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Relatively Speaking: We chat to Michael and Vanessa

We ask personalities about the special family relationships in their lives

By Joanne Sweeney

Co Down farmer Michael Magowan and his Australian wife Vanessa are the founders of Sunflowerfest, Northern Ireland’s answer to the Glastonbury Festival, which is taking place from August 22-25 in Hillsborough. They have two sons, Alexander (21) and Louis (17), and hope to set a new Guinness World Record in laughter yoga at the event

Name: Michael Magowan

Age: 55

Occupation: Farmer and festival director

Relationship to Vanessa: Husband

Vanessa and I are both involved in running Sunflowerfest and while I also farm our 27 acres – I have sheep and produce grass for silage – the festival takes up most of our time throughout the year. It's definitely a labour of love and we certainly don't do it for the money.

I had gone to Glastonbury eight years ago and was completely blown away at how you can have so many people in one place with no trouble. I just felt all the the positive vibes from it and I believed that I could do something like that here on the farm. I feel that in Northern Ireland there's a lot of unacknowledged hurt and grief and a lot of healing that needs to be done. The festival is our response to this.

The first gig we held was at the back of a rental shop that we had in Hillsborough; it was a fundraiser for our son's trip to Chile with school and we have grown every year since then.

We had 3,000 people here last year and hope to have even more this year.

We bought the farm when we left left Australia 12 years ago. Our sons were both born in Australia, though it was never in the plan to come back here, but I wanted to share my heritage with them and for them to get to know my late mother Ursula.

I met Vanessa at a barbecue near Bondi Beach. About a year earlier, I had left Belfast with a friend to travel around Australia. She was a friend of a family friend who had children around our age, and we were all in our early 20s. I fancied her right from the start. Five years later we got married in Australia.

My relationship with Vanessa is very productive and stimulating. We push each other and can be quite competitive.

As a person, Vanessa is very patient but fiery. She's also very attractive, intelligent, loving and very grounded, and she certainly doesn't suffer fools!"

Name: Vanessa Magowan

Age: Fifties

Occupation: Festival director

Relationship to Michael: Wife

I was 21 when I met Michael and it was great to meet a non-Australian boy with a great sense of humour. He was good-looking, fit and courteous and I found him to be quite different from the other guys I knew.

At that time he was out there with a few other friends sowing his wild oats. The day that we met, we actually met up with one of his ex-girlfriends that night. But I didn't pursue him, he pursued me and it all worked out alright.

Michael is a very passionate person and once he commits to something, he does so fully. He can also be headstrong but is broad-minded and always open to new experiences.

I've never come across anyone with as much energy and commitment. Despite challenges and naysayers, he is an eternal optimist who works very hard.

Though living here was not part of our plan after getting married, Michael and I are not averse to change, in fact we embrace it and we love challenges. Our life together has always been about new businesses and travel.

It was hard for Michael and I to come back here; Michael realised how attached I was to my parents, as their youngest daughter, and that it would be taking away their grandchildren, but we make a point of going back to Australia every Christmas.

I ran my own occupational therapy consultancy business in Australia but I became a full-time mum when we moved here. I just threw myself into it and now have a fantastic network of friends and colleagues in the yoga and wellbeing fields.

The festival is just massive for us now. It has been a wonderful learning experience and has opened a lot of different doors. I love all things creative and it ticks every possible box you can imagine."

A blooming great weekend ...

Sunflowerfest was first launched in 2010 and this year will feature 80 bands – including Co Down rockers The Answer (right) and London electronica group The Orb. There will be five stages as well as Bliss – an area for resting and healing – and a Kidzsone.

And on Sunday, August 24, at 11am, festival-goers can take part in a 30-minute laughter yoga world record attempt, in which they will be asked to stand in the main arena and follow instructors. Organisers need more than 251 participants to beat the current Guinness World Record.

For details on Sunflowerfest, visit

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