Like father, like daughter: Emily Eavis helps run the Glastonbury festival

Ten years ago, Emily Eavis was a student teacher and her father was ready to stop running the Glastonbury festival. Here she tells how her mother's death changed everything - and led to Emily becoming a major part of the event's renaissance

When Emily Eavis rang Bruce Springsteen's agent to ask if he would play Glastonbury, he replied: "Glaston-what?"

She laughs about the phone call. "I quickly said: 'Can you just let me put something together and I'll send it through?'"

She went on to compile an eight-page document, including a collection of quotes in support of the festival from, among others, Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, David Bowie, the late Joe Strummer (Bruce is said to be a fan), and Jay-Z - the hip-hop artist who controversially topped the bill last year. She also sent over a handwritten letter from her father, Michael, with whom she organises the festival, of which she was so proud that she has a framed copy of it. "The best thing he has ever written," she says. "If you could refuse that ..."

He didn't. Emily's dossier, it seems, has been enough to convince Springsteen to step up to the Pyramid stage in June and perform at the heart of Glastonbury. His fee is likely to be a fraction of what he could demand elsewhere. "Can you imagine 'Born to Run'?" asks Emily, 29, leaning forward and grinning. "He will tear it apart."

And so, she hopes, with Springsteen as well as a re-formed Blur and Neil Young playing to a crowd of 80,000, the stage is set for a successful Glastonbury.

Of course, there have been criticisms. While last year the Eavises were accused of trying to attract a crowd "too young", this year some claim they have gone a little old. For Emily, securing Springsteen will make it "vintage". "Bruce is someone we always wanted, but he has always seemed so far away from us," she says. "We've never really been acknowledged in America. It is a completely un-American concept. Artists there wouldn't even notice what we were doing, but Jay-Z and Kings of Leon have changed that."

They have also brought recognition in the US media, it seems. Sources say that this week Michael Eavis will be named as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.

Emily and her father may be on a high now, but it has not been an easy ride. Three years of poor weather, interspersed with sound problems, poor ticket sales and the controversial choice of Jay-Z, ended in claims that Glastonbury had lost its soul. The festival came under so much scrutiny that Emily began to "dread" opening the papers.

In one instance, she reveals that Neil Diamond almost pulled out after her father made a comment to a reporter admitting they were paying him "very little". Emily says it was meant as a compliment, but others interpreted it as "Neil Diamond is cheap". The singer's management "took it as a diss", says Emily. "It was on the verge of not happening."

Holding her hands to her head and smiling, she recalls her father's other controversial comment, which she insists was "massively misinterpreted" as an attack on "middle-aged and middle-class" punters. After the 2007 festival, Michael said Glastonbury was attracting too many thirty- and fortysomethings at the expense of the younger "Radio 1 and NME crowd".

It was the start of a "difficult" period. "It was really wet, people were exhausted, we had some sound issues on the Pyramid stage. There were some amazing moments, but what came to the surface were the problems," says Emily. "Suddenly it opened up this channel for anyone who had any remote feeling of being pissed off with Glastonbury. Every day was like an earthquake in our house."

Part of the problem, she says, was that the festival had become too fashionable: a must-do event - even listed in a book of 100 things to experience during your lifetime: "2007 was not a Glastonbury crowd. We found ourselves in a place which was completely alien to us - this fashiony thing."

So when tickets did not sell out the following year, "that was fine... we needed to change the crowd". But she was not prepared for the storm that would erupt when the team announced their headliner for 2008: Jay-Z. For punters who felt ownership over the festival, Glastonbury and hip-hop did not mix. "I'm sorry, but Jay-Z? No chance," said Oasis's Noel Gallagher, adding fuel to the flames.

"I just thought the other day that, all through the rumblings, my dad never said 'This was Emily's idea'," she says. She didn't relax about the decision until she turned up backstage during the performance and set eyes on the crowd: "It was the most wired atmosphere I've ever felt at the festival and they were chanting, 'Jay-Z, Jay-Z'." She now admits that Gallagher's comments probably helped stoke the atmosphere.

The success of last year was a turning point for Emily. This time around, the festival will be significant for another reason, coming 10 years after the death of her mother from cancer. Emily had been training to be a primary school teacher, but cut short her studies and returned home when her mother fell ill and then died in 1999.

Jean Eavis had been one half of Glastonbury, founding it with Michael almost 30 years earlier. The couple had planned to retire in 2000, bringing the tradition to an end. "In the years that my parents were running it, it was so stressful," says Emily. "You would be sat down for dinner and there would be someone at the door, at the window, on the phone; people turning up in massive trucks in the middle of the night - it was like the Wild West in the 80s."

The reason her parents felt ready to end it was because it was hard to see how it would go on, she says. Things could be volatile. Emily remembers how, in 1990 when she was 10, she was sitting at the kitchen table, doing her homework, when she saw "a row of people running towards the window with telegraph poles that were on fire. It was horrific. And my parents began to think, 'Is it worth it, what is the long-term future, how can it continue?'." Towards the end of the 90s, "they quite liked the idea of just sitting in a couple of deckchairs on the beach".

That changed when her mother died: "Dad needed it more than ever and I needed to be there with him." It was never supposed to be long term for Emily. "It was a distraction from the pain that everyone was going through and a tribute to my mum," she says. "I felt she'd been through so much, we had to keep it going for her."

In the years that followed, Emily became more and more a part of Glastonbury. She now books all the acts for the Pyramid stage, runs the Park area and oversees sponsorship.

It was difficult at first as a young woman in a "male-dominated" industry. "People didn't take it seriously coming from a girl," she says, "especially as not only was I a girl, but a 'daughter of'. But my dad has in no way given this to me in a nicely wrapped package. He has challenged me, made sure I can do it."

For the first few years, she admits, she felt "weird, guilty, paranoid or something. It is so attached to my dad and I didn't want to be seen to be making any dramatic moves. Obviously Jay-Z completely contradicts that."

And she has seen more than just the controversies over tickets, sound and hip-hop. Emily was there when the "super-fence" was erected in 2002, to claims that the festival had sold out to the establishment. While the fence may have stripped Glastonbury of its "edge", she says that it also keeps out the drug dealers who once roamed the site.

"If you talk to anyone who was there in the 80s - it was pretty hairy. We used to have people for weeks on the farm, in really bad states as a result of the concoctions they had taken. My mum would look after them. We would get these phone calls from their mums, saying 'My daughter said she'd be back on Monday, it's now Friday. She has short dark hair, she is 25'. We'd go out into the garden and there would be 10 of them who fitted that description."

These days, Emily says, the festival is different. Her bugbear is seeing punters ripped off by ticket touting. That is why Glastonbury has introduced a registration system so that "dodgy" companies cannot buy up hundreds and sell them at inflated prices.

She has now moved back to Worthy Farm with her boyfriend, Nick Dewey, whom she plans to marry in August. Her father lives nearby and they work together daily.

"The biggest misconception is that my dad and I are sitting around the kitchen table with goggles and test tubes creating the ultimate concoction for each year, going 'No, let's make it a bit younger or a bit older'. Just creating this mad experiment. It isn't true. We are just trying to make the best of what we've got."

Glasto past and present

Birthday On September 19, 1970 a music festival was staged at Worthy Farm. The £1 entry fee entitled punters to free milk. The farmer, Michael Eavis, lost £1,500.

Glasto the nickname of the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.

Muse One of the festival's founding muses was the late Arabella Spencer-Churchill, granddaughter of Winston. She was instrumental in adding theatre to the bill to help broaden its appeal.

The Battle of Yeoman's Bridge At the close of the 1990 festival, fighting broke out between security guards and new age travellers. There was no festival in 1991.

Trench Foot Mud can be a big feature - but sometimes the site is so parched that thousands of gallons of water are sprayed on the land - and grateful festival-goers.

Top of the Bill Aside from Bruce Springsteen this year's line-up is rumoured to include Crosby, Stills and Nash and Madness.

• The Guardian, sister paper of the Observer, sponsors the Glastonbury festival. The festival runs from 24-28 June


Anushka Asthana

The GuardianTramp

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