[I wrote this pretty lengthy blog post over the course of a couple of weeks, in between university deadlines and other commitments, with an extra helping of brain-fog. It’s not my best ever piece of writing and I debated not posting it at all, but I hope any fellow die-hard Friends fans enjoy it regardless!]
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the TV show Friends. I’ve been obsessed with that programme ever since first stumbling across it, there isn’t often a day that goes by where I don’t watch at least one episode. I can quote whole chunks of dialogue by heart, answer more random trivia questions than anybody I know, and I relate to Chandler Bing on a spiritual level.
Anyway, I first became aware of FriendsFest a couple of years ago. I’ve been waiting patiently for it to come to a location where attending would be do-able for me, so I nearly actually dropped dead when the 2017 dates were announced and the only venue in Yorkshire was… wait for it… Hillsborough Park, Sheffield. The same Hillsborough Park, extremely classy place that it is, is literally five minutes from the house I grew up in.
The day of ticket release for pre-sale fans rolled around and I sat ready with my alarm on, laptop strategically placed for maximum check-out speed, and housemate warned in advance of any impending wailing should I fail in my mission. And alas, impending wailing did come, as the tickets were released and Luna Cinema (the organisers) had a infuriating technical issue that prevented half of the mailing list receiving the link to tickets. To cut a long story short, I EVENTUALLY got tickets for an inconvenient time and day, but tickets nonetheless. So, on Saturday 8th July 2017, I walked into FriendsFest. Here’s what I found…
Around The Park
As an outdoor event, various points of interest were set up in a rough circle, with plenty of space to walk around. There was the main stage, with deckchairs set up in front of it. Attendees could sit and watch some of the best moments of the ten series, and the organisers also had various games and entertainment going on over the time we were there: trivia games, performances and their own version of the renowned Geller Cup.
Then you had Central Perk: a real-life pop up coffee shop where you could grab a hot beverage and join in and clap along with the ace singer and guitarist covering Phoebe’s classic songs. There was also the iconic Central Perk sofa where you could queue up to have your picture taken on it, but sadly this was the only queue that didn’t die down whilst we were there.
There were multiple photo opportunities scattered around the rest of the area: the Vegas chapel where Ross and Rachel got married, the Lincoln High prom backdrop where you could try on Rachel and Monica’s prom dresses, and the fountain and sofa featured in the opening credits, where you could borrow colourful umbrellas and have your photos taken by the stewards (whilst trying not to cringe at all the people stood watching you…).
THEN you had food and drink. There was My Sandwich, where you could try the infamous Moist Maker Thanksgiving sandwich created by Ross, Monica’s Moonlight Diner, hot dog and ice-cream carts, and Mockolate, where you could purchase chocolate-y waffles and other sweet treats. There was also the Chick and Duck Bar, serving Friends-themed cocktails. I went into the event thinking I’d have one of these, but to be honest they didn’t look particularly special/quirky for the price being charged, so I gave it a miss.
The highlight of the whole experience, and the thing that really made it good value for money (in my opinion) was the set tour. When booking your tickets, you’re asked to choose a time slot for the set tour: these took place throughout the day and lasted around 30 minutes each.
The tour takes place inside a big enclosed pavilion divided into three sections. The first section features props and costumes, including Jennifer Anniston’s shoes that are insured for $25,000, aka life goals. I don’t think that’s as likely an achievement for me and my 90p Primark flip-flops. There was the Holiday Armadillo costume, one of Phoebe’s guitars, and even the 16 page letter that Rachel writes to Ross, that it turns out actually is a legit written letter: you don’t hear the full contents of it in the episode, but you can read the first page of it yourself here:
The second Pavillion was Joey and Chandler’s apartment, complete with Foosball table, the BarcaLoungers, the canoe and Huggsy, everybody’s favourite bedtime penguin pal! Next door was the famous corridor area set between the two apartments, and then you went through to Monica and Rachel’s apartment. This one was legitimate apartment goals: as meticulously clean and tidy as Monica keeps it in the show, complete with sofa area, the kitchen table set for tea, the board from the pictionary game, and the famous Peep Hole.
We had roughly ten minutes in each of these rooms to explore and take pictures and let me tell you, it was carnage. People were frantically trying to get their photo opportunities with everything of significance, and it didn’t make for the most pleasant atmosphere. HOWEVER, an excellent Wheelchair Perk presented itself. The staff on the set tour were absolutely incredible: once our ten minutes were up, they cleared everyone from the area (so that pictures of the whole set could be taken without all the stranger photo bombing), and moved them on to the next area. This left me with a blissful couple of minutes to make my own way around the set and get my own pictures. I could feel the rest of the tour members’ gazes burning me, especially when I climbed out of the wheelchair a couple of times *sigh*, but it was WONDERFUL to have that little bit of extra time without the worry of being actually hit in the face by people gallivanting left, right and centre. The staff actively reassured us not to rush, and even offered to take photos for me. Not all heroes wear capes.
Standard tickets were £26.00 each and include entry to the park, and your set tour. However, this was another Golden Wheelchair Opportunity; our carer-inclusive tickets were only £13.00 each. Without the set tour, I would argue that the tickets were poor value for money, however I reckon that element was worth far more than what they were charging.
I’m sure it goes without saying that the food and drink served inside were NOT cheap. There were so many things I wanted to try and just couldn’t bring myself to do it: my mum and I shared a bottle of orange juice for £2.50. TWO POUNDS FIFTY. The merchandise, on the other hand, was actually more reasonable. I bought a Central Perk t-shirt for £8.00 that I’ve already worn my money’s-worth out of, and also a travel mug for £12.00: a little more than I would usually pay, but it was an exclusive and I am but only human. It took physical and emotional restraint not to go back for a cheeky fridge magnet.
I reckon accessibility could have been improved. The event took place in a park, and grass doesn’t make for an easy wheelchair pushing situation. Some kind of flooring (like they use at Winter Wonderland in London) would definitely have made life easier. I also noticed that whilst there were ramps for getting into things, they were slightly counterproductive: there were often very uneven bumps connecting the ramps to the buildings that meant you still had to really haul the wheelchair over them to get through. Again, not ideal. Especially since I have longstanding Wheelchair Trust Issues and legitimately panic when having to be tipped/lifted over things.
Aside from these accessibility shenanigans, things were pretty chronic illness friendly overall. The music wasn’t too loud, there were no flashing lights, and there weren’t hundreds of people crammed into confined areas. I noticed that there were gluten-free food options available (yay!), but couldn’t see any milk/nut free options (as per usual). Although, to be fair, at those prices I probably would’ve ended up eating the grass from the ground below me instead anyway. Student problems.
To summarise this jumbo post, I really enjoyed my afternoon at FriendsFest; I’m SO glad to say I’ve had that experience. There’s something really lovely about being surrounded by people who all adore the same thing you do, and getting to feel that much closer to the show. I’d definitely recommend a visit to any Friends fanatics if the festival ever comes to a location near you… you should be able to find out more here.
If you’ve made it this far, I salute you. Keep scrolling for more pics of the set; I hope you fangirl over them as much as I have.