Published: 06:00, 20 July 2021
Ten years ago this month music legend Prince performed his one and only UK festival date - and for the first time the man who secured his services has lifted the lid on how he managed to land one of the all-time great live performers to play in the county.
It is a tale of tears and tantrums, legal tangles and a last-minute issue with the colour of the furniture in the superstar's dressing room.
Veteran music promoter Vince Power, the man behind the now defunct Hop Farm Festival at Paddock Wood, remembers paying the Minneapolis maestro "bucketloads of cash" to secure his services - but admits the memorable show was "one of the less profitable of my life".
But its impact has lasted. Power admits: "I still have people who were there stop me in the street and say 'thank you for putting on Prince'."
So what was the truth behind one of Kent's most celebrated live shows?
When, at the end of May 2011, Prince was announced as a surprise additional headliner for the festival, it caught everyone by surprise.
The event was already scheduled for a Friday and Saturday in early July - and the likes of The Eagles and Morrissey confirmed as the big names.
Securing the services of Prince - who had last played in the UK for a 21-night residency at London's then-newly opened O2 Arena in 2007 - meant some serious changes were needed. The solution was the addition of a hastily arranged third day on the Sunday.
For kudos alone it was worth it.
Only in recent years had Prince's reticence to play festivals waned. Organisers of Glastonbury had tried to land him for years (and were apparently close to finalising a deal in 2016 - just before Prince's untimely death in the April of that year. He had taken an accidental overdose of the painkiller fentanyl at the age of just 57).
Like most artists, Prince knew that with his recording hey-day behind him, the big bucks lay in his live performances. It is reported he was charging around $1million a show (£720,000).
Playing festival stages kept the costs of his touring nailed down and ensured big up-front payments from promoters. He had also struck innovative distribution deals which saw his albums 20Ten and Planet Earth given away free in national newspapers. The titles saw a surge in sales - Prince pocketed a fat fee.
"We were back and forward for a while," remembers Power of trying to secure the star for the Kent show.
"I pursued him through a European agent I knew. But it wasn’t until about six to eight weeks before the show that it was confirmed. It didn’t give us long, because festivals normally get confirmed six months in advance.
"But I couldn't resist it so I thought let's just go for it."
Power has an impressive pedigree. Having bought London's Mean Fiddler venue in 1982 his empire grew and he acquired a host of London's most cherished music destinations.
He also ran the likes of the Reading and Phoenix festivals - and, in 2001, was credited with pulling Glastonbury back from the brink when gate-crashers had threatened the granting of a licence for that year's show.
After floating his Mean Fiddler group on the stock market, he sold out in 2005 to entertainment giant Clear Channel for a deal worth £38m. He pocketed £13m for his stake.
By 2008 he had launched the Hop Farm Festival. Starting as a one-day event it grew over the years before establishing a niche for itself - serving up big names from yesteryear with the hope the more mature festival fan, complete with deeper pockets, would come.
The 2010 event saw the likes of Bob Dylan, Blondie and Van Morrison over its two days.
By 2011, the festival reached its peak.
"I just couldn't resist such a huge artist," says Power, now 74, of Prince. "We've had many huge artists who have played festivals for us over the years, because we have a good team. We were fearless when it came to that part of the business.
"It was just really good to get him."
However, having given the organisers of the event such short notice to add - and then sell an additional 30,000 tickets - for the extra date, it was not without its challenges.
By the time Sunday, July 3, 2011 rolled around the show was not a sell-out (tickets were £75 each or an extra £40 upgrade for those already attending the first two days of the festival) - but the buzz was electric.
"It didn't sell-out," says Power, "and I think one of the reasons was that people almost didn't believe it."
Over the years of almost annual touring, Prince had developed something of a track record for pulling out of shows. Famously, in 1987, he pulled the plug on two sold-out nights at Wembley Stadium as part of his celebrated Sign O' The Times tour amid fears of bad weather. In 1991, fans were left disappointed when a massive open-air show at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, was also pulled.
Not to mention the fact the Hop Farm date was part of what was billed as the European leg of the Welcome 2 America tour. The only problem being that Prince had shelved the release of that album earlier in the year.
It will only be released this month - the first full original studio album unleashed from his famous vault since his death.
Not that Power had any fears: "I had no doubts he would show up. We had a contract signed. He definitely wanted to do it."
But there was almost a last-minute hitch when Prince took exception to the back-stage set-up.
"He came to his dressing room," remembers Power, "and he didn't like the colour of the furniture in there so we had to change it.
"We had yellow sofas in there, I think, and he wanted pink.
"By luck I had an interior designer who was one of my guests at the show and he went and opened up a warehouse somewhere through a friend and we got him what he needed and then he came back in again and was happy."
As the sun was slowly setting, Prince delivered on his promises and, at around 8.15pm, walked on stage to a rapturous reception from the near capacity crowd.
"I've never seen so much emotion," remembers Power. "There were people with tears in their eyes. Normally people come out and scream and applaud - but when he started up it was just something else - it was great."
From Let's Go Crazy to 1999, Little Red Corvette to Nothing Compares 2 U (during which he joked that Sinead O'Connor's multi-million-selling version had "bought me a house with that song"), Raspberry Beret to Cream, he reeled off a string of his biggest hits before the huge sing-a-long of Purple Rain.
A little over two hours later, and finishing on a rousing Baby I'm A Star, he bid the crowd a good night.
But Prince didn't immediately flee the scene of his triumph (the following day's national newspapers would all hail the show the highlight of the year).
As his band and crew had got used to in recent years, the end of a performance was followed by a review of what had just happened.
Gathered in his dressing room, they watched a DVD of the show they had just played with Prince making notes on how to improve things. But, according to Power, things quickly soured.
"He watched his own performance and he didn't like it,” the promoter recalls. “Looking at him that night he was a perfectionist. Everyone told him he was amazing, but he didn't like it. He didn't like what was happening with the sound."
So, says Power, before Prince headed off to a "big hotel in Tunbridge Wells for the night", he took some decisive action.
"He sacked all the technicians and the sound engineers. He didn't think they were good enough."
Now, there is a possibility that this particular aspect of the story has got muddled over the course of the last decade. (Power was also convinced Prince performed in Dublin the day after the Hop Farm - in fact he headed to Ghent in Belgium for two shows).
Three weeks later, a show in Cologne, Germany, was so riddled with technical mishaps with the sound, Prince was forced to cut his set short.
Two days later, when the tour arrived in Dublin for a gig at Malahide Castle, it was reported he sacked the vast majority of his backstage crew on the morning of the concert as a result of the Germany debacle - leaving organisers to scramble in order to fill up the vacancies.
It seems unlikely the same thing happened twice in the same month - but, with Prince, anything was possible.
After all, in the lead up to the show, the superstar was facing a legal challenge which could have seen him banned from performing anywhere in Europe. A situation, Vince Power believes, was solved by the Hop Farm Festival booking.
In June 2008, a Prince show at Dublin's Croke Park had been shelved just days before 55,000 fans were due to attend - with no clear explanation.
The result was the promoter of that show, MCD, pursued the musician to recover the £1.45m it had lost as a result. The case ended up in Dublin's High Court - Prince not attending, but evidence given leaving the judge to describe the star as "a very erratic individual".
After a deal was originally agreed, Prince then failed to deliver and the case was hauled back to court with MCD taking out a European Enforcement Order. Legal proceedings began in the Los Angeles Superior Court in 2011.
But in the May of that year, just as Prince penned the Hop Farm Festival deal, he finally coughed up and the issue was resolved.
Adds Vince Power: "We made him an offer. We paid him bucketloads of money. He paid off the Dublin promoter and the shows were back on. Although I don't imagine he was down to his last £10m."
But the gig came at a cost - financially.
"For me it was one of the less profitable events of my life," recalls the promoter, "but for everyone else it was the best show they've ever been to."
A little over a year later, the company running the festival called in the administrators not long after the 2012 event. Taken over by a different promoter, it returned, briefly in 2014, also struggled financially and has never returned.
"I have no regrets," says Power, who is now back on the live music scene after last year snapping up Camden's iconic Dingwalls venue - since changing its name to the PowerHaus. "I'm just glad it went well and I had to deal with the damage after. It's only money."
Prince's manager at the time was contacted for this article but failed to respond.