The team behind the Latitude festival

Emma LeeFrom low-key beginnings - boasting an eclectic line-up of music, comedy, literature and theatre - Latitude, the east's answer to Glastonbury, has quickly become one of the highlights of the summer festival season. EMMA LEE meets some of the people behind the scenesEmma Lee

In a picturesque corner of Suffolk the best names in comedy, literature and the performing arts join forces with some of the most exciting established and up and coming music acts to create an experience like no other.

Although it only began three years ago Latitude, held at Henham Park, near Southwold, has quickly become one of the biggest events on the summer festival calendar along with mainstays like Glastonbury and Reading.

Now in its 'fourth edition', which is being staged from July 16-19, its line-up includes music from the Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Editors, Doves and a rare solo performance by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.

It's created a blueprint for other small-capacity 'boutique' events to follow - in its own words it's 'more than just a music festival'.

Comedy performers heading to the sunrise coast include Ed Byrne, Jo Brand and Dave Gorman, plus there's an array of theatre, including performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, poetry, cabaret and film.

You won't find the Arctic Monkeys on stage at Latitude, but you may well spot them in the crowd.

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So what's the secret of its success?

The festival has all the right credentials. Firstly, it's run by a hugely experienced team - it's the brainchild of Melvin Benn and Festival Republic, the company which is also behind the Reading and Leeds festivals and takes care of the production side of Glastonbury.

As for the setting, Henham Park surely rates as one of the most beautiful festival sites in the country, and from the outset it's pioneered green initiatives such as using compostable plates, encouraging festival-goers to travel by bus and train, and a deposit scheme for pint glasses to have as little impact on the environment as possible.

And the festival has managed to tap into a market that was previously not particularly well catered for: families.

One of Sharon Reuben's roles is curator of the children's area at Latitude. As well as providing stimulating activities for youngsters, it's also enabled the festival to forge links with the local community. Considering that the family-friendly aspect of Latitude has become one of its selling points, it comes as a surprise to learn that there almost wasn't a children's area.

'I had to think on my feet the first year,' Sharon says. 'I hadn't done a children's area before - none of us had - and it was an unexpected addition. We were used to working on big rock festivals, but I was up for the challenge, and I had to decide which route I would go down. I decided on two things - that I wanted to reflect the festival itself and create that same environment of art, theatre, music. And I wanted to make it really stimulating and engage children - there's no need to dumb down for kids. They respond well to being stimulated - you don't get that from a bouncy castle,' she says.

It's given Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Suffolk libraries and local youth groups a chance to get involved with the festival.

'After the festival goes it's important that something of quality remains. I wanted to create a community around the kids' area - and now people get together and work on other projects throughout the year. It's created a network that didn't exist before.

All the people who were involved in the first year wanted to come back the next, and for some it's become a fixture in their year.'

For Tania Harrison, the preparations for Latitude never stop. She looks after the arts stages, taking in comedy, theatre, dance, poetry and literature and cabaret.

With 750 acts appearing on those stages alone during the weekend, she's always on the lookout for suitable performers.

'It's a constant 24-seven job. I'm always looking out for interesting and exciting acts. I book all the arts stages, so I'm constantly seeing films, cabaret shows, comedy and meeting people to find out what can and can't be possible at Latitude, see if it can fit in to the festival.

'I think there's definitely a place for a wide variety of entertainment.

'People have wide tastes - they like comedy, they like music, they like reading. It's just natural to put them into a field together.'

Both Sharon and Tania have worked for Festival Republic, formerly Mean Fiddler, for more than a decade, and both joined because of their love of live music.

Latitude is an event that they both feel proud to be associated with - with very good reason.

But don't go thinking that they spend festival weekend hanging out seeing bands. 'I will be incredibly busy,' Tania says. 'I've got more than 750 acts coming and I try to say hello to them all. I'll mainly be dealing with the stage management, artist liaison, and anything that arises. My stages run from 11am-3am, and there's all sorts of things that happen outside of that. My feet never touch the ground,' she says.

Sharon adds: 'There are lots of bands I would love to see, but I get a different pleasure from being at Latitude.

'It's been a very exciting addition to our festival year. It's an event we created ourselves and we are proud of the fact it's been copied left right and centre.

'We've got artists of an incredibly high calibre across the board. I'm very excited about Thom Yorke.

'Like most people who love music I respect him and I felt a flush of pride that he could see something in Latitude.

'Not many musicians have retained musical and professional integrity in the way he has.'

With the line-up almost complete, there's only one thing that could possibly spoil the party - that British pre-occupation, the weather. Is it something they worry about?

'I've been in this industry so long I don't listen to the long-term weather forecast - I only listen two or three days before,' Sharon says.

'There's just no way of knowing. Especially with Glastonbury - the weather can be completely different two or three miles away.

'We've been lucky with Latitude so far, though.

'It has its own micro-climate.'

t Latitude is held at Henham Park, Suffolk, from July 16-19. For information visit www.latitudefestival.co.uk