‘I popped the question. Of course she said yes – she was as wasted as I was’: the Glastonbury festival I’ll never forget

Billy Bragg, Joan Armatrading, Tim Jonze and Leonie Cooper reflect on their most magical days at Worthy Farm

‘We were left pondering the ritual we had just witnessed’

In the days before Shangri-La became the focus of late-night revelry at Glastonbury, festival goers were left to find their own entertainment in the relative quiet after the Pyramid Stage closed down. I could usually be found around midnight in the blues tent, an informal venue where, under dimmed lighting, you could buy a can of Red Stripe for a pound and listen to loud, heavy dub reggae.

Late one night walking back to my tent, I heard a distant rhythm carried on the wind, a primal beat: dot-dot-dash, dot-dot-dash. I thought little of it until I woke in the twilight before dawn to hear it again, but louder. Its insistence drew me from my tent and soon I found myself in a place where hundreds had gathered around the horned bus of the Mutoid Waste Company, banging out dot-dot-dash on whatever they had to hand. I grabbed a piece of rock and a discarded Coke can and joined in.

As sunrise approached, the tempo began to speed up, until it reached a feverish intensity as the sun appeared on the horizon. At that moment, the horned bus sprang to life, careering off towards the Pyramid Stage. In an instant, the spell was broken and, as if waking from a trance, we were left to ponder the nature of the ritual we had just witnessed. Billy Bragg, singer-songwriter and activist

Tim Jonze with his future spouse at Glastonbury.
‘We’d only been together for four months’ … Tim Jonze with his future spouse at Glastonbury. Photograph: Courtesy of Tim Jonze

‘I popped the question in front of the Pyramid Stage’

It wasn’t how I’d planned it. Largely because I hadn’t planned it. I’d only been with my girlfriend for four months by the time we arrived at our first Glastonbury together in 2005. Marriage had not been mentioned yet. But then there was Brian Wilson playing on the Pyramid Stage – we had already chosen the Beach Boys’ All I Wanna Do as our song – and there was the sun coming out for the first time after the rain ... God, so much rain. And then there was, let’s be honest, a big old blast of poppers. The ley lines were aligned, their Earth energies insisting that I act. I nipped off to buy a teal butterfly ring from a nearby store called Tomfoolery (you won’t find one of those on Hatton Garden) and popped the question. Of course, she said yes – she was as wasted as I was. It was a truly magical moment. Then we went off to tell everyone our good news. “What have you done that for, you dickheads?” was the alarmingly common response, a rare outbreak of common sense amid our normally perma-positive Glastonbury comrades. What did they know? Eighteen years and two kids later, we’re still going strong, even if we no longer wear luminous face paint. Tim Jonze, associate culture editor

Joan Armatrading at Glastonbury in 2008.
‘It’s a very sentimental thing for people’ … Joan Armatrading at Glastonbury in 2008. Photograph: Lucy Calder/Alamy

‘Glastonbury is like the Wimbledon of festivals’

I’ve played Glastonbury a couple of times: 1992 and 2008 – and I think I was one of the first female, Black artists on the Pyramid Stage. I tend to keep myself to myself, but I remember walking round during my first time at the festival and enjoying seeing all the stalls, all the people with their different ways of dressing, all the hippie-like food. It was sunny, rather than the infamous muddy Glastonburys, and incredibly busy. People would sometimes stop me to say hello, but not in a crazy way – the same as on the tube, where I rarely get recognised. I haven’t played a lot of festivals, but Glastonbury is like the Wimbledon of festivals – you’re very aware of what it is. It’s a sentimental thing for people and my band were really excited. I’m always horribly nervous before any gig, so Glastonbury was no different, but the crowd were very receptive and I really enjoyed it. Joan Armatrading, singer-songwriter as told to Leah Harper

‘We ended up trading jokes for food’

As soon as we finished our GCSEs, two pals and I headed to Worthy Farm in a van driven by a friendly vest-wearing builder who had been doing some work at one of said mates’ parents’ house. With one Reading festival under my pink, studded Claire’s Accessories belt, I assumed I knew everything there was to know about festivals, but was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer scale of Glastonbury. So much so that I didn’t find the Pyramid Stage until Sunday. We decided to skip David Bowie because he was too old (reader, in 2000 he was a mere 53). We also brought so little cash with us that we ended up trading jokes for food. If you’re ever in a tight spot, may I suggest finding some nice hippies with a crepe stand and offering them this zinger in exchange for a limp Nutella pancake: “Why do anarchists only drink herbal tea? Because all property is theft.” Leonie Cooper, music journalist

• This article was amended on 24 June 2022. Brian Wilson played the festival in 2005, not 2004 as an earlier version said.


Billy Bragg, Tim Jonze, Joan Armatrading interviewed by Leah Harper and Leonie Cooper

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A classicist at Glastonbury: ‘Headbanging in raincoats? It’s as English as Gardeners’ Question Time’
Our chief culture writer is a Glyndebourne veteran, but has never been to the world’s biggest music festival – so what did she make of the spectacle, the songs and the hedonism?

Charlotte Higgins

26, Jun, 2022 @1:45 PM

Article image
‘None of us knew we’d have babies when we bought our tickets!’ The joys of bringing your young child to Glastonbury
Wherever you look at Worthy Farm this year, there are parents enjoying the festival with their children. Their tips? Plenty of snacks and don’t forget the wipes

Leah Harper

26, Jun, 2022 @1:50 PM

Article image
‘We came and we conquered’: the Glastonbury I’ll never forget, by Skin, Rufus Wainwright and others
In the first part of our series, musicians and journalists recall their most memorable years at Worthy Farm – mud, romance, royalty and all

Skin and Rufus Wainwright, interviewed by Emine Saner, plus Kate Hutchinson and Alexis Petridis

21, Jun, 2022 @1:37 PM

Article image
‘Get lost, be nice, find the nooks and crannies!’ Insider tips on how to really enjoy a festival
Stewards, medical staff and police officers reflect on how to stay safe, have fun and the art of travelling light at the festival

Chris Godfrey

26, Jun, 2022 @3:02 PM

Article image
‘I want my ashes sprinkling here’: gen Z on why Glastonbury is cooler than ever
Glastonbury stewards, medical staff, volunteers and police officers offer expert advice on how to have fun, travel light – and stay safe

Elle Hunt

26, Jun, 2022 @2:15 PM

Article image
‘I chatted about the weather with Janet Jackson’: the Glastonbury festival I’ll never forget
Broadcaster Lauren Laverne, singer Mahalia, Michael Cragg and Laura Snapes recall the magic, the weirdness and the sheer horror of their trips to Worthy Farm

Lauren Laverne, Michael Cragg, Mahalia and Laura Snapes

23, Jun, 2022 @11:00 AM

Article image
TV tonight: Billie Eilish gets things underway at Glastonbury
Worthy Farm takes its place at the centre of the musical and spiritual universe. Plus: Claudia Winkleman poses one very tricky question. Here’s what to watch this evening

Phil Harrison, Ali Catterall, Henry Wong and Ellen E Jones

24, Jun, 2022 @5:20 AM

Article image
Glastonbury 2022 review: stunning moments, special singalongs and a rumour mill in overdrive
Billie Eilish, Self Esteem, Paul McCartney, Olivia Rodrigo, Noel Gallagher, AJ Tracey, Sam Fender and Wet Leg were all electrifying. But where was Harry Styles?

Alexis Petridis

26, Jun, 2022 @5:23 PM

Article image
‘It’s everyone coming back together’: why 200,000 of us couldn’t wait to get back to Glastonbury
The festival’s return has filled a gaping hole in the British calendar. We soak up the atmosphere with the help of Jarvis Cocker, Self Esteem and Shaz from Shepton Mallet

Laura Barton

27, Jun, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Glastonbury festival welcomes back crowds amid rail strikes
Organiser Emily Eavis ‘very emotional’ as gates open for first edition of festival in three years

Nadia Khomami and Josh Halliday

22, Jun, 2022 @9:59 AM