Caitlin Moran and Emily Eavis, 40, at Worthy Farm last monthTOM JACKSON
The Times, June 14 2019, 5:00pm
Sunday afternoon. Barry Gibb – legendary frontman of the Bee Gees – launches into Stayin’ Alive under a blue sky. There are 175,000 people on site, and a good half of them are here – going absolutely crackers to one of the greatest songs ever recorded.
The audience aren’t the only ones, for, as Gibb plays the opening chords, the entire front-of-stage security detachment – all in their blue “Specialized Security” T-shirts – form a line and break into a surprise, synchronised dance routine. Really, you don’t know what the phrase “unlikely joy” means until you’ve seen 50 burly Glaswegian security guards hip-thrusting to the falsetto screaming of, “I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk.”
Halfway through the song, an audience member – wearing an amusingly huge set of Gibb-honouring false teeth – throws a sparkly gold jacket onto the stage. There’s an anxious moment – Gibb is always on a trigger-alert for people mocking the Bee Gees’ disco-era image, as those who saw him walk out of an interview with Clive Anderson in 1996 will know.
But Gibb, on seeing the jacket, puts it on delightedly, busts a funky dance move, and the crowd erupts. The sunshine on the sequins makes him look like a 72-year-old glitterball, as befits his slot: “Glastonbury legend”.
Gibb is playing on the last day of the biggest festival on Earth, with 2,800 performers over 120 stages, with a combined audience of 28 million watching at home, on the BBC. Over the previous five days, Gibb has been preceded by Katy Perry in a silver body-stocking throwing herself into the audience and crowd-surfing; Stormzy in a “We Heart Grenfell” T-shirt prompting Glastonbury’s biggest ever mosh pit; Jeremy Corbyn blinking, startled, as a whole field chant, “Oh! Jeremy Corbyn!” at him, and Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga appearing on the Pyramid Stage to record a pivotal scene for the forthcoming A Star Is Born. It’s been a year of iconic moments.
But, elsewhere, Glastonbury is going about its extraordinary business as usual: over in Arcadia, a 40ft high spider belches flame into the air. The NYC Downlow gay disco operates in full-scale, film-set replica of a ruined Seventies Lower East Side tenement. The Unfairground sports a crashed East German plane. There’s a secret underground piano bar; a pirate ship; saunas; whittling workshops; Power Ballad yoga; 30 bars; 3,300 toilets – 1,300 of them fully compostable; 250 food stalls/cafés, and 175,000 unique experiences happening in tents, yurts, camper vans and around campfires. This is a rural factory of memory-making – if you have attended Glastonbury, chances are at least one thing that has happened here will be in the Best Bits montage that flashes before your eyes as you die.
The Glastonbury Festival has a population larger than Bath. Its scale is so vast it has its own hospital, wholesale market, sewerage system, and cast-iron preparations in case of disease outbreak or terrorist attack. Next year, it celebrates its 50th birthday – going from a £1 per ticket event in 1970, when Marc Bolan played and all attendees received free milk, to one of the defining events of the British calendar – attended by Prince Harry and Prince Charles, Brad Pitt, Kate Moss, Benedict Cumberbatch, the Beckhams and the Dalai Lama. It has survived floods, lightning strikes, stages being burned down, riots, protests, births, deaths and endless controversy, to become one of the best known, best loved brands in the world – the yearly scramble for tickets when they go on sale is global, with applications from Australia to Afghanistan. The organisers have been offered endless multi-million dollar deals to sell the brand, expand it, franchise it, roll it out internationally – all of which they have declined.
Michael Eavis, Emily’s father, and a maternal rights campaigner, 2017GETTY IMAGES
For, uniquely among festivals, it donates more than £3 million of its yearly profits to charities – Oxfam, Greenpeace and Water Aid. It has funded a whole housing project in the village of Pilton. It pioneers sustainable supply chains – this year, it goes wholly single-use plastic free – and its organisers are in demand, world experts in humanitarian disaster relief, for who else has the experience of building whole temporary camps in appalling weather, surrounded by freaked-out people?
Glastonbury is one of the greatest British artistic and philanthropic success stories of all time. And yet it is a temporary, fleeting thing. The city appears at the summer solstice, in the Vale of Avalon, under the gaze of Glastonbury Tor, parties hard for five days, sending out kinetic images across the world – and then disappears, leaving not a single trace on the trampled grass. It’s like a Mardi Gras Brigadoon or cider-fuelled Land of Green Ginger.
For the rest of the year, it’s just an ordinary, working dairy farm in Somerset, off the A361. For the rest of the year, it’s primarily a massive, ambitious, anxious, extraordinary idea in the head of Emily Eavis.
And for Glastonbury 2019, I am following her, from start to finish, as she puts on the biggest festival on Earth.
Sunday, October 7, 2018
261 days until the festival
8.30am. I am woken by six alarms going off in various rooms across the house.
My teenage daughter wants to go to Glastonbury this year – and so she is up early to be ready online on the dot of 9am, when tickets go on sale.
I go into her bedroom. She has her laptop, my laptop, my husband’s laptop and her phone all on the Glastonbury ticketing website. She is on FaceTime to a group of friends – who are all similarly poised before a bank of computers, ready to press “buy” the minute the site goes live.
“I’m so scared!” she says. “What if I don’t get through? I WILL DIE OF SADNESS.”
Sadness is fairly likely – this year, an unprecedented two million people have pre-registered for a ticket, but only a lucky 135,000 will be able to buy them. In 2017, the entire allocation sold out in 50 minutes flat. With no festival in 2018 – it was a customary “fallow” year – 2019 is predicted to be even quicker.
“Oh babe, I’m sure you’ll be lucky …”
Paul McCartney, 2004GETTY IMAGES
“Shut up! It’s happening! Oh my God! OH MY GOD!” she says, as the sales go live. She starts pressing “buy” on each available screen. On Facetime, I can hear all her other friends panicking and doing the same.
Unable to bear the tension, I go downstairs to make a cup of tea. Twenty minutes later, I hear a scream: “F***! I’VE DONE IT! I’M GOIIIIIING!!!!!”
The BBC News website is recording that Glastonbury 2019 has sold out in record time – 135,000 tickets at £248 each in 36 minutes flat. She is one of the very, very lucky ones.
At 10am, I light a fag and call Emily Eavis.
“How you doing, love?” I ask. “What you up to?”
“I’m just walking around the site – I’m by the Pyramid Stage,” she says, slightly out of breath. “It’s a gorgeous day.”
“So, record-breaker,” I say, “how are you feeling?”
“Relieved it’s over, to be honest,” she says, cheerfully. “You want it over and done with quickly – so people can get on with their lives. So at least they know the sad news before breakfast.”
“There’s a lot of trauma on Twitter,” I say, unhelpfully.
“I know!” She sounds genuinely agonised. “It’s terrible – I just want to bring everyone in. We get people ringing the office at the farm. Someone called from Afghanistan at 9.30am, absolutely desperate. We get a lot of parents telling awful stories about how their child is the only one in their friendship group who didn’t get one and pleading. People sending in doctor’s certificates, saying it’s their last wish to go. We keep an allocation back for those,” she adds.
“So, 175,000 people will be turning up in 261 days,” I say. “How are you feeling about that?”
“Pressure,” she says, frankly. “Three months ago, it looked like we had three headliners – and now we’ve lost one. We’re reassuringly tense. My husband’s having sleepless nights, but I’m like, ‘It’ll be fine. It always is.’”
I tell her I’ve been looking on Twitter, at all those disappointed by not getting tickets, and they’re suggesting several ideas she might want to consider.
“Jodie B says, simply, ‘Why don’t you just make Glastonbury bigger?’”
“What – big enough for all two million people?”
“Yeah. Come on, you lazy cow.”
Caitlin Moran and Emily EavisTOM JACKSON
“The valley’s not big enough,” she says, like someone who has actually looked into throwing a festival for two million people. “We use the land of all 12 nearby farms now, and it physically can’t get any bigger without putting camping sites on the other side of a main road, which would be dangerous. So, sorry Jodie B. We’d love to, but we can’t.”
“Jon Langford says, ‘I have a theory that only people who work in IT have broadband fast enough to get tickets, and so this ticketing system unfairly privileges nerds.’”
Eavis laughs. “We’ve looked at the stats, and it’s an even spread across the country. We have tested the site – we sat in our office in Somerset and all tried to get on to buy tickets – and some could, and some couldn’t. And we’re not in IT. So we know it’s quite random.”
With tickets so tight, people have, over the years, found … innovative ways to get into Glastonbury. In 2017, someone got over the 15ft high Super Fence “with a jet-pack. He landed in the Green Fields. At least, he toldus he’d used the jet-pack to get over the fence. Who knows?” She shrugs, amused. Then adds, casually, “There was a guy with a hang glider, too. He glided over the fence.”
Did you throw him out? “Well, we were like, if you’ve gone to all the trouble of sorting out a hang glider, fair enough. Even security applauded him when he landed.”
Eavis gets asked for tickets all the time.
“The most notable was just after I gave birth to my first child,” she says. “It was a brutal, forceps birth. He came out screaming. And, as they were stitching me up, the midwife said, ‘Eavis … Eavis? Could you …?’”
“What did you say?” I ask, aghast.
“I said yes. I was off my face!” she laughs.
January 16, 2019
160 days until the festival
I am at Worthy Farm. It’s cold but sunny, and the ground is firm underfoot. I have been to every Glastonbury since I was 17 – back in 1992 – but I have never been here when the festival isn’t on.
This sounds really obvious, but – it’s just a farm. There’s nothing here – no people, no stalls, no Dolly Parton, no tents, no flags. Only the Pyramid Stage, which stays up year-round, and a huge wooden pirate ship in the Greenpeace Field tell you this is anything other than a normal dairy farm, in a particularly lovely part of Somerset.
“The local kids come and play on the pirate ship. We built them the new outdoor play area at the school, as well,” Eavis says.
The festival generates £73 million for the UK economy
We’re in a Land Rover, driving around the site. Every so often, I see a place I recognise from festival time – that tree, for instance, is where I saw a heavily disguised Lady Gaga out partying at 3am in 2009. And that glade – that glade is Strummerville, where the late Clash frontman used to hang out, around an all-night campfire, jamming.
“Joe Strummer offered me my first ever drugs,” Eavis reminisces, changing gear as we go up a precipitous slope. “It was my 16th birthday, and he offered me a wrap. I didn’t want it – I’d seen too many people out of it, at the festival – but he thought I was just shy about having his drugs. He was being so courteous. He kept going, ‘Go on – it’s OK!’ And I was like, ‘I’m actually fine!’”
We pull up outside the farm. In 2014, an office was built to house the organisation of the festival. Before then, all meetings still happened around the farmhouse table.
“See that barn over there,” Eavis says, pointing. “The festival is in there.”
I look confused. She laughs.
“We try to minimise waste, so most of the festival – the stages, the signs, the benches – are flat-pack. When it finishes, we just fold everything down, put it in labelled containers and put it in there, ready for the next one.”
We go into the office building. There’s a huge Lego model of the festival on the table, and a massive, life-sized cardboard cut-out of the Rolling Stones, who headlined in 2013, signed, “I was wrong – it was a great day,” by drummer Charlie Watts.
Today is a massive planning meeting for the festival – the primary topics being security and sustainability. For 2019, Glastonbury – always one of the greenest festivals – is having an extra eco push.
“We usually use over one million plastic bottles per festival,” Eavis says, starting the meeting. “This year, the target is zero.”
The Rolling Stones, 2013PA
All vendors on site will be banned from selling soft drinks in plastic bottles. Instead, they will sell cans of pop and water, which the festival will recycle in its own forge. Of course Glastonbury has its own forge. The festival is installing 37 stainless-steel water kiosks, 60 water stations and 500 drinking taps from which people can refill reusable water bottles – either their own or official Glastonbury ones they buy on site.
“Be careful with the branding on the bottles,” Eavis warns. “I don’t want to make it look like we’re pushing merch at people. The message is, ‘Bring your own – but if you’ve forgotten, you can get one here.’”
At the bars – which usually pump out more than 1.2 million drinks over the festival – new cups have been ordered. Instead of the traditional cardboard models, which are lined with non-recyclable plastic, the festival has tracked down a 25-year-old who has invented 100 per cent biodegradable bottles made of old newspapers.
“Ask him if he thinks he could prototype a cup using the same technique,” Eavis suggests. There is a discussion of how they could fund him to pioneer this technology. No one else has tried it, but Eavis is determined.
For 2019, the festival is also aiming to cut its power needs by a third, with a combination of efficiency measures and using the farm’s digester, which is run on methane produced by cow manure. The Pyramid Stage is already wholly run on a combination of methane and solar power.
Eco matters sorted, the conversation moves on to security and event safety.
What kind of things do you have to plan for, I ask.
“Weather, contaminated drugs, bacterial outbreaks, terrorist threats,” Eavis begins, briskly. “If there was an outbreak of foot and mouth, the whole festival would be off. Volcanoes! When the Icelandic volcano erupted in 2010, we had loads of cancelled flights – artists just couldn’t come in. Lightning storms – we have to shut all the main stages. Rudimental didn’t play at the Pyramid, because we could see lightning coming in across the valley. Heatstroke – last year was so hot, we had to spray people with hoses as they came in, as they were so overheated from queuing. Structural collapse – festivals in other countries have had stages blow away. We stress-test everything. We had 80mph winds in 2008. We’re OK at 40mph. When it gets to 50mph, you have to close all the tents.”
It’s a pretty terrifying list.
Joe Strummer offered me my first ever drugs over there
“2016 was the worst,” says Adrian. Adrian is operations director. “2016 was an extreme challenge.” So much rain fell in the preceding days that the Eavises had to warn people to delay their arrival. Michael Eavis said afterwards it was the worst weather they’d had in the festival’s entire 46-year history – the place was a treacherous, slippery swamp. I saw people sliding down liquid hills as if they were skiing. That year was an endurance.
“I’ve never had so many people in tears in my office,” Eavis recalls. “The beefiest security guards, they’d walk in and just weep. There were very strong suggestions that we pull the entire festival. The roads were blocked, we couldn’t get people on or off site …”
And yet, despite the nightmare for the organisers, most festival-goers will primarily remember 2016 as the year they pulled on their wellies, had an extra nip from their hipflasks, still enjoyed headline sets from Adele, Coldplay and LCD Soundsystem, and vowed to buy tickets for the next year.
“That’s why, at the meeting, we finally decided we’d crack on,” Eavis says, shrugging.
At this point, Michael Eavis – Emily’s father, founder and co-organiser of Glastonbury – comes in. Despite it being January and cold, he’s wearing his customary outfit of shorts and sandals, augmented with black, leather, fingerless gloves. He’s a powerful presence, even at the age of 83. He immediately seems to know what the conversation is about.
“The only thing that will ever stop us,” he says, firmly, “is Chinese chicken flu. That’s the only one. We never stop for rain. Nothing would ever, ever stop me.”
“Michael loves a crisis,” Eavis says, fondly.
“People were sliding in the car parks – and they loved it!” Michael cries. “It’s an adventure training course! It’s character-forming!”
During this meeting, it has occurred to me that Emily Eavis doesn’t just run a festival – she is basically the head of an alternate future city-state, with pioneering technology.
And yet it’s not a role anyone can apply for: there has never been a vacancy for “organiser of the Glastonbury Festival”. It is a role this quiet, shy woman has unexpectedly inherited – taking over from the charismatic, ground-breaking King of Festivals when the family faced a life-changing crisis. In a way, she’s like the Princess Elizabeth of revelries – set for an ordinary life, until fate took a couple of left turns and landed her with responsibilities she could never have dreamt of.
May 31, 2019
25 days until the festival
Eavis picks me up at Castle Cary station. At festival time, the car park is filled with thousands of festival-goers, sitting on rucksacks, smoking fags, politely queuing for the festival’s fleet of double-decker buses.
Now, in May, it’s empty.
“Things are going good!” she says, in answer to my inquiry, barrelling down country lanes. “We’ve got 200 people on site now, building – by May, it’s got its own momentum. We’ve got our final headliner – the Killers! And we’re building a giant, 50ft-high head in Block 9,” she concludes, as if this is a perfectly normal thing. “This bit of the year is so addictive. The buzz. There’s nothing better.”
What makes this conversation extraordinary is something Eavis casually mentioned last time I saw her. That, as a child, she hated the festival. “Yes – I can say that,” she says, thoughtfully. “I hated it. I just associated it with … fear. My parents would be so, so stressed about it. They often didn’t book the headliners until March, April – so there would be a whole year of being scared we wouldn’t actually have any bands. When the festival was on, I would just close my bedroom curtains and pretend it wasn’t happening.”
I’ve been going to Glastonbury every year since 1992. It is, without exception, my best week of the year: five days in a place filled with joy, creativity and endless diversion. Eavis is only five years younger than me. I can’t believe she hated having the most amazing festival in the world happen in her own backyard.
“Really? You hated it?” I query, astonished.
“Do you want to see something?” she asks, turning the car down a single-track lane.
After half a mile, Eavis pulls into a lay-by, and points. “Look.”
There, in the middle of the field – on top of a hill – is a huge, white crucifix, 30ft high.
“That’s been there since 1990,” she says.
“A neighbour put it up. To protect the village from the evil of the festival.”
I look at it. “It lights up at night,” she says, helpfully. “You can see it from the festival site. The festival had a bad reputation when I was growing up,” she says, turning the engine on and driving away. I watch the crucifix recede in the rear-view mirror.
“At school, the rumour was that there were people at the festival who went around injecting people with drugs. I’d get kids all the time, saying, ‘My parents say your parents run a festival where people inject people with drugs.’ It was … difficult.”
As a child, I hated the festival. My parents would be so stressed
The village treated the Eavises warily. There were constant complaints to the local council – about the traffic, about the travellers, about the noise. Every year, it was a major fight to put the festival on again. In 1990, its future was put into doubt after violence broke out between travellers and the on-site security guards, in an event that was subsequently known as “the Battle of Yeoman’s Bridge”.
Despite having performed at the festival at the age of five – singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star on the Pyramid Stage, before the Style Council headlined – Eavis felt wary about it.
Then Britpop happened.
“I was 14, 15, and suddenly bands I likedstarted to play. I can remember Rage Against the Machine headlining in 1994, and thinking, ‘This is amazing.’ Then Pulp headlined in 1995, and that was it. I loved it. I thought, ‘I am going to enjoy these last few years.’”
Back then, the plan was that the festival would end, on a glorious high, on its 30th birthday – June 2000. By the time the BBC started televising Glastonbury in 1997, the “edginess” of the Eighties had dissolved, and Glastonbury had begun to establish itself as part of the English season: like a pagan Glyndebourne or Wimbledon, with drugs. But the family had sacrificed any semblance of a normal life to do it – and so the Eavises planned to finally retire in 2000 and enjoy some sunset years of stress-free leisure, without 175,000 people pooing in their hedges.
However, brutally, and unexpectedly, Jean was diagnosed with cancer in January 1999 – and died just four months later.
“It was awful – so fast,” Eavis says, now. “We found out in January – and by May 15, she was dead.”
The shock still shows on her face now.
The 29th Glastonbury Festival started, relentlessly, just 41 days later.
“That was a bit of a blur,” Eavis admits. “We were just … so sad.”
Plunged into mourning, with all his retirement plans in pieces, and not really knowing any other way to deal with the grief, Michael Eavis made a decision: he would now continue Glastonbury, as the only way he knew to pay tribute to his late wife.
Aware of just what an immense emotional burden this was for her father, Eavis, aged just 19 – and by now a trainee teacher in Newham, London – gave it up to return home and co-run the festival she had once hated; at first alone, and then with her husband, music manager Nick Dewey, who was a long-time attendee of the festival. The first year he attended, he had no ticket; he blagged his way in by pretending that he managed Coldplay. “He had … the Glastonbury spirit,” she laughs.
Adele, 2016REX SHUTTERSTOCK
Eavis turned up to her 2009 wedding to Dewey in a customised East German IFA jet on wheels – courtesy of the festival’s endlessly creative mechanical team – and had a later pagan ceremony on the festival site, by the stone circle. Guy Garvey of Elbow, James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers and the Chemical Brothers played at the reception, as befits festival royalty.
Over the years, as Michael got older, Eavis and Dewey gradually assumed more and more responsibilities for the festival. They had a sense that what was a very white, male and increasingly ageing musical line-up desperately needed rebooting for the 21st century, and, in 2008, Eavis and Dewey took the necessary risk of securing the festival’s first ever hip-hop headliner: global superstar Jay-Z.
“Oh, God,” Eavis says, still visibly traumatised by the memory. “That year was so, so terrifying.”
The controversy over his booking was immediate and overwhelming. The music press were up in arms, as were a vocal contingent of old-skool Glastonbury-goers. Oasis’s Noel Gallagher spoke for many of them when he gave an interview, saying, “I’m sorry – but Jay-Z? No chance. Glastonbury has a tradition of guitar music, do you know what I mean? I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury, no way. It’s wrong.”
Because of the controversy, for the first time in years, tickets didn’t sell out in advance – the festival’s finances were in a perilous state, and many accused Eavis of “ruining” her father’s festival. Michael Eavis himself was unsure of the booking: “He was supportive of our choice, but he wanted Rod Stewart,” Eavis says.
Friends who know Eavis said she was, at the time, “almost broken” in the run-up to the event. “It was an intense amount of pressure for her to be under,” one says. “It seemed as if she was fighting on several fronts: to help the festival grow, to maintain its identity and integrity – but also stay at the cutting edge of festival culture, which was changing.”
A male-dominated music industry and press seemed intent on casting her as a clueless, wilful girl into “the wrong” kind of music.
Her friend summarises: “I worried it was just too much for her, and she basically wouldn’t put on the festival again.”
Emily Eavis and the Dalai Lama, 2015GETTY IMAGES
In the event, however, Eavis’s carefully calibrated risk-taking was a vital turning point in Glastonbury’s fortunes. Not a billionaire hip-hop mogul by accident, Jay-Z had prepared cleverly: coming onstage singing Oasis’s Wonderwall, in acknowledgment of the controversy – and then, having won over the crowd with one perfectly weighted, swaggering in-joke, ploughing into a version of 99 Problems so incendiary, the field erupted.
Not only was it one of the all-time Glastonbury Moments, but the resulting euphoric reviews allowed the festival to open up to a phalanx of genres and acts previously unthinkable: Pharrell Williams, Mary J Blige, Kanye West, Stormzy, Beyoncé. Suddenly, the biggest hip-hop, R’n’B and grime acts were “Glastonbury material”, at a time when white guitar-rock was dwindling. The festival gained a massive injection of energy and relevancy.
Beyoncé’s booking – still spoken of in tones of awe – was a massive coup. Eavis courted her assiduously when she came with her husband, Jay-Z, and “bombarded” her with information on the festival’s ecological and philanthropic activity: “I think Beyoncé was my finest hour – we pulled out all the stops.”
Beyoncé’s legendary advent onto the Glastonbury stage – Crazy in Love into Single Ladies, with £50,000 of fireworks going off – was an heroic act. “No one knew she was pregnant, and she had terrible morning sickness just before she went on stage. Proper …” Eavis mimes finger-down-throat vomiting.
“Acts like that don’t need the festival, and we don’t have the fees other festivals can offer, because we give so much away,” Eavis explains. “So we have to love-bomb them.”
Glastonbury’s unique appeal is a combination of incredible exposure – the BBC covers it less like arts programming and more like a major cultural news event, meaning that acts’ back catalogues regularly go into the Top Ten the week after broadcast – and a growing cadre of former performers who will evangelise about how the Glastonbury audience is like no other.
After he played Glastonbury in 2013, Kenny Rogers persuaded Dolly Parton to appear the next year (“Kenny puts a word in with everyone he meets in his circle”). Coldplay brought Barry Gibb along and convinced him to play his 2017 set. After Carrie Fisher died in 2016, Eavis discovered she had attended the festival every year with a group of friends: Princess Leia had been wandering through the crowds and no one knew. Real royalty – Prince Harry – had done the same: turning up in 2013 with minimal security, he spent the weekend without anyone recognising him. “I recommended he should go on into the night,” says Eavis, “because the nightlife is what Glastonbury is all about.” He didn’t leave until 4am.
When Harry’s father, Prince Charles, attended the festival in 2010, his presence was, unfortunately, more noticeable. “He was up in the Greenpeace Field, checking out some ecological initiatives,” Eavis recalls, “and one of the Greenpeace guys working there had met Charles before, on another project. He went running over, shouting, ‘Hi!’”
As far as Prince Charles’s security were concerned, however, a very hairy man was running towards the heir to the throne – and so they pulled their guns to protect him.
“We had to do some very fast talking there,” Eavis laughs. “God! Imagine! If we’d had our first ever shooting – and it was the royal household taking out a hippy. In the Greenpeace Field.”
Emily and Michael Eavis in the EightiesEMILY_EAVIS/INSTAGRAM
We are, by now, in Eavis’s back garden on Worthy Farm. Willows brush the daisy-speckled lawn and the air is heavy with a tangle of roses. Her three children play on a swing. The incongruity of the scene is the embodiment of Glastonbury – a cheerful but quiet woman, fresh-faced in dungarees, pours tea into bone-china cups, as in the background the constant “beep beep beep” of reversing JCBs reminds you that over the wall the world’s biggest party-cum-cultural-event-cum-vision-of-the-future is being erected on her fields.
As we sip our tea, a helicopter buzzes the site. “People always want to come and check it out,” she says, waving. “Apparently, Prince William flew over last week.”
There is no real privacy when your address is a byword for excitement. Last year, a French teenager turned up, “having walked all the way from France. He kept saying, ‘Radiohead?’ The festival wasn’t on.”
What did you do? “We just gave him a sandwich.”
Similarly, a coach full of Japanese tourists once parked up in the driveway – confused as to why all they could find was some cows. “We didn’t have enough sandwiches for all of them,” Eavis sighs.
Perhaps it’s because I have a Pavlovian, haptic memory of all the joy I have experienced here, but as Eavis is joined by her husband, and I watch this young, warm, simply good couple talking about their plans for the future – how Madonna would be their dream booking for next year; how to provide more physiotherapy for the exhausted set-builders on site; how to increase their involvement in refugee camps – I feel impossibly moved.
Eavis has built a 15ft-high grassy mound at the end of the garden, so she can sit and watch the festival site unobserved, and I sit there, smoking a cigarette, and thinking what an absolutely unique thing Glastonbury is. It’s not done for money – there’s no corporate branding, no advertising. While the festival generates £73 million for the British economy, Dewey and Eavis live a very modest life. And it’s not done for fame or glory – Eavis, in her dungarees, attends no parties or red carpets.
It’s done for a reason we hear so little of these days: to make hundreds of thousands of people, in the English midsummer, happy. A non-stop, round-the-clock, 120-hour celebration of what humans can do when they want to immerse themselves in the simple exuberance of existing – from the Dance Tent in the valley to the deep peace of the Park; a whole city lit with lanterns and fairylights.
The Eavises have made a little kingdom of joy here, fuelled only by decades of exhilarating ideas made real, and there is nothing – nothing – else like it. Here’s a thing: every so often during the festival, you will suddenly hear a cheer begin – a cheer, followed by wild applause. The first time you come, you presume something has happened – a celebrity has arrived, a show has finished. Eventually, you realise: people are just cheering the festival. They’re just cheering being alive. They’re just cheering being here.
“When the gates open on June 25,” Eavis says, joining me, as we watch the JCBs trundle across the meadows, “my father and I go down to greet everyone coming on site. He greets everyone, like, ‘Hello! Welcome!’, and they hug him. They all recognise him.”
And what do you do? Do you say “Welcome!”?
“Oh, no. I just stand back and watch,” she says, smiling.