Growing up in Dubai, formerly a part of the Great British informal empire in the Persian Gulf, it is not at all surprising that studying in an international school I would be surrounded by Brits. Moving to the Philippines, I still look for the little things that remind me of my roots, like poppies on Remembrance Sunday or mince pie and mulled wine on Christmas.
Which is why I absolutely love the Great British Festival at Bonifacio High Street! A weekend event celebrating everything English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh from the 27th of February 27 to the 1st of March, there were fashion shows, movie screenings, and even an orchestra to cap off the three-day event. I stopped by BHS on Sunday, curious to see what the folks at the British Embassy had put together – and I was not disappointed!
The whole BHS strip was cordoned off and sectioned out to highlight the various activities each sector had to offer. Guests were encouraged to visit all the booths and get two stamps per department to be eligible to join the grand draw later in the evening, where the British Embassy raffled off a trip to London for two, compliments of Etihad Airways.
There were scale models of popular British landmarks placed around the strip – like Bukingham Palace, Big Ben, and Stonehenge – which made for fun, Godzilla-ish photo ops. The more popular replicas that people were lining up for to get their picture taken at was the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, the TARDIS from Dr. Who, and the iconic red telephone box.
An ode to Formula 1 (which is also a British invention, btw), pretend to be a race car driver and try your best not to blow yourself up by crashing on the side of the road with The Grid‘s racing game, a huge hit at the festival.
I totally geeked out at the Cities of the Future exhibits that featured interactive designs of iconic UK designs and projects by British companies such as low carbon innovations from Shell, solar panel technology from Proinso, a solution to a cleaner, safer, and efficient railway system from Integrated Transport Planning, and cutting-edge, bespoke engineering solutions from the likes of Arup and David Brown.
The autoshow was quite the showstopper, with reliable British brands bringing out their best cars – MINI, Jaguar, and Land Rover all showing off their wares, but the most impressive was Morgan Motor‘s Plus 4. Who knew they still sold these classic beauts in the Philippines?
On the far end of Bonifacio High Street, the Great British Food & Drinks Festival was happening, and when it comes down to my supply of ginger nut biscuits, crumpets, British bacon, marmalade, sandwich pickle, custard creams, malt loaves, and read-to-eat Indian curries, Marks & Spencer is the only brand in this country that can deliver the lot (along with very British knickers). The double decker pop up shop was absolutely delightful, although I think they sold more biscuits than anything else that day.
Another iconic British brand that had a booth that day was Twinings of London, selling some of their more popular teas like their Earl Grey and Lemon and Ginger, to their harder to find teas like Lemon Twist, and Raspberry and Echinacea, which both taste amazing when served iced.
Although I currently live in the south, I do the bulk of my ‘indulgent’ shopping at Marketplace by Rustan’s in Rockwell once a month in order to simply stock up on Waitrose products like affordable wines (with descriptions of dry, sweet, fruity, etc. on the labels for informed guzzling), bottles of Ginger Ale and Lemon Squash, raspberry and apricot jams, fruit and nut muesli, Seville orange marmalade, and every now and then I’m lucky to come across a squeezy of brown sauce or a bottle of creamed horseradish. As chuffed as I am with the influx of British brands at Rustan’s, I do wish they could import Hovis as well – we could all use some proper British bread.
The Union Jack Tavern, a pub in Filinvest in Alabang, catered most of the drinks at the festival, and I was ecstatic to discover they served Woodpecker Cider! In fact, I was a bit too giddy and managed to down two cans of the fizzy, golden liquid in a span of 30 minutes.
Eton Mess is my favorite summer pud, so to find out that Wolf and Fox Gastropub actually makes pretty decent ones for cheap was a revelation! Big chunks of vanilla meringue is crumbled into light, fluffy cream streaked with strawberry cordial and served with fresh sliced strawberries. What a treat!
There were acoustic performances throughout most of the day, and the night ended with a 30-minute performance by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra together with Gerard Salonga – the most talented (at least in my opinion) conductor, musical arranger, orchestrator and musical director – entertaining the audience with ditties from popular West End productions like Phantom of the Opera and Westside Story, to movies with a British undertone such as Bond and Titanic.
To cap off the night, Asif Ahmad, the British Ambassador to the Philippines, made a short speech on what it is to be a Briton in the Philippines before raffling off the grand prize Trip for Two to London.
Overall, the #GreatBritishFestival was a booming success, and I’m already looking forward to see what the British Embassy in store for us next year! It is pretty exciting to get a peek of what our country can accomplish when we work hand-in-hand with the Brits. I just wish that more of them would at least develop a curiosity about the Philippines and take the time to discover the beautiful cities, the rich history, and the warm, happy people that reside here.