Peter Gabriel warns he may have to cancel WOMAD without government insurance

WOMAD founder Peter Gabriel has said that this year’s edition of the festival may be cancelled, unless the government offers an insurance program.

All limits on social distancing and crowd capacities were due to be lifted on June 21, however Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced earlier this week (June 14) that this will now not take place until July 19 due to the spread of new COVID-19 variants.

WOMAD is set to begin just three days later on July 22, with Anoushka Shankar, Jordan Rakei, Nitin Sawhney and The Comet Is Coming due to headline.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4‘s Today, Gabriel said that unless insurance is offered, the delay leaves this year’s event in peril.

“In some ways I’m speaking for a lot of the festival industry, particularly the independents, because we’re not asking for handouts,” Gabriel said. “What we need is the security, because most of us can’t take the risk of losing everything once we committed to the set up.”

“Commercial insurance has run a mile, effectively, and you can understand why,” he added. “So if we’re trying to restore cultural life and normality we need a bit of help here. There’s too much uncertainty for most festival promoters to take the risk.”

Asked whether he would consider cancelling the festival without insurance, he said:”I think we have to.

“We’ve been faced with bankruptcy on two occasions previous[ly] and if we’re trying to secure the future of the festival, which is very important to us, and our staff, we can’t risk sinking it this year.”

Robert Plant and Suzi Dian perform during WOMAD 2019. CREDIT: C Brandon/Redferns

In response, a government source told the BBC: “Festival organisers have so far received more than £34 million of our unprecedented £2bn bailout for the arts. WOMAD mentioned today had a £250,000 grant in the first round of funding, and more funding is being made available for those in need”

The lack of festival insurance has already sparked cancellations this summer. The likes of Boomtown and 2000 Trees cited it as a reason for their cancellation in 2021 long before the delay in reopening was announced.

Last month, the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) said they had hit a “brick wall” in talks with the government about an insurance program, and issued a “red alert” after research projected that up to 76 per cent of the remaining festivals in July and August could quickly cancel if immediate action is not taken.

Latitude Festival, which is due to take place the same weekend as WOMAD, announced on Monday that they have not “given up hope” about their 2021 edition taking place and promised a firm decision by the end of the week.

Americana-focused Black Deer Festival, meanwhile, which was set to take place between June 25 and 27, announced its cancellation shortly after the government’s decision.