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“I’m Quite Scared”: Fatboy Slim Looks Back On Turbulent Big Beach Boutique Concert

14 May 2023 | 10:54 am | Ellie Robinson

Two people died and more than 170 were injured at the historic gig

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In the summer of 2002, Fatboy Slim performed a free gig for his fans at Brighton Beach in England. 60,000 dance music junkies were expected to show up, but the final count stood somewhere in the ballpark of 250,000 – naturally, chaos ensued.

The DJ (whose real name is Norman Cook) went ahead with the Big Beach Boutique II concert on July 13, and the bulk of the record-breaking crowd had a stellar time. But as unwieldy punters are wont to do, it wasn’t all smooth sailing: two attendees died from injuries sustained during the event, a further 171 suffered non-fatal injuries, and six were arrested.

Of those who died, one was a 26-year-old Australian nurse named Karen Manders, who fell ten metres from the upper esplanade of The Grand Hotel (where Cook was performing from the balcony) and suffered traumatic head injuries. The other death was attributed to a 45-year-old man who died from a heart attack.

Some two decades later, Cook reminisced on the event in a documentary titled Right Here, Right Now – which arrived on streaming services back in February – and directly addressed Manders’ passing. “It was a horrible thing that someone had to die that night,” he said in one scene. “I managed to get in touch with her parents, and I said to her mum, ‘Look, I’m so sorry.’ And she said ‘Don’t worry, it was going to happen.’

“She told me that her daughter phoned her earlier in the night and said she was having the best night of her life. And she said, ‘Thanks for making the last of her life, the best night of her life.’ That really kind of got me. I still feel because I was the reason she was in Brighton that night, I feel somewhat responsible for her death. That will always haunt me.”

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The show itself marked the last in Cook’s short-lived Big Beach Boutique series, and no artist has since hosted a similar event. Last year, though, in celebration of its 20th anniversary, Cook returned to Brighton Beach for another concert – albeit one that was ticketed and monitored closely by security. As for why the original gig didn’t spell the end of Cook’s career, he said in the documentary: “I’m still doing this because I genuinely love it. I love hearing tunes, and instantly wanting to share them with other people. 

“Something very powerful happens at raves and parties, where it becomes stronger than the music, it becomes stronger than the people there. The room becomes this massive energy, and I feed off that. It is something that drives me along and I’m very grateful that I’ve been allowed to do it for so long.”

In footage shot at the 2002 gig, Cook discussed feeling “quite scared” about the sea of fans he was greeted to. “It’s a monster that has gone out of control,” he told an interviewer.

Reflecting further on the historic event, present-day Cook said: “I could see from the police, faces like, ‘We are overwhelmed here.’ I had prepared myself that the whole thing would be snatched away. They sat me down and said, ‘Right, we’re going to go ahead with it, but only because…’ And I asked, ‘Only because it’s more dangerous not to do it?’ Because we’ve got all those people down there, they’ve been drinking all day, but they’re happy. But if you shut the place down, they’ll be unhappy, and it could be ugly.”

Cook went on to admit that he was “not the best frame of mind” to be performing the show, largely because he “was read various riot acts about what [he] could and couldn’t do”. He added: “Looking back, I don’t remember much about the actual gig. I must have been completely on autopilot. But I wasn’t the most relaxed I’ve ever been, as I was aware that if anything went wrong, we would be in a lot of trouble safety wise. But what I do remember, is feeding off the energy of the crowd.”

Right Here, Right Now is available to stream on Binge.