The ripples from the first Glastonbury of the 21st century reverberated far and wide. Though fondly remembered for a peerless headline set by David Bowie, the landmark edition was plagued by tens of thousands of gatecrashers – throwing the festival’s entire future into doubt.
“There was always an element of accepting people getting in for free, as long as there were enough coming who paid, and that worked as long as the balance was OK,” Emily Eavis tells Music Week. “But in the year 2000 they estimated there were about 300,000 people onsite, which was probably the biggest crowd we’ve ever had and it felt dangerously busy: the fence came down and people streamed in, so that was a turning point.
“There was almost the same kind of pressure as there is for the 50th [anniversary next year], because it was the millennium. It’s funny with those big round numbers.”
In another development that would have similarly far-reaching implications, 2000 was also the year that Eavis left her teaching degree at Goldsmiths in London to help her father, legendary Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis, with the organisation of the event.
“After my mum died in ’99, I left college,” explains Eavis. “I was just supporting my dad at first and never thought in a million years that I would do this, it never even occurred to me to be honest. I was just thinking, ‘I’ll help him for a year or two’, and then I just got swallowed up by it I suppose. There’s no avoiding it!”
The erection of a £1 million “super-fence” to keep the freeloaders at bay was enough to appease Mendip District Council’s concerns and usher in a new era of professionalism for the festival when it returned in 2002.
Eavis’ role in preserving and enhancing its legend, allied to her work with Glastonbury’s charity partners Oxfam, Greenpeace and WaterAid, has led to her being recognised with the Outstanding Contribution honour at the 2019 Music Week Women In Music Awards.
“I feel very honoured,” she smiles. “It means a lot, having come into the industry from a different angle, in the fact that I was born into the festival. It’s great to be acknowledged.”
The 40-year-old’s influence on the festival has grown with each passing year. But one of her finest hours to date came in 2007 when she created The Park area with her future husband, Glastonbury’s head of music programming Nick Dewey.
“We had another few thousand on our licence that year and so we added an area,” says Eavis, speaking to Music Week in her office at Worthy Farm. “I always wanted to do my own area, but I thought it wouldn’t happen because everything is so established.
“We were influenced by the Kids Field in the Green Fields, which is slightly more laid back and a little bit removed from the hustle, somewhere you might go to seek refuge or have a rest. You need everything at a festival: you need the big, booming late night areas and then the place where you’ll lie on a hill and watch the whole thing unfold. And that hill is quite useful because you can probably fit another 10,000 people on there if a big band are playing [on The Park Stage].”
Tickets for the last five festivals have sold out in an average of 35 minutes, all without a single act being announced.
“One of the best changes is not selling the tickets on the basis of a line-up because you don’t end up with predominantly one fanbase, [it’s] a complete mix,” notes Eavis. “So if you announced that, take this year for example, The Killers were playing, it would be full of people who wanted to see The Killers when actually, what makes it so unusual – and a challenge for the bands – is the fact they’re not necessarily playing to their fanbase. So it’s a completely different kind of set-up to most traditional events that sell on who’s playing.”
The controversial booking of the festival’s first hip-hop headliner, Jay-Z, was cited as a factor in slower than usual ticket sales in 2008, but has ultimately come to be viewed among the most important headline slots in Glastonbury’s modern history.
“There are some years where you witness a change, where you can see a change in the course of its history,” observes Eavis, who spearheaded the festival’s 2019 ban on the sale of single-use plastic bottles. “You watch the news and you can see something that shifts things politically or whatever. And I think with Jay-Z, that was our year where [Glastonbury] shifted and opened up and now it’s in a different place.
“With Stormzy this year, again, that was a real turning point and that’s what makes it exciting and interesting – shifting the idea of what we should be doing, who should be playing and opening minds. Even on the High Street, up the road in the nearest town, you get people saying, ‘You can’t beat a guitar band’, or ‘I don’t agree with this hip-hop stuff’ and it amazes me. The world is genreless, but you still get those ancient opinions.”
A record 2.4 million people registered for the chance to attend 2020’s 50th anniversary event, set for June 24-28. Diana Ross is confirmed for the Sunday afternoon legend slot, but the identity of the three headliners remains a closely guarded secret.
“We just confirmed our third headliner last night, which is record-breaking speed,” grins Eavis. “Normally, you might hope to have them done by Christmas. But the amount of interest and public support is amazing – people write with all kinds of ideas and suggestions.
“As always, we’re trying to make it the best possible event for that weekend. In a way, it’s no different whether it’s 50 years or 49 years, we’re still trying to make it as good as possible. But it’s the 50th, so it’s an extra reason to celebrate and there’ll probably be a few more little surprises lined up.”
The proposed Glastonbury spin-off Variety Bazaar, however, is now definitely off the cards.
“That’s not happening,” confirms Eavis. “It was just an idea really. It’s one of those things where my dad was talking to someone and then it became a story when, actually, it was such early days that we weren’t anywhere near developing it.”
Here, cuppa in hand, Eavis discusses being a woman in music, her hopes for a 50/50 artist gender split and whether she’ll ever get a “proper job”...
What was it like growing up amidst the madness of Glastonbury Festival?
“It was very different then, much more like the Wild West and a little bit more unpredictable. One year we’d run, then we’d have a year off and then there was the question of whether we would get a licence. Everything felt like it would just miraculously happen and we’d get through by the skin of our teeth. Now, it’s a little bit more stable [laughs].”
What is your first festival memory?
“There are sets I remember from the ’80s like Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, The Proclaimers and The Style Council. But what I remember most is the characters – the people who built the festival and the travellers – a lot of the people who were in and out of the house. There were so many different characters, which was amazing.”
Did you have rock stars camping in your garden?
“Sometimes, but not really. It was mostly in the ’80s and ’90s – there were just loads of wild characters around.”
How has your involvement on the organisational side increased over the years?
“It’s just grown over time. In the 2000s I was doing more each year and, before I knew it, I was in deep! I don’t think I ever had the time to stop and go, ‘OK, what’s happened here?’ At the back of my mind I always thought, ‘I’ll probably go back to a proper job soon!’ But then, at some point, maybe I will. I never rule it out – I’m only 40!”
Is organising Glastonbury a year-round job?
“It is now; it probably wasn’t 10 years ago. We go on sale earlier and that always kicks everyone into action because of all the post-ticket emails and letters we get. Once the ticketing is done, you can really get going on the actual event and start building it. All the area organisers are in every day at the moment. We’ve got people in with new ideas, new plans, new budgets and new structures.”
How important is the BBC’s role in the event?
“Massive. The BBC has such an important role and we’ve worked so closely with them over the years to make sure that it’s all being captured right. Televising this event is a huge responsibility and it’s not just about the big headline bands, it’s about representing what [Glastonbury] is all about. But also not having too many cameras around because we don’t want people to feel like they’re being filmed all the time.”
Are there any acts you regret missing out on?
“No, not yet! I mean, we’ve got a few more that we want... But obviously it would have been amazing to have Prince.”
What’s your relationship with your dad like?
“Great! My dad and I have always been really close. We sometimes have a bit of confrontation, but most of the time we get on well and it’s been really good working with him. He’s been generous in the fact he hasn’t been controlling and I think that would have been hard for a lot of people. There’s a lot of trust between us and the most important thing is that we enjoy it, we really have a laugh. I don’t think either of us thought that I would come this far in it. It would always be like, ‘You answer the phone and deal with whoever’s there’ and every phone call would [present] a different set of problems. You suddenly become embroiled in a situation and it takes over. There wasn’t ever a structured plan – there was never a 10-year plan, never a five-year plan – we always thought we’d be lucky just to keep the festival going for a couple of years.”
Is there more of a long-term plan now?
“Not particularly. We still quite like the idea of just running for the next couple of years and seeing how it goes, and not thinking that it should necessarily be here in 10 years. We would love to keep the festival going, but we also know that the industry changes all the time. At the moment we’re in a really good patch, so we’re just enjoying it and not thinking too far into the future.”
Let’s talk women in music, do you feel a responsibility to support other females in the industry?
“Yeah, definitely. A lot of success is down to the support you receive in the early years. Mentoring and helping people come through is really important when you’re in a position to be able to do that, so I’m very much on board. We’ve been talking about getting more women involved on the production side because that is still incredibly male-dominated.”
Have you experienced any obstacles in the business simply because of your gender?
“There wasn’t one particular moment, but when I was growing up there were hardly any women in the music industry, particularly in the live world. All the agents were mostly men and then there was [now CAA UK co-head] Emma Banks. Everyone knew that if it was a girl on the phone, it would be Emma. But it is clearly an industry that is shifting towards equality – everything is being thrown in the air and recalibrated. It’s a good time to be a woman in music, but we’ve still got a long way to go and we’ve got to make sure that we keep pushing it forward. Whether it’s bookings, assembling stage crews, supporting equal pay or whatever, we have to do what we can to push it on.”
How committed are you to achieving a 50/50 gender split of artists on the bill?
“It’s very much at the forefront of my mind, I have conversations with our bookers all the time about it and it’s important that we go as close to 50/50 as we can. Sometimes it’ll be more, sometimes it’ll be less, it’s never going to be exactly 50/50. It’s as important to have females on the bill as much as we have men, of course, but the pool – certainly on the headliner front – is not as big. So we have to work on that as an industry and nurture all these women coming through.”
Do you ever go to other festivals?
“No! [Laughs] I haven’t been to anything since Benicassim eight years ago or something, mostly because I’ve got three children now. Hang on, I went to All Points East this year to see The Chemical Brothers... But with Glastonbury, it takes until September to clear up and get the farm back and by then most of the other festivals are over. It’s all very well getting the festival out of the way, but packing it down is a big job. You can’t just leave and be like, ‘Bye, I’m off to Reading!’”
What is your typical routine during Glastonbury weekend?
“Running around, dealing with any number of site and infrastructure issues, troubleshooting, launching new tents and areas, assessing all the areas, checking in with everybody... It’s a 24-hour blur. That’s another reason why I don’t go to other festivals, I’m so tired after!”
So apart from needing a long nap, how do you normally feel at the end of it all?
“If it goes well, it’s an amazing high. This year, the festival was so good that I can’t even describe the feeling, because it was something incredible to be part of. We had Stormzy and the plastic bottle ban, which just went phenomenally well. Something like that would normally take three to five years to bed in, but the public completely took it on board in the first year. So by the Sunday night, when you’re reflecting on these massive shifts that have taken place throughout the whole weekend, it feels like you’ve made this giant step in the right direction. There are some years where it’s harder, but this year felt really good and the team was really connected. There were fewer issues and everything seemed to go well, so we were all very grateful for that.”
What happens in a fallow year?
“We review everything so it actually ends up being quite busy, but without the most fun bit of having the actual festival. It was good to be back!”
Finally, what have been your Glastonbury highlights so far?
“Bowie in 2000, Orbital in 1994, Pulp in ’95 and then, in more recent years, Stormzy. There have been so many great moments like Adele and Beyoncé; it’s really hard to pick some out because there are so many every year.”