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Emily Eavis interview: Glastonbury ‘is the best it's been’

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Emily Eavis interview: Glastonbury ‘is the best it's been’

The largest greenfield music festival in the world is set to return for its 49th year on 26 June. Anticipation for Glastonbury 2019 has been huge following a two-year lull, with tickets selling out within 30 minutes last October. Headliners this year are The Cure, The Killers and UK grime star Stormzy, alongside acts like Kylie Minogue, Janet Jackson and Billie Eilish.

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Amid an increasing market for festivals worldwide, it’s impressive that Glastonbury continues to adapt to challenges, defying rumours that its star is falling. The festival, which started in 1970 when several hundred hippies paid £1 (including free milk from the farm ), now attracts more than 175,000 people. In 2016, owner Michael Eavis said that the festival could move to protect his beloved Worthy Farm site, and that the name would change to The Variety Bazaar . His daughter Emily, however, refuted this in 2017 when she tweeted : “Glastonbury Festival will always be called Glastonbury and will remain at Worthy Farm!”

Emily has led proceedings since her father turned 80 in 2016, and the festival has grown into a truly global event. The festival reaches a global broadcast audience of 21 million, and site itself becomes the size of Oxford town centre once it’s built. Much of the profits still go to charity – £3 million ($3.8 million) in 2017 alone.  

Ahead of this year’s festival, Emily spoke to BBC Music about what to expect, the challenges of staying ahead of the field, and the future of the festival.

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View image of Emily Eavis with father Michael Eavis

How are things on the farm?

Really good. We’re in the middle of it, you know? We’re on this schedule which is pretty full-on to build the whole city. It’s good, but it’s that time of year where we all go into 24-hour mode.

Prince Julio Cesar “No soy, ni fui, ni seré un proxeneta”

It’s been two years since the last festival. It’s so unusual in this day and age to have fallow years. What‘s so crucial about them for being able to get your head into growing the festival?

In a way, the fallow year is probably the best idea my dad ever had, apart from starting the festival. It’s just so good to drop off the radar every five years and give everyone a break, and I suppose the fallow term is an agricultural term for resting the land. But giving everybody a break from it – the community, the public, the local village, everyone who works on it and ploughs so much into it – by the end of five years everyone needs a break.

What was your main focus for this year during that time? Are there any new intentions for the festival?

It gives us a chance to reflect and work out what we want to do next. In the fallow year [the focus was on] single use plastics. We’re banning the sale of single-use plastic entirely, including bottles, which with a city this size is obviously a vast mission. These things take two or three years on this scale for any new initiatives to really kick in. We’re starting off with this mission and we’re not selling any plastic bottles. You‘ll be able to buy water in a can, and we’ve got tap water available at 60 different points all across the site

View image of The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury

You said you were blown away by the fact that tickets sold out in 30 minutes. You never seem to take it for granted that the festival will sell?

Yeah, well, 2008 is not that far in the distant past; it’s not long enough ago for us to forget what it feels like to only sell 80,000 tickets on the day of sale rather than 130,000. We were desperately trying to shift the rest of the 50,000 tickets that we had to sell. It was really stressful. At that point we considered that maybe it had reached capacity, maybe our best days were over. So, I guess you never take it for granted. Never. You can never, ever rest on your laurels. There are so many amazing events around the corner, up the road, in this country, in Europe and in America. There’s a lot of competition in a good way. It makes us raise our game, and it makes us never take it for granted

What are some of the challenges that arise from the fact that the market is so much larger than it ever has been in terms of festivals. How does Glastonbury react to that?

Probably the thing that is really unique to us is the scale. It’s so widespread. We spend a lot of time talking about bands and getting the right lineup that suits the festival for each year – the best lineup that we can get. But it’s also the best theatre and circus. Incredible European circus acts that you wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else. There are lineups beyond music that are amazing. For me, that’s what makes it different and special

What’s an example of something you can’t see anywhere else?

I don’t have a list of the circus acts this year but I should speak to Haggis, who has been here for a very long time. He’s an award-winning circus act himself. Haggis McLeod. An incredible name. He was married to Arabella Churchill [granddaughter of Winston Churchill]; they’ve been involved in Glastonbury since 1971, and was part of the crew that brought Bowie down in 1971. She died a few years ago, and he now runs the theatre and circus field. He spends a lot of time handpicking the lineups, which we’re due to announce quite soon

View image of Sun setting at Worthy Farm on the first day of the 2014 Glastonbury Festival 2014

Glastonbury has always been good at breaking the mould of what a traditional festival can and should be. How much of it now is tastemaking versus reacting to things like streaming numbers?

One of the things we’re lucky to have at the moment in our favour is that we can sell without announcing the lineup. So we can be a little bit instinctive what works here. It’s not necessarily the biggest act right now, or the most streamed artist this year. We’re always getting that balance between what people want to see, and what’s really going to surprise people as well, and keep it interesting, moving and evolving in the right direction

Is Stormzy your biggest wildcard this year? Does it feel like a risk?

I don’t feel like that at all. People are always ready to scrutinise, so we’re prepared for that. But I don’t feel like it’s a wildcard, because I’ve seen him perform on the Other Stage in 2017. That was the moment when I thought he has to headline because I could just see it bursting out of him. This guy needs to be headlining on the Pyramid stage. He’s just a phenomenal power and force live, and that to me is really interesting and exciting. Putting someone there who will make a massive transition. I feel like that’s our responsibility. That’s where the future lies as well

There’s a capacity to legitimise something on a larger scale at Glastonbury.

Yeah, I always think, don’t listen too much to the haters, the criticisms. There’s always going to be that. We get it every year. We get it when we announce some of the biggest acts in the world. It doesn’t actually correlate with what actually happens in the field. The real moments and the people who come are very open-minded and are a very generous crowd. They come and they love it. Just don’t go on the internet

View image of Adele at Glastonbury in 2015

You made a comment a few months ago that acts get 10% of what they’d get at other festivals. There’s a prestige around Glastonbury and it’s about more than the money, but do you have a hard time convincing some of the newer generations of artists of the festival’s significance?

We spend 90% of the winter convincing people and talking to people about why it’s an important thing to do. We are preoccupied with that and that’s how we ended up with The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen and Beyoncé and Adele. It does take a lot of work, but it really pays off for us to explain: look this is so much more than a gig, this is why it’s important, this is honestly different. Although we’re not paying huge fees, it pays off in six months. The profile and what it does for your career, for everything, you’ll never be the same again

Even Beyoncé, when I saw her headline Coachella I thought about her Glastonbury headline slot seven or eight years prior. It’s part of her journey as an artist, and it was the first time she legitimately called herself a rockstar, which is something that people unanimously agree on now but didn’t back then.

Totally! She’s such a rockstar, and people were like: are you sure about all this pop? What does that even mean?! Rock, soul, blues, this is everything, this is the whole works in this set, this is an artist who covers every genre and basically does rule the world

I remember seeing Miley Cyrus too at the O2 on the Bangerz tour many years ago thinking, she has to play Glastonbury.

I was really pleased to get her, actually. It’s weird, I just thought of her in the middle of the night. We’d almost finished the whole lineup and then I woke up about three in the morning and I went: Oh my god, we gotta get her! Some things just come in quite late in the day. I thought – why didn’t we think of this earlier? She’s never going to be available. We tracked her down, and luckily she was up for it

View image of Miley Cyrus

There’s a huge debate around diversification on festival bills, particularly the representation of women. With so many festivals struggling to be women inclusive, how have you managed to get it right this year?

It is a battle, I’m not gonna lie. It’s a battle that we’re winning now but it’s been a longstanding battle for me personally to get people on board, to get all the bookers on board, to get all the areas on board, with really addressing this head on. There’s no hiding from it, there’s no excuse for it as far as I’m concerned to just not get as many females on the bill as there are males. It’s simply not an option any more

What of the future of Glastonbury? There’s a lot of gossip in the air about it moving to a new site, about it happening multiple times a year. For you what is the focus for the future?

I would say that we’re really in a good place now – it’s the best it’s been. We have a lot of people wanting to come which is always a good sign and as long as people want to come we’ll keep doing it

View image of Rolling Stones at Glastonbury in 2013

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