'It's bloody brilliant!' Michael Eavis on bringing Jeremy Corbyn to Glastonbury

The Methodist farmer who founded the festival, and his daughter, reveal why they are welcoming the Labour leader – and Johnny Depp – to this year’s event and what happens to Glastonbury next

One year on from an apocalyptically muddy and Brexit-dazed Glastonbury 2016, and with the country reeling after a series of horrific events, Michael and Emily Eavis are aiming to create an upbeat, safe and politically engaged festival this year – helped in part by an appearance from Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour leader, buoyed by a stronger than expected election result, could eclipse the likes of Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry and Radiohead when he addresses the crowds on the Pyramid stage on the Saturday afternoon of the festival. While Glastonbury attracts a wider cross-section of society than its hippie stereotype suggests, its 175,000-strong crowd is still mostly liberal-minded, and likely to roar with approval as Corbyn steps on stage, notionally to introduce the duo Run the Jewels.

“I’ll be leading him on – I’ll get a cheer as well!” laughs festival founder Michael Eavis, who at 81 remains as twinkly as ever, constantly rattling off high-pitched chuckles. “I’m so looking forward to it. He really is the hero of the hour, and he’s so refreshing. We’re going to make some major changes in our society. There’ll be a way of financing it somehow, there has to be – this is the future of the country, and young people are so into it. It’s bloody brilliant!

“Sorry,” he adds. “I don’t usually swear very much.”

Eavis applauds Corbyn’s policies on nuclear disarmament and public services, saying of the latter: “The Tories have ignored them, and the Labour party as well – the Blairites. It’s all changed now.”

His daughter Emily, a mother of three who carried her newborn baby around last year’s festival, agrees. “When you think about the number of young people who voted, that gives me enormous hope,” she says. “And I love the way Corbyn has stuck to his message.”

The Pyramid stage one week before the gates open.
The Pyramid stage one week before the gates open. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Father and daughter both still live on Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset, site of the festival since 1970, when 1,500 people came to see acts including Tyrannosaurus Rex. Speaking on a gloriously sunny morning just days before the gates open this year, Emily describes “a real history of leftwing activism” at the event that chimes with her own political values. “We used to go on ‘Maggie Outs’ every weekend when I was a kid,” she says, reminiscing on the Thatcher years. “We’d go to the market in the morning, buy some cows, then do a ‘Maggie Out’ in the afternoon. I thought that was normal until I went to school and everyone was like: ‘What?’ So we’ve always been doing it.”

Corbyn’s appearance should help to create a different political mood to the one at last year’s festival, when attendees woke up on a waterlogged site to news that Britain had voted to leave the EU. “That was a sad, sad start to the festival last year,” Emily says. “There were a lot of people who were really disappointed. But they ended up pushing back and enjoying themselves – it was almost like we were Remaining until Monday.

“There were also probably a lot of people who didn’t vote,” she adds. “But I think people have been really pissed off after Brexit, and felt like they were sold a lot of lies. I think those people have used their voice [to vote for Corbyn].”

Michael Eavis with a baby Emily Eavis at the Glastonbury festival in 1980.
Michael Eavis with a baby Emily Eavis at the Glastonbury festival in 1980. Photograph: Courtesy Glastonbury festival

This year’s festival comes after terror attacks on Westminster, London Bridge and Manchester Arena, which has required a series of security tweaks. “We don’t normally make a point of searching people, because historically this event has been incredibly safe, but we are this year,” says Emily. Attendees are being encouraged to pack as lightly as possible to speed up the process of searching every ticketholder’s luggage. “These attacks are very upsetting, for everyone, but the fact is that most events are totally safe. There’s as much chance of something happening in a supermarket or shopping centre or sporting event. We just have to carry on and put in as many checks as possible, to make people feel safe.”

Emily hops behind the wheel of an aged Land Rover for a tour of the site, and we pass a set of the infamous “long drop” toilets whose uric tang is very much part of the Glasto experience. “My kids love them,” she says. “They’re always saying, ‘Can we go to the toilet outside today?’” As the sun beats down, preparations are being made in an unhurried and quintessentially Glastonbury way: children paint signs, wood is sawn to a disco beat, and a man erects a mock graveyard with stones for Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson as Grace Jones’s La Vie en Rose wafts around. Michael is in raptures about his 30,000-strong staff. “You couldn’t get them to want to come, and put up with purgatory, and still enjoy it, anywhere else. That willingness is extraordinary – it’s the eighth wonder of the world.”

We arrive at the south east area of the site – often dubbed the “naughty corner” – which hosts dance music amid fantastical structures until dawn. The Shangri-La section, a kind of outdoor art gallery-cum-nightclub, has had a total redesign, its artworks by the likes of Mark Titchner and Gee Vaucher all focused on the theme of waste – a salient topic at Glastonbury, which, despite its ostensibly green outlook, creates a tide of discarded plastic, tents and other detritus come Monday morning.

‘The eighth wonder of the world’... Glastonbury’s army of staff.
‘The eighth wonder of the world’ ... some of Glastonbury’s army of staff. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

“It’s awful,” says organiser Kaye Dunnings. “It’s why I changed the theme this year – I couldn’t carry on doing this, if we couldn’t do something about it.” Shangri-La’s stages are made entirely of recycled materials, and where once posters exhorted “Leave No Trace”, Dunnings’ will read: “Don’t Be a Dick” and “WTF Fam?”

Another addition to the festival this year is Cineramageddon, a drive-in movie theatre created by director Julien Temple, with customised cyberpunk cars to watch from. Temple’s star booking is Johnny Depp, who will introduce a curated night of films, though some eyebrows have been raised at the right-on Glastonbury booking someone who had been accused of domestic abuse. Emily brushes it away. “If you start booking people on their ethical policy and morals, there’s a lot of people you wouldn’t book, to be honest,” she says. The festival has previously been petitioned over booking the Rolling Stones and rapper Tyler, the Creator. “Part of our policy is that everyone has the freedom to book who is right for their area.”

The Block 9 area takes shape.
The Block 9 area takes shape. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

She says two headliners have already been booked for the festival’s 50th anniversary in 2020, and that the festival will also be held in 2019 following a fallow year to rest the farm site. Michael says “we’ll be going somewhere else in 2021” for the previously announced spinoff event, the Variety Bazaar – with three possible sites being considered – and has previously said they wouldn’t do both events in the same year. But Emily says: “I think we’ll do the two together.” A pause. “I reckon. We don’t know. Who plans anything this far in advance?”

Looking slightly less far into the future, the long range weather forecast is suggesting sunshine and clouds – the perfect combination for Glastonbury – but the Eavises have ordered 200 extra tons of woodchip just in case. “I’ve only got one regret,” says Michael. “It’s not running next year!”


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Jeremy Corbyn to appear on Pyramid stage at Glastonbury festival 2017
Labour leader to introduce political US rap duo Run the Jewels on the main stage as Michael Eavis hails him ‘the hero of the hour’

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

16, Jun, 2017 @9:32 AM

Article image
Glastonbury 2017: 'the best one yet', declares organiser Emily Eavis
Ed Sheeran is headliner for last night at Worthy Farm after secret set by the Killers, winding up politically charged festival

Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Nadia Khomami

25, Jun, 2017 @6:29 PM

Article image
Glastonbury festival will move home in 2019 – as The Variety Bazaar
Festival founder Michael Eavis reveals future event will shift ‘halfway to the Midlands’ and go by different name before returning to normality in 2020

Guardian music

17, Jan, 2017 @5:11 PM

Article image
Corbyn, Glastonbury and a chant for the terraces | Letters
Letters: Dr Chris Morris enjoyed watching Jeremy Corbyn receiving ecstatic cheers from a massive crowd, Trevor Fisher thinks those expecting a Labour government should prepare for a long haul, and Alistair Budd wonders if football fans will take up the Corbyn chant


03, Jul, 2017 @5:34 PM

Article image
Emily Eavis scotches Glastonbury relocation rumours following 'dangerous gas pipe' claim
Organiser says ‘there seems to have been a misunderstanding about the gas line which runs under the festival site’

Harriet Gibsone

24, Nov, 2015 @3:48 PM

Article image
'We all need human connection': Emily Eavis hopes for livestreamed Glastonbury show
Exclusive: festival organiser says this year’s cancellation won’t bankrupt the event and that 2022 will be an ‘enormous high’

Laura Snapes

22, Jan, 2021 @5:53 PM

Article image
Michael Eavis: Glastonbury could go bankrupt if it can't be staged in 2021
Exclusive: Founder says another cancellation would ‘be curtains’ for festival and has hopes for testing scheme, with daughter Emily saying they will ‘mutate to survive’

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

25, Jun, 2020 @11:32 AM

Article image
Glastonbury tickets for 2019 sell out in half an hour
Record numbers attempt to buy tickets for festival following its fallow year

Alexandra Heal

07, Oct, 2018 @9:09 AM

Article image
Glastonbury 2017: Jeremy Corbyn conquers the stage – as it happened
The Labour party leader got the biggest crowd of the weekend so far as warm-up man for Run the Jewels. Plus all the rest of the action from Saturday daytime

Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Harriet Gibsone

24, Jun, 2017 @6:24 PM

Article image
Jeremy Corbyn wants to scrap Trident nuclear plan, says Michael Eavis
Labour leader who voted against weapons renewal programme quipped about ridding UK of it, says Glastonbury founder

Kevin Rawlinson

25, Jun, 2017 @6:53 PM