Glastonbury on TV: spectacular, even from my sofa

The BBC recreated the festival experience perfectly, from the panic attacks to the annoying companions

There’s a fundamental difference between experiencing Glastonbury in the flesh and watching it on TV. In person, it’s a simultaneous assault on your senses, the sort of thing that sears your nervous system. Then again, when you’re watching from home, you get to eat vegetables and occasionally wash your hands. Who’s to say which is better?

However, even though sitting down indoors is undoubtedly better than standing up outside, this year’s television coverage seemed hell-bent on replicating the festival experience as closely as possible. Luckily, thanks to my five-month-old son, I was already one step ahead in this regard. Between the constant noise, the lack of sleep and the relentless exposure to gallons of red-hot liquid faeces, it was just like being there.

Chris Evans and Alex Jones, BBC Glastonbury coverage
Sense of panic … Chris Evans and Alex Jones present the One Show from backstage Photograph: iplayer grab

Others had to work harder to suspend their disbelief. Especially since the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage traditionally plays out like an alternate universe where Jools Holland is a power-crazed emperor who demanded the creation of a never-ending edition of Later. On TV, without the need to walk between stages, you end up forced into a carefully curated smorgasbord: a current artist! A nostalgia act! A Japanese avant-garde jazz ensemble that might be a satirical take-down of world music! – at least some of which you’re bound to enjoy.

In fact, so stringent was the BBC’s approach to recreating the Glastonbury experience in full this year that it even managed to replicate the intimidating sense of panic that tends to engulf first-time revellers as they set foot inside the perimeter. It achieved this by letting Chris Evans (of all people) present Friday’s One Show (of all things) from the backstage area (of all places). Seeing Chris, dressed in leather and visibly bristling whenever anyone’s attention strayed from him for even a millisecond, was enough to bring back a flood of familiar sensations. What’s going on? Is it all going to be like this? Have I made a terrible mistake?

Gemma Cairney BBC Glastonbury coverage
Taking the Teddy Ruxpin role … the very excited Gemma Cairney Photograph: iplayer grab

Thankfully, things soon settled down. The hosts – particularly Lauren Laverne and Mark Radcliffe – were your more experienced friends, guiding you towards performances they thought you might like. And then there was Gemma Cairney, acting as the annoying friend of a friend who came along at the last minute when someone else dropped out; the one who ends up dragging you around all the rubbish hat stalls when all you really want is a nice sit-down. Her entire output during the entire weekend could have been adequately performed by a Teddy Ruxpin bumbling around yelling “RANDOM!” and “LOOK! CLOWNS! LOL!” to nobody in particular every couple of seconds. However, Cairney was a necessary inclusion. Glastonbury is full of dreadful people, and she was there to remind the viewer of that. Public service broadcasting at its finest.

But the best Glastonbury experience wasn’t on TV at all. It was over on iPlayer, where a handful of stages were being streamed without interruption. This was the perfect way to deliver a spectacle like Glastonbury – you were free to figuratively wander around, taking in whatever you wanted. Kanye West clutching the railings of a cherry picker for dear life, Ellie Rose making the entire crowd hold their breath and lean in to hear her, Super Furry Animals chucking themselves into yeti suits. By experiencing Glastonbury on iPlayer, you were only ever an overpriced tartiflette away from really being there. Hands down, it was the best use of the platform since the Olympics.

That said, with all the streaming options available, the coverage still smacked a little of unfulfilled potential. Given the success of BBC4’s slow TV season earlier this year, a stream dedicated to unbroken footage of the Greencrafts Village would have gone down a storm. Failing that, perhaps there should have been a fixed rig in the hospitality bar, allowing everyone the chance to watch dozens of utterly insignificant television personalities furtively casting around to make sure they’re still the most famous person within a 10-foot radius. In my experience, that’s the spirit of Glastonbury incarnate.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘Glastonbury is a work of art. It is a masterpiece’
The Guardian’s art critic goes to Glastonbury for the first time since 1984 and finds Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights has come to life. Did the festival free his mind – or make him lose it?

Jonathan Jones

28, Jun, 2015 @12:31 PM

Glastonbury 2015: festival style – strong looks all round
Some of the most striking dressers claim they packed in a rush and didn’t plan their outfits. But who are their role models?

Nosheen Iqbal, Leah Harper

28, Jun, 2015 @1:14 PM

Article image
From Glastonbury to Bestival, festival season is lucrative for small traders
With visitors ready to spend hundreds, food trucks and small brands can make large sums from the summer’s events calendar

Emma Featherstone

22, Jun, 2015 @9:04 AM

Article image
Ready to block? Glastonbury goes Lego
Legoland Windsor’s painstakingly faithful recreation of the festival site includes portable toilets, real Worthy Farm mud and Kim Kardashian

Guardian music

23, Jun, 2015 @10:33 AM

Article image
My Glastonbury: the stars' best festival pictures on Instagram
From Lionel Richie eating baked beans to Kim and Kanye’s aerial arrival, this is how the celebs saw Glastonbury

28, Jun, 2015 @3:11 PM

Article image
Florence + the Machine return to No 1 following Glastonbury set
Friday-night headline performance helps Florence + the Machine pip Wolf Alice to top spot in the album charts

Guardian music

29, Jun, 2015 @9:30 AM

Article image
Glastonbury weather forecast: prepare for a weekend of rain
Festivalgoers will get to pitch their tents in the dry, but Saturday will be the only dry day once the music starts

Guardian music

23, Jun, 2015 @8:18 AM

Article image
The ultimate Glastonbury style guide: from denim cut-offs to disco sequins
Never mind the weather. When creating your festival fashion statement, it’s all about where you choose to hang out. Here’s our stage-by-stage breakdown

Jess Cartner-Morley

23, Jun, 2015 @5:12 PM

Article image
Which music festival are you?
Are you a Coachella cliche? Or boho like Bestival? Take our quiz

Tshepo Mokoena

19, May, 2015 @9:12 AM

Article image
TV tonight: behind the scenes at Glastonbury in the 1990s
BBC Two travels back in time to a scorching decade of Glastonbury festivals. Plus: Gregg Wallace dons the lederhosen to tuck in to schnitzel and beer. Here’s what to watch this evening

Ammar Kalia, Jack Seale, Graeme Virtue, Hannah Verdier and Simon Wardell

25, Jun, 2021 @5:20 AM