Last weekend Geraldine Carton, a self-proclaimed sceptic with a crippling gym allergy attended Wellfest, Ireland’s biggest health and wellness festival. This is her take on the event.
I would rather dunk my head in a bowl of organic hot sauce than ever engage in a “burpee”, and the thought of squatting makes me wince. I’ve also seen enough things in my time to make me suspicious of every health food vendor I meet. All things considered, you might understand my initial nerves upon arrival at Wellfest, Ireland’s biggest health and wellness festival.
As I entered the grounds I braced myself for toned, tanned individuals showcasing the usual array of “clean eating” gimmicks preaching the same rigmarole of “you too can be as perfect as me!”. Thankfully, my expectations and worries were made in vain. A few minutes spent roaming around the Wellfest arena assured me that the days of “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” brainwashing are no more. The industry has undoubtedly received a few knocks in recent years, but it seems it was all for the best because now the focus is on fact-based nutrition, scientific research and attempting to make exercise fun.
In an attempt to fit in with the Wellfest crowd (comprising of yoga, fitness, health and general wellbeing enthusiasts) I wore what I knew was in keeping with the industry style: black lycra leggings and a black lightweight puffa jacket. As it turned out, a variation of this ensemble was donned by at least 85% of my fellow attendees. “When in Rome”, as they say.
Put simply, going to Wellfest in a hungover state is not an experience I would wish upon my worst enemy, such is the incredible level of energy, enthusiasm and zest for life that Wellfest attendees exhibit. Powered by copious amounts of protein bars, protein popcorn, protein smoothies, and just straight-up protein powder, attendees are visibly bursting with this elixir of life. In every corner you look there are people jumping, lunging, dancing, prancing and hand-standing. And that’s only in the food tent area. Cast your gaze to the actual activity stages, and you’ll notice the intensity of these activities ramp up exponentially.
A festival unlike others, here the drug of choice is positivity, and people are high as kites off the stuff. Booze is swapped for “booch” (kombucha) and the only chips available are the sweet potato kind, sprinkled with love and chilli flakes, as opposed to lashings of curry sauce and a snowstorm of salt. This must be the only festival you’ll attend and come out feeling healthier than when you came in.
Health and wellness has become today’s answer to religion, and one can’t help but notice that Wellfest has a slightly religious (and, dare I say, almost culty?) vibe to it. At any one moment you’ll find masses of people congregating in front of a preacher (hunky health man Joe Wicks always has a particularly attentive congregation); following a sequence of set movements (squats have taken genuflections to a whole other level) and reciting prescribed phrases (instead of muttering “peace be with you” you scream “WOOO! WORK IT GIRL!”). Even the queues for the free food samples have a distinct “communion line” feel to them.
The weather was also heavenly for most of the day; with the sun shining down on the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in a way that felt like God himself was giving the gathering a virtual fist pump of approval. It wasn’t until the late afternoon that the apocalyptic rain began its downpour, but even that couldn’t stop a huge crowd staying behind to catch Davina McCall speak in a candid conversation with Kathryn Thomas. This was a particular highlight for all in attendance as Davina opened up about her troubled past (even she has dark days) and demonstrated her iconic “joie de vivre”, finishing with an impressive and unexpected twerking performance.
Is this for real?
No matter how intensely I examined the faces of the personal trainers, yogis and stall holders, I couldn’t spot the dead stare of people who secretly hate their life. The smiles really did reach right up to their eyes, and not in the disconcerting I’m-going-to-cry-myself-to-sleep-as-soon-as-this-is-over kind of way, either.
It seemed that the impossible was becoming plausible, and even probable; these people genuinely believe in what they are doing and they really do practice what they preach. Their conviction was infectious and although I might have entered the Wellfest grounds with a healthy dose of scepticism, I left with my metaphorical walls smashed to smithereens.
Not just a passing craze
It’s all too easy to write off something like Wellfest as cult-like, or just another passing craze that feeds on millennials’ obsession with physical perfection, but the reality is that investing in one’s health and wellbeing is no bad thing, especially when it’s presented in such an encouraging, accessible and invigorating way. Resist as you may, but a visit to Wellfest is sure to leave you squatting into formation alongside your fellow devotees, whether you like it or not.
And with that I say, namaste.