Merk argiewe: largest

The world’s largest Elvis festival is in Waleswith hundreds of impersonators

LORD almighty, I feel my temperature rising.

Daar is Elvises everywhere — on stages, in streets, on rollercoasters— and I don’t know which way to turn.

Every September, the Victorian seaside town of Porthcawl hosts the world's largest Elvis festival

Every September, the Victorian seaside town of Porthcawl hosts the world’s largest Elvis festivalKrediet: Mike Venner
More than a hundred ETAs (Elvis Tribute Artists, as they prefer to be known) come to pay homage to the King

More than a hundred ETAs (Elvis Tribute Artists, as they prefer to be known) come to pay homage to the KingKrediet: Mike Venner

I’m at the largest Elvis festival of its kind in the world, according to organisers, and it’s held in a small town in South Wallis with no connection to the singer (although the Preseli Hills and parish of St Elvis aren’t too far away).

Every September, the Victorian seaside town of Porthcawl gets all shook up as 40,000 Elvis fans treble its population.

Over three days, more than a hundred ETAs (Elvis Tribute Artists, as they prefer to be known, eerder as Elvis impersonators) come to pay homage to the King.

But it’s not just the acts, who can spend thousands on their costumes, that are a spectacle.

Regular visitors are dressed up too.

A sea of quiffs dominates the seafront, and rhinestone-studded, caped jumpsuits stand out among Priscilla wedding dresses, GI uniforms and Hawaiian shirts.

They come for the shows — hundreds and hundreds of them, in every possible venue — and pack out the streets, tralies, cafes and hotels.

Although the official shows are held in the Grand Pavilion, one of the best-preserved 1930s dance hall theatres in the country, “every pub in Porthcawl does something to do with it”, founder and organiser Peter Phillips tells me.

He says the festival is crucial to local businesses, bringing in an annual figure “probably exceeding £6million” to the former 1950s miners’ retreat.

The whole town seems to join in, from the Coney Beach pleasure park to fast-food joints — so there may well be a guy who works down the chip shop who swears he’s Elvis.

At the Hi-Tide pub alone, 68 ETAs are putting on a whopping 220 shows over the weekend.

Intussen, thousands pack into the Grand Pavilion to watch full Vegas-style converts backed by the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra and the Maesteg Gleemen Male Voice Choir.

Never mind Elvis has left the building — he’s saved it.

In 2004, amid rumours of the Pavilion’s closure, Peter came up with an idea for a show to revive its fortunes — the Grammys for Elvis tribute acts.

Then the Hi-Tide pub agreed to take part, and they suggested making a weekend of it.

“Suddenly, it was an Elvis festival,” Peter says.

Outside the pavilion there’s the Hound Dog Fun Show.

In previous years, it’s been the backdrop for Elvis-themed weddings.

Those looking for a little less conversation and a little more action in between shows can head to Coney Beach and its traditional seaside funfair, arcades, donkey rides and fish and chips.

They can even recreate scenes from Elvis film Blue Hawaii as Porthcawl Rest Bay Beach is one of Wales’s best for beginner surfers.

Or they can wear out their blue suede shoes along the Wales Coast Path’s Glamorgan Heritage coastline, a 14-mile stretch of dramatic cliffs and secluded coves to Aberthaw.

‘RIDICULOUS NOTION’

The area is also home to country parks, castles and wildlife havens.

A few miles from Porthcawl at Merthyr Mawr Warren National Nature Reserve, you can sled down the Big Dipper, Europe’s second-highest sand dune.

The festival is now in its 18th year and is so popular hotels within a 30-mile radius sell out up to a year ahead.

The secret to its success, says Peter, is there’s something for everyone.

Hy voeg by: “We get the right balance between top-quality Elvis shows and a party.

We take the big shows very seriously but don’t take the rest seriously at all. Dogs dressed as Elvis? Bring it on.

“The clue is also in the name. The Porthcawl Elvis Festival is so ridiculous — a ridiculous notion that a little rundown seaside town in South Wales thinks it can put on the biggest Elvis festival in the world.”

Next year’s one will be even bigger, with a new Elvis Pride event.
Forty-five years from his death, it seems fans still can’t help falling in love with Elvis.

At the Hi-Tide pub alone, 68 ETAs are putting on a whopping 220 shows over the weekend

At the Hi-Tide pub alone, 68 ETAs are putting on a whopping 220 shows over the weekendKrediet: Mike Venner

GAAN: PORTHCAWL

BLY DAAR: Rooms at the Best Western Heronston and Spa Hotel in Bridgend, seven miles from Porthcawl, start from £80 a night.

PLAYING THERE: The next Porthcawl Elvis Festival is held from September 22 aan 24, 2023.

Tickets are on sale now at elvies.co.uk.