Over the years I've managed to blag my way into various gigs and club nights using a few fairly simple swindles: climbing over roofs, agreeing to work the bar then saying I'm ill, successfully pretending to be an artist called "DJ Dirt-E" (somewhere in Leeds, there is a bouncer who proudly took a photo with me in this guise; to him, I am sorry).
It's not big and it's not clever, but – in my defence – every time I've done this kind of thing it's been because I had zero money and no way of getting in. Related: I'm skint at the moment, so decided to see how far I could push my scams by creating a load of festival-related personas and trying my luck at the gates.
The journey began on a Friday, at a festival in Hackney's Victoria Park, which I went to in fancy dress as a security guard. Thanks to the festival hierarchy, there aren't too many people in a position to question you; as a "guard" your authority ranks below DJs, promoters and the police, but above basically anyone not in a hi-vis jacket.
The outfit cost £12 in total: a fiver for the coat, another fiver to get the word "SECURITY" and some meaningless numbers printed on the back, and two quid for the armband. In the armband, I placed an old access card for an office I used to work in, wrapped in a blue plastic bag.
Before I'd even reached the site, someone asked me for the way to the staff entrance. I pointed him in the right direction and reminded him to have his ID ready. Then I just went for it, through the staff gate. A policewoman wished me a good afternoon, a genuine security guard apologised for bumping into me – and that was it: I walked straight past everyone. Kind of anticlimactic.
While I strolled around, the photographer Josh tried his luck at three entrances, claiming he was employed by the festival. That was a no-go, potentially because he had absolutely nothing to suggest he should be there, so I went back out to escort him in. We trekked with purpose through the artist entrance, and I walked straight past the metal detector and staff, but Josh got stopped.
"Is he media?" asked a stocky man in his mid-twenties.
"Yes," I replied. "He's with us."
"Oh, yeah, he needs a pass."
"I'm taking him to the accreditation now."
We walked to the main entrance and did the same thing; this time, it worked a treat. In an astonishing turn of events, the G4S guards asked me if they should search Josh's bag. "Yes," I instructed them, and after that we trundled off to watch Elder Island.
Buoyed by the previous day's effort, on Saturday we headed to a dance music day festival at Finsbury Park. I had a high-vis jacket with "LITTER" and some more random numbers printed on the back, and an "Aidapt handy reacher grab stick" purchased from Argos for £9.99. I hovered around the periphery, picked up the odd bit of waste and flung it into a bin bag.
Spotting an opportunity – one steward stood on the back entrance with no security in sight – I slipped in unchallenged and walked around behind the stage.
"Oi, mate," I heard, almost immediately. I ignored the call and concentrated on some discarded rubbish. "Oiiii, MATE!" I turned round to find a large bouncer, in a white high-vis, jogging directly towards me.
"Where's your pass?" His suspicious eyes narrowed. This guy was clearly on it. "I’m a litter picker, on Chris's team," I said. His face softened, but he told me I couldn't be there. I needed to walk through the front entrance, he said. As he escorted me off the site, I paused to pick up some litter for dramatic effect. Call me "method", call me "devoted to my craft" – I am both of those things.
At the other side of the site, I fabricated an appropriate walk. More of a saunter, with my eyes dancing around the floor for cigarette butts, rather than the uber-confident stride I adopted as "a security guard". Annoyingly, it was early in the festival and there wasn't much litter about.
"Can you drop some litter to justify my job?" I joked with security as I ambled past them into the site. They laughed, I laughed – we were all having fun.
This is one I've wanted to try for a while. I borrowed an apron and chef trousers from a friend, grabbed a tea towel from my kitchen and headed back to the same dance festival. I always imagined that I would walk in with a full crate of water hoisted above my head (it's all about the accessories; the little touches) but the litter picker costume had ended up costing me £20 and blowing my budget, so instead I opted for some cups I'd found on the floor.
I marched through the staff entrance. "Have you got a wristband?" an exhausted guard, sitting on a camping chair, asked in a way that suggested he could not care less whether or not I had a wristband. "Sure," I responded, showing him an old Boomtown crew wristband from 2016, thinking I'd be rumbled.
But no: quite the opposite: "Thanks," he replied, and waved me through.
On Sunday, we chose a house festival in Peckham Rye Park. I was going to pretend to be a rigger. Borrowing the equipment – a high-vis puffer jacket, a hard hat, a few carabiner clips and a glove (I could only get hold of one) – was simple enough in London, even on a bank holiday.
I circled the perimeter of the site while Josh circled the perimeter of the park, holding one of the most conspicuous cameras I'd ever seen. He took the occasional random photo so it didn't look like he was focusing on me too much, plus he had a story about working on a festival fashion project should he arouse anyone's suspicion.
This was a small event; entrances were limited. I decided on the main entrance, even though a rigger probably wouldn't get in that way. After storming past everyone unchallenged, I went directly to the crowd of people converging in front of the main stage. As I danced, I periodically glanced up at the infrastructure, in the same way an artist would admire their finished work.
Later that day, at the same festival, I retreated to the bushes surrounding the site to change clothes and have a crack at getting in as a DJ. I was once mistaken, by a woman working in PR, for the DJ Jasper James, despite us looking nothing alike, so I guessed this wouldn't be too hard. I was going to have to brave it at the artist gate using the name of a fictional man: DJ Dirt-E. I had no emails to back up my claims, or anyone I could ring to corroborate my story. Not only that, but nobody – bar a lone bouncer in Leeds – had ever heard of DJ Dirt-E.
The outfit cost nothing: I just wore my normal clothes, borrowed a friend's record bag and held my battered headphones in my hand (accessories, remember). I approached the artist entrance, a small gap in the fence, and prepared to tell them, with utter conviction, that I was DJ Dirty-E and had a set at 7PM. But they asked me nothing. It was bizarre. Nobody even asked me who I was. A woman just told me that they had run out of wristbands and I would have to stay backstage for 20 minutes.
I then got searched – which I hadn't thought through, because, when they opened my bag, instead of records there were hi-vis jackets, a radio and a singular glove.
"Do you work here?" the bouncer asked.
"I've just come from a rigging job."
"Okay, but don't put your high-vis on in here."
"No, I wouldn't do that."
I was soon dancing in a dome tent, trying not to piss too many people off with my large bag. At the bar, a guy saw my headphones and asked me what time I was on. "7PM, main stage," I replied in a heartbeat. "Nice, I'll be watching that," he replied.
Three days, three festivals, five techniques – every single one of which worked. Heads up to all you security teams out there, and my apologies, scammers, for revealing your trade secrets.