Camp Loner: Meet the people who go to Download Festival on their own

We took a trip to Camp Loner at Download Festival to meet the people who arrive at Donington without a plan or any friends, and found heartwarming community of die-hard rock fans who just want to have a good time…

Camp Loner: Meet the people who go to Download Festival on their own
Words and camper photos:
Chris Bethell

Nestled away in a far flung corner of Download there’s a large black banner that reads ‘Camp Loner’. Under the banner is a campsite dedicated to those that rock up to the festival on their own; people whose mates aren’t into objectively the best music on the planet, their pals weren't organised enough to come, or maybe just people who want to make a bunch of new friends. Camp Loner welcomes anyone of any subculture or creed, with groups of friends ever expanding to the point that they form some of the most raucous circles of camping chairs in the whole site.

We went to Camp Loner to find out what’s so great about going to a festival on your own, then caught up with our four new friends once the dust has settled to see if they'd do it again…

Pre-festivalAndy Brooks, 32

Why is Camp Loner the place to be?
"It’s important to have something like this at a festival because I’ve come on my own, where I’ve always previously come in a group, and sometimes it can be very difficult on your own. Everyone else around you might have a social circle already and you’d be sitting on the periphery of things. Whereas here it’s more a case of everyone being in the same boat – there’s no judgement. Not that there ever is at a festival, anyway."

When did you get here?
"I got here Wednesday, but I don't even know what day it is anymore! It all blurs in to one, I’m assuming it’s Friday!"

What have you done since Wednesday?
"Really good question, I need one of those black boxes that planes have to remember. Mostly I've just been socialising, I’ve met up with other people from the Camp Loner Facebook group. It was great to be able to put the feelers out and meet people online ahead of it. Around the corner everyone sits in a big circle, almost like a parliament really – sitting in chairs, talking and whatnot."

Have you met anyone naturally, away from the Facebook page?
"Yeah! Quite a few; it’s quite a small world when you’re here and start interacting with people. I’m from Maidstone and the first person I spoke to went to a school near where I’m from. You see these people throughout the week and you’re like, 'Alright, geezer!’ and you develop a bit of a rapport from that. Everyone looks after each other too."

Can you tell us a bit about your outfit?
"Yeah, so today Matthew, I’m going to be Hulk Hogan! I’m a big wrestling fan and I thought, 'It’s a bit of a laugh, it’s an exuberant costume and a bit lairy' – which is what I like. I can see where I’ve been in the campsite because I look down and I can see bits of red littered around that have fallen off my feather boa. I’m malting like a peacock. It also makes people laugh and smile and interact with you. I like to wear costumes at festivals because it creates a talking point, and you’ve already got a conversation starter with someone. I can’t even walk 20 metres down the path without someone saying something to me! By the end of it you get given beer; some bloke gave me a shot of rum that was 75 per cent, I thought it was drain cleaner! And it’s great because I probably wouldn’t have had these interactions if i wasn’t dressed like this."

Are you excited for the next few days?
"Oh absolutely, I just hope I remember it. The reason why I came on my own is because I’m married – my wife looked at the line-up and said it wasn’t her cup of tea but encouraged me to go. I love the line-up, great headliners. I’m a massive Iron Maiden fan; Megadeth, KISS, it’s their farewell tour and it’s probably about their 10th farewell. Volbeat, Korn, The Darkness, Steel Panther. I just hope I don’t forget about any of them as I’m one of these people that will probably just fall asleep and wake up at 11pm on Sunday."

Pre-festivalRosie Butcher, 27

Is this your first Download?
"Yes, my first ever one! I got into heavier music over lockdown, I found it was a great way to deal with anger management. I felt so much anger seeing the amount of uncertainty people were going through, and what I think was a terrible level of support that the government were offering them. I got into heavy music and started going to more alt. clubs when lockdown lifted. I then realised I really wanted to try Download at some point in my life. I have friends who are also into heavier music, however none of them were organised enough to get their tickets or their shit together so I came by myself.

"I was feeling a tiny bit nervous, but while walking in I met a guy who was also on his own – George over there in the denim jacket with KISS on the back, and he took me to Camp Loner. I didn’t even know it existed! And honestly it’s just been lovely since then. I’ve met some really cool people. I have learned about some new bands, I've had recommendations for books about corpses, which I’m really excited to read – there’s some morticians with us so I’ve learned so much about dead bodies! It’s been fascinating. I’m having a great time!"

What were you expecting from turning up on your own?
"I was mentally preparing myself, saying, 'It’s not the end of the world if I’m on my own the whole time.' I’ve brought books with me. But, honestly, I have just been outside mingling with people, making new friends and the books aren't going to get read."

What have you been up to with everyone so far?
"We’ve listened to a lot of music, we’ve sat around, chatted a lot, we’ve named our group – Rotten Pussy Loophole. We’ve had some really dark chats!"

Have you all made plans for next year already?
"I have some people’s socials. I know I want to go to Bloodstock if I can get the annual leave, and I’ve met some people who are also going. Honestly, everyone is great, but I might just choose chaos and rock up by myself again because this is lovely!"

Pre-festivalMichael Tuzun, 22

Why Camp Loner?
"It’s my first festival, I'm like a little baby. I came with two friends but they’ve kind of stuck to their thing and I just wanted to have a bit of an opportunity to meet other people. I was always told to make friends wherever you go because you don’t want to be alone. So we pitched our giant tent in Camp Loner, because what’s friendship if you’re not already struggling with common difficulty?! It actually worked out because when the rain came down yesterday we squeezed 15 people into it, just drinking and laughing! So in some ways, even though I look like a massive arsehole for bringing this giant tent, it’s worked out nicely for us."

Had you spoken to anyone here on social media before coming?
"Nope, nothing! I just turned up on Wednesday morning. We were looking for a place to pitch a giant tent because we got in quite late. We found this perfect spot for it and asked the people already here if we could pitch it – everyone made a lot of awful erection jokes and a couple of pegging jokes but they were cool with it."

What have you got planned with everyone?
"Basically just making a note of who we want to see but mostly drinking and laughing, really! Kind of like just wandering around, and we’ve been up to the village a couple of times. Don’t go on the dodgems – everyone up there is violent! I’ve got bruises all up my thighs."

Pre-FestivalDaniel Moth, 30

Why have you come to Camp Loner?
"My friends are in RIP camping!"

Oh, the bastards!
"Yeah, right? They’ve got their own wigwam and I’m just slumming it."

Did you go on the Facebook group to speak to people beforehand?
"No, I’ve been [to Download] a lot of years before and I always fancied Camp Loner because normally you’re with other groups of people and I just wanted to give it a go. Go with no-one and see who you meet!"

When did you get here?
"Wednesday morning, and I met people instantly. I walked up and they shouted at me, ‘Camp Loner! Are you a real loner?’ And I am a loner – it’s a very basic entry fee."

What have you guys been up to?
"Mainly just drinking, chatting and expanding the circle of friends we keep bringing in. Just as soon as you’re set up other people walk in. You can tell someone doesn’t know where they are because they’ve got a bag on, looking for somewhere to camp, and you just start a conversation don’t you? Come on over, bring in a chair!"

Post-festivalAndy Brooks

How was your weekend?
"I’ve had great times at Download before and this one certainly didn’t disappoint! It was fantastic. It was my first time coming alone and I was a bit apprehensive at first, but as the festival went on that didn’t matter!"

Can you tell us about the friends you made?
"So I put the feelers out as I mentioned online, but when I got there it was just one big lovely meet-up. You meet some characters. I met one guy who supported West Ham like I do, but the other guy we were chatting to supported Millwall. There probably isn’t anywhere else in the country that that wouldn't have ended up in a fight! With Download, everyone is together and we’ve got one common purpose. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, who you support, what your job is – you meet these people as the festival goes on and you’re all friends. Walking around and bumping into people is like walking around your own town. They’re not like passing friendships that you don’t speak to again, there’s a proper investment with people, which is quite warming really."

Any favourite memories?
"It’s very hard to nail it to specific memories, but walking around the campsite as Hulk Hogan was great – so many people interacted with me. It was nice to see so many people getting enjoyment from it, I'd put a smile on their face and it’d make me feel better. Also I’d quite often get a drink out of it! I also met a bloke in the arena dressed as The Undertaker and we had a bit of a square-off. One of the strangest requests I had was in the arena – I had a guy who was a massive wrestling fan ask me to leg drop him. I leant back on the bar as though it was the ropes and went at him, he winced a little bit but he shook my hand after and said, ‘Thank you so much!’ Anywhere else I’d be in front of a judge, but it made his day!"

Have you stayed in contact with anyone?
"There’s some that I’ve stayed in contact with on Facebook and there’s a continued element of chats. If we all go back then we’ll definitely make the effort to meet again."

Post-festivalRosie Butcher

How was the weekend?
"It was incredible! It was so much better than I thought it was going to be. I knew I was going to have fun but it was absolutely amazing. From the moment I got in the campsite I was having a lovely time, then Wednesday and Thursday hanging out in Camp Loner I met so many people. Friday, Saturday, Sunday I was mostly in the arena. I really loved the smaller stages and discovered loads of new bands. I think I had a religious epiphany seeing Dying Fetus, which is not something I thought I’d say."

Spending too much time with the morticians?
"Yeah, I think so! I think I now understand them as a band. Seeing them two days in, having not showered for a while, and able to move your body on the front row, I think that’s how you’re supposed to experience that band. I actually lost my phone for two days which didn’t put a dampener on the experience, but got me a little worried, but somebody handed it in which was very kind. They didn’t have to and it made my life so much easier.

"The community at Download is so lovely. I’m in a group chat with the people from Camp Loner now and I’m pretty set on Bloodstock now. I now know a couple of people who’ll be there. I also made friends with some of the security at the front of a few stages – when they weren’t dealing with the river of crowdsurfers! I’ve got very good at ducking and protecting my head."

Can you tell us a bit about the friends you made?
"I’d say the group of morticians were particularly lovely, they were such interesting people. I need to Google their book recommendations now. I also met three absolute gems in their early 20s; because I didn’t have my phone for a while, one of the guys would wake me up every morning so I wouldn’t miss the bands I wanted to see! I ended up not missing anything because I’d just pop my head out of the tent to ask someone what time it was when it was light, sometimes they’d shout back at me ‘It's 4:30am!’ and they’d still be going from last night. I met lots of very kind people."

Post-festivalMichael Tuzun

How was your weekend overall?
"Excellent! I didn’t really have any expectations – I was told to make friends as quickly as possible because you’ll rely on them, but it turned out that it was more that we all bounced off each other and everyone looked after each other. It’s not that I relied, but they were definitely there when I didn’t know I needed them."

Can you tell us a bit about the friends you made?
"We called ourselves The Rotting Pussy Loophole purely because three of us are undertakers. No-one had ever met an undertaker and they wanted to know everything. For some reason people were insistent that being an undertaker meant that if you touch dead bodies, you’re a necrophiliac. It doesn’t!"

Was there anyone specifically that you really got on with?
"Everyone brought something different and got on really well, there was lots of good banter with all of us. I think a lot of us stayed up ’til the early hours when others went to bed early, so there’s some more memories with them because of that. But I wouldn’t say I got on better with anyone more than others. It’s weird finding people so similar to you in a place that’s so far away from everyone’s houses."

Did you watch any bands with them?
"We made a group chat and we’ve been hanging out all weekend! Steel Panther were great, we all closed on that yesterday and were jamming to that pretty heavily."

Will you see your new friends again?
"I hope so! The group chat is still really active – a few people have said they want to have a monthly or bi-monthly Discord video call where we get absolutely smashed and chat shit. Everyone’s all talking about next year already too and how we could all meet up again. I feel like I’ve know these people my entire life, which sounds stupid because I’ve known them since Wednesday. I’ve loved every second of it."

Post-festivalDaniel Moth

How was your weekend overall?
"Fantastic! Camp Loner was a new way of experiencing Download for me. I’ve been 11 or 12 years and I always go with groups of people, but I liked the idea of going on my own. The best part was meeting a whole bunch of new people you’ve never met before and have no prior commitment to, so you can go at your own pace and express yourself however you want. You’re not looking after anyone, that was really nice. You’ve also got a load of people around who are there for themselves and you find people who are going at the same pace you are."

Can you tell us a bit about the friends you made?
"I met a guy called Rory, he was a really, really funny guy. I’d feel bad if I didn’t mention everyone... Lizzy, Hannah, Napalm Beth, Michael, Rosie, Tom, Steven, George and Metal Mickey! Lizzy brought a really good banter to the crowd and was a bit like a mum looking after everyone. Rory came out with the funniest stuff, man."

Did you watch any bands with them?
"Yeah quite a lot, our whole group went to Steel Panther. About 10 of us! We were all sending photos and selfies to each other of where we were – ‘Can you see a man in a red hat?’"

Are you still in touch with them?
"My phone has not stopped buzzing all day! We’ve all been talking about our journeys home. I can’t see it slowing down, to be fair. It’s such a funny group of people."

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