s not a job, actually, it’s a vocation. You never know what you will be up against — from the forces of nature or the competition — there is nothing secure about this type of work.

I was an outspoken, precocious child. Definitely a rebel. I tried to be good but I was the one who got into trouble without even meaning to — the lid would fly off the bottle of ketchup when I was shaking it, the best gold plate would fall off the wall when I ran into the room.

We grew up between Galway’s Loughrea and by a lake in the wilds of Canada where we went swimming every day, surrounded by frogs and badgers and racoons and squirrels. I want that sense of nature, outdoors and freedom to be infused into Body&Soul.

My personal life becomes chaotic during the final stages of festival production. It’s like another child — there is my son, who is five, and then there is the festival — both require huge amounts of care and nurturing.

To cope with the pressure, I frequently stop to allow myself to catch a breath and I make sure to do yoga a couple of times a week.

My dad is an entrepreneur and had a huge influence on me growing up. Getting a permanent, pensionable job was never really an option for me. I did a degree in Italian and French, but, in my 20s, I couldn’t find my niche. The pressure I felt to do so was excruciating. I could not find where I belonged, so I took the path of least resistance and went travelling.

I didn’t have a plan, but travelling helped me get to know myself, and my limitations. It let me grow a little.

So far life has taught me to let the beauty of what you do be what you love.

Burning Man is a festival in Nevada where the participants create the experience collectively. You have to come prepared with your own water and food. You help to build the art and entertainment. Going there was the biggest catalyst in my life. Seeing what the power of community and group effort could achieve committed me to the path I’m on.

I trained as a psychotherapist, and shiatsu therapist, in the UK. I knew I had to choose between working as a therapist, or commit to festivals — I couldn’t do both. So, I decided to bring the holistic side of things to the festivals. Body&Soul grew in a very organic way; it started as part of the Big Chill in the UK, then Electric Picnic in Ireland, and then evolved into a stand alone.

It is not a commercial festival, we are driven by passion. We want people to have experiences and leave with memories — to send them back thinking ‘Anything is possible’, or asking ‘Why am I not doing something that sets me alight?’

We intentionally attract an older audience and create the type of festival we’d like to go to ourselves — where you can be awestruck that the main stage is built from wood from the surrounding area, go to a pop-up restaurant for a five-star four-course meal by the Noma chefs, bring your children and see their amazement as they watch trapeze shows in the trees, or stare in wonder at a performer who juggles fire and swallows swords.

I’m a perfectionist. I spent years wondering when that aspect of my personality was going to change, but have come to accept it’s just part of who I am. That quality has a downside, I ought to delegate more, but it also makes me reach high and achieve more.

The best piece of advice I’ve come across is from Anais Nin, ‘There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom’.

Avril Stanley is Festival Director of Body&Soul which runs from Jun 21 to Jun 23 in Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath.

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