FriendsFest 2017

Anyone who knows me, knows I love Friends. For 10 glorious years, it was a weekly source of joy for audiences around the world. It appealed to men and women, young and old. Since the show ended in 2004, it has continued to amass a gigantic following, entertaining younger generations and reaching a definitive cult status. In the UK, we were used to watching it on Channel 4, moving to E4 once the series ended and the reruns began. Finally, it’s home in the UK is now Comedy Central, and I really feel they’ve brought the show back to life for new audiences. You can’t really come round to my house without Friends being on in the background (the only other exception being RuPaul’s Drag Race), and I will often ignore my guests in favour of quote-a-long-a-Friends-episode.

I genuinely feel lucky that I was born in 1990 because I had the opportunity to watch Friends as it was broadcasted for the first time. I remember really getting into it from the age of 12, and being allowed to stay up and watch when it was on Channel 4 at 9pm. I remember the run up to season 10 being advertised, and the heartbreaking truth that Friends would indeed be coming to an end. I was one of the millions of people around the world who held their breath to see if Rachel got off the plane (though I now feel differently given how Ross treated her!). I went through phases of being inspired by each of the girls’ style, with trippy-hippy-Phoebe handbags and coats, mimicking Rachel’s effortless layered hair style, and rocking bootcut jeans and tailored shirts a-la Monica. That’s enough reminiscing about 90’s fashion…

It’s safe to say Friends had a pretty massive influence on my childhood, and I’m not alone. You can make connections in a room full of strangers if someone recognizes a sneaky Friends quote. You can bond with new acquaintances over an obscure reference. You can even turn any public holiday into an excuse to re-enact your favourite moments (pumpkin pie with a Mockolate cookie crumb crust, anyone?). It wasn’t until recently that I realized that I am now the same age as Ross was when the show began (26/27). The other characters were slightly younger, with Monica and Rachel both 25 at the time. The show began with a privileged Rachel running out on her wedding, Ross being left by his wife (who realized she is gay), Monica dating a fuckboy, Joey with no work and Phoebe busking in the subway. Friends has provided me with a unique and interesting perspective; comparing my relationships/career/financial status to those of our beloved characters at that age, I’m actually not doing too bad!

This week, I got to attend ‘the ultimate Friends experience’ after months of anticipation! FriendsFest is an event run by Comedy Central in partnership with The Luna Cinema. In previous years, it has only taken place in London, and sold out on every date. This year, FriendsFest finally went on tour to 6 locations in England, with 9/10 dates to choose from at each location. I didn’t need any persuasion to sign up for the pre-sale, and got my tickets for Manchester way back in March. I’ve spent the last few months buzzing, sharing the enthusiasm with my beautiful best friend Kellie. The event took place in Heaton Park, a large historical estate outside of Manchester city centre with plenty to see and do. Kellie was particularly smitten with this gorgeous path shaded by bowing trees:

 We anticipated a bright but grey day, nothing too dramatic weather-wise, so we wore our comfortable and practical Vans trainers. I chose to wear my super comfy ASOS Jumpsuit featured in this post, and my cat brooch in honour of Smelly Cat. Thankfully, the rain didn’t fall and the sun shone sporadically between grey clouds. Unfortunately, the event had already been running for 4 soggy days prior to our arrival, and the ground within the festival was a slippy, sludgy mud pit. Such a shame, as the organisers could have foreseen this and sourced some plastic/wooden palettes to create walkways. It did make getting around the attractions very difficult, and I felt very sorry for those who had worn sandals/pumps, as they were caked in mud within minutes. It wasn’t a huge layout, and the organisers made a rookie error by not preparing for our traditional British weather.

Still, walking through the gates emblazoned with infamous quotes from the show while ‘I’ll Be There For You’ playing on repeat was enough to make me forget the mud and enjoy the atmosphere. Kellie, not so much, but she is historically anti-mud, especially when she’s looking super fleeky (which is always), so you can understand why I was incredibly proud of her when she completed Pretty Mudder earlier this year for Cancer Research UK. You go girl! We began to navigate our way across the event. One of the biggest features is a replica studio of full scale sets including the boys apartment, the hallway, and the girls apartment. Our tour time was within 15 minutes of arriving, so we joined the queue. It wasn’t long before we were guided into the first part of the tour, which is an exhibition of genuine props, costumes and memorabilia from the show. I was absolutely thrilled!

On the left, Kellie and I are standing underneath the actual neon sign that hung above the audience during filming of every live episode. On the right, we were presented with an iconic outfit worn by each character during filming. Do you recognize Monica’s risky piano bar blouse? Of course, our favourite outfit had to be Ross’ short lived leather trousers, and the actual Holiday Armadillo (terrifyingly massive)!

The displays contained uniquely special props from the show. There were handwritten vows between Monica and Chandler, Rachel’s 18 page letter to Ross (front and back), Phoebe’s sister’s porn VHS, and Joey’s Soapie Award (that wasn’t really his). We saw the ugly ‘Best Buds’ gold bracelet from Joey to Chandler, an original Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E script and an original Days Of Our Lives script alongside Dr. Drake Ramoray’s medical coat and stethoscope. If you follow me on Instagram (link on the right!), you’ll see my delight at standing with the actual Big White Dog statue that graced the boy’s apartment for many years. It truly was a treasure trove of incredibly personal and historical props, and I didn’t expect to be treated to so much nostalgia in one room.

Next, we were ushered onto the ‘set’, where the boy’s apartment was free to roam. Of course, these are not the original sets or the original props, but the attention to detail was incredible and the scale seemed perfect!

Guests got to sit in the canoe, or take a selfie with Hugsy on the sofa. We were too busy laughing over the tube of Ichiban on the shelf, but we did get a great picture with the Etch A Sketch on the door:

Opportunities for photos were very limited, and the tour guides were trying to hurry people along. While many were still shuffling around the boy’s apartment, we snuck into the hallway and asked a lady to capture some snaps. She managed to take this lovely photo of us:

It sums up our friendship pretty well, we are always there to make each other laugh! Next was the girl’s apartment, where a lot of the storylines in Friends unfolded. I couldn’t resist reenacting Phoebe’s pregnancy method, cooling off in the fridge and opening Monica’s secret messy cupboard!

Kellie was a lot more ladylike and I took a gorgeous pic of her relaxing in the window. The gift shop on site had a lot to offer, but I was smitten with a poster of the French artwork in Monica’s apartment and now have one at home for my own wall! Finally, we got a moment to stand in front of the iconic door that featured in the final scene of Friends. Yes, yes, I know: Kellie is absolutely beautiful and I tell her as often as I possibly can!

After walking around under the studio lights, it was nice to get out in the fresh air. The Luna Cinema sets up a huge screen for every FriendsFest where best-of moments play all day and performers lead sing-a-longs of Phoebe’s songs. You can choose to have coffee from Central Perk, milkshakes from Monica’s Moondance Diner, or a cold alcoholic drink from the Chick & Duck bar for relatively reasonable prices. I chose a cider, and we relaxed into some deck chairs to rest our feet and enjoy some scenes.

Other attractions round the grounds included the Vegas Wedding Chapel where Ross and Rachel said their I-dos, and a replica background of the girl’s high school prom photos in the 80s. There was a New York police car, and a replica of Phoebe’s beat up yellow taxi to take photos in too. The set of Central Perk was not really to scale and not the same layout, but it was still a nice experience and perfect for photos:

Another advertised plus was the opportunity to recreate an image from the title sequence of the show. We joined a large queue that thankfully didn’t take too long, and got this awesome picture taken by the handy Crew members, who were happy to help take pictures throughout the day for any guests:

All in all, FriendsFest is definitely the ultimate Friends experience in the UK, and I don’t know how they could out-do themselves next year. I would heartily recommend it for any Friends fan, and it’s a great day out especially when you’re with your bestie! Keep your eyes peeled in early 2018 when they will no doubt be advertising the event once more, and make sure you sign up for the pre-sale as tickets sell out fast!

Every time I watch a episode of Friends, I’m able to relate to new things. As my choices and opportunities change and grow, I can appreciate a character’s storyline in a way I haven’t before. Obviously Friends is predominantly a comedy, meaning even the most heartbreaking situations had a little light shed on them. In a way that has helped me too, and I’m grateful that Friends tackled a lot of serious adult subjects with a smile. I don’t let Friends give me a rose-tinted view of the world, and I’m quite aware that I should not be dealing with every life-lesson through the advice of 6 fictional characters. That being said, I feel it should be recognized that although it was filmed throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s, Friends has remained timeless in it’s themes and humour. This is why I’ll continue loving Friends, and I can always rely on it as a source of warmth and happiness.


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