Katherine and Paul, Greenbelt’s programmers, blog about why they’re excited to welcome Russell Brand to the festival this summer.

We’re still pinching ourselves – because Russell Brand will be with us at Greenbelt 2019!

Millions have been reading his blogs and bookslistening to his podcasts and watching his videos. For many, he has been pretty much the only cultural figure bringing together questions of faith, politics, community, society and meaning and speaking directly to their feelings of disconnect from the world, from themselves and from their governments.

At one stage in his career, Russell was seen as the guy who ‘had it all’; a capitalist ‘god’ – with the money, fame, and Hollywood celebrity to match. And then he turned his back on it all. He renounced that life and that lifestyle, proclaiming loudly and proudly to anyone who would listen that he found it at best unfulfilling and at worst to be creating structures, stories and idols that are leading us all into despair.

What followed was vilification and trial by media. It seemed that people couldn’t handle or understand his change of purpose and direction and his speaking truth to power. Perhaps that’s because he was fast becoming a dangerous figure – even more powerful, in some ways, than he had been before. After all, Russell has more Twitter followers than Madonna and yet, at the same time, in his own inimitable style he’s trying to change his world and the world around him for the better.

No one can accuse Russell of making this change on a whim. He’s immersed himself in studying religion and global politics and has spent his time interviewing academics, faith leaders, politicians and activists with a genuine desire to listen, learn and deepen his (and our) understanding.

But, as Karl Marx famously said: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” And from where we’re standing, this is what we see Russell trying to do. And, sure as eggs is eggs, when someone tries to stand up for what they believe in and to be the change they want to see, they will face a backlash. The Good Book tells us that the most truthful path is rarely the easiest to travel.

Possibly as a result of having to navigate all this negative attention, Russell doesn’t give a lot of interviews. That’s why, in accepting our invitation, his questions have been all about understanding our space, understanding why we’d want to invite him in, understanding what we’d want from him – and then whole-heartedly committing to the idea, but only once all that groundwork was done. This was no slap-bang booking. It has been years in the making – with soul-searching on both ‘sides’. There has been a real reverence about the process.

So why have we invited Russell Brand to Greenbelt? Is it because we agree with everything he says and think he is some sort of millennial messiah? No. Is it because we think he’s a really interesting person on a really interesting journey – wrestling with fame, meaning, humanity, divinity, addiction, theology, philosophy – who we think deserves to be spotlighted in a space like Greenbelt? Yes, absolutely. Has he done things in the past which some people might find uncomfortable? Yes. But who hasn’t?

We know that for some, he is a ‘marmite figure’ who divides opinion. But since when has Greenbelt ever played it safe and comfortable in terms of the content and people we book and platform? And since when do we rush to judgment – without going deeper, reading behind the headlines, and taking time to find out more?* 

In the year when our theme is ‘Wit and Wisdom’, it would seem rude not to have invited Russell Brand! If there were a poll of the wittiest and wisest figures around right now, he’d rank pretty highly. Now it’s our chance to hear from him for ourselves and to find out what makes him tick. And it’s hopefully a chance for him to see, too, that we might just be his people, after all! 

But don’t just take our word for it. Take a look at these links…

Russell’s podcasts and his Trews Youtube content are an alternative source of wisdom in a world seemingly full of fake news.

And here is is:

on God and religion

on how he went mad with fame and celebrity

on how to deal with trolls

on his regret at pranking Andrew Sachs all those years ago

in conversation with biblical scholar and church historian Alister McGrath

* We remember the raised eyebrows when we announced Pussy Riot being in residence with us last summer. Why would we invite a blasphemous act to headline the festival? came the cry. But once we’d all had time to get into things more deeply and then to experience their residency and the Riot Days show itself, there was universal acclaim that this was probably the most seminal, spiritual, political booking of beautiful and faithful resistance we’d ever made as a festival.