FRANCESCA Nally can’t hide her excitement. In a year where almost every form of live entertainment has been scrapped, she has succeeded in doing the impossible – hosting a festival season of al fresco live music, comedy and food.

Picnic at the Palace is bringing high quality artists to the lawns of Blenheim Palace for socially distanced parties. And with coronavirus having killed off practically every other event, it is the closest thing we are gong to get to a festival this year.

“We are the first socially-distanced festival of this kind that I know of,” says the 27-year-old, who lives on the edge of the estate in Bladon.

“Others have been in place but have had to shut down, and while there may be other venues, I am unaware of any other like this – with not only live music but a palace and gorgeous food!”

Nestled elegantly between the imposing Great Court and the lake, Picnic at the Palace sees guests seated in small groups of up to six, in individual wooden pergolas in front of the stage.

Picnic boxes of locally-sourced snacks, cakes, cheeses, deserts and fruit are brought to tables, and drinks are served from a converted vintage caravan.

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Music, between now and August 16, comes from the likes of soul singer Omar tonight (Saturday), jazz star Dino Baptiste tomorrow (Sunday), singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt next Friday, folk-jazz artist Sam Brookes on August 8, Errol Linton Blues on August 9, and regular spots by singer-songwriter outrageously talented former Oxford artist Anna Neal, lively boogie-woogie act Tom Seals Band, Soulstar, and Fairport Convention’s Ric Sanders.

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There is also comedy from Sarah Keyworth, Catherine Bohart and Pierre Novellie next Thursday (August 6); and Sara Barron and Chloe Petts on August 13. There are also lunch and afternoon tea sessions.

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The beautifully-staged events, which are run by Francesca, managing director of quirky events company Midsummer Nightcap, and event manager Hannah Simmons from Stonesfield, have already gone down a treat with audiences champing at the bit to get out and do something.

Francesca says: “You have it all really: the music is amazing, with so many amazing artists, you can socially distance in your pergola, and as the event is outside you are already in a much safer environment.

“The food is all delicious, with locally sourced goodies, and our staff are all locals who have grown up playing in these grounds and are delightful.

“We have two awesome bars on site for draught beer, champagne and cocktails, and we have created a series of special occasion offerings as we were aware people haven’t been able to celebrate those special moments in the current situation.

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“Plus the venue is really the most beautiful venue around, with the palace as the backdrop looking over the lovely lake.”

So who is it aimed at?

“The event is aimed at everyone,” she says. “The music is for all tastes, with jazz on Sundays, comedy on Thursdays, and headliners on weekend evenings. We have things for children and special occasion packages. There really is something for everyone.

“We want people to be able to get out and enjoy themselves in a safe environment and help support the events industries.”

The event actually began life as an opportunity for Francesca’s company to launch

a new series of grazing platters.

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She explains: “We wanted to support the amazing events and weddings we supply, however, due to the circumstances we were unable to launch that side of the business.

“I really wanted to build an event to help support local companies as well and food is an important aspect of any event. We sourced some fantastic food such as our flower focaccia bread from the Natural Bread Company in Woodstock, our delicious cakes and brownies from Barefoot Bakery, and Raspberry tarts and quiches from Gatineau, to name a few.”

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown inspired Francesca and Hannah to turn the launch into a series of intimate festivals.

“This whole event was created in response to Covid,” says Francesa.

“I have been keen to develop more events which are supported by small local independents in this fashion. Due to companies closing down and jobs being lost, I felt we needed to respond in a safe environment.

“I love the pergola style and am obsessed with foliage so growing out from this I started to put the event together piece by piece, making sure I could support as many companies and people that I could.

“I have worked closely with Blenheim Palace for a number of years supplying bars for their events. I grew up in these grounds, and it is the most magical setting for an event.”

So which artists is she most looking forward to?

“We have so many great acts left,” she says. “Omar is headlining this weekend and his song ‘There’s Nothing Like This’ couldn’t be a more perfect tune and lyrics for this event.

“We have already had The Hoosiers, which was amazing – a real dream come true. Hearing them thank me and call it the festival of the decade was just the best moment in my life, to be honest.

“Tom Seals is playing August 16 and he is just so amazing too.”

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Francesca is not short of contacts. Her dynamic dad, Patrick Nally, is known as the founding father of modern sports marketing, involved in the first London Marathon, the first World Games, the Davis Cup, the First World Athletics Championship, the first Rugby World Cup in 1987 and is the man who brought Coca Cola into football, as a corporate backer for FIFA.

Yet it wasn’t all plain sailing. “We had a struggle with the council due to understanding the Government guidelines at first,” says Francesca. “Luckily the Government saw the clarity needed and all our efforts on the essay paid off. Blenheim Palace has been nothing but supportive too which is so fantastic.”

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She added: “Thank you so much to everyone for coming to enjoy my event. Your support helps so many people such as the staff, acts and local suppliers. So please do come on down and show your support for us locals!”

More details and tickets from picnicatthepalace.co.uk