View from the top: Michael and Emily Eavis, founders, Glastonbury Festival

Glastonbury Festival is just weeks away but the debate about the line-up rages on. Hannah Marriott talks exclusively to Michael and Emily Eavis about running the UK's biggest, and most-talked-about, music event.

Michael and Emily Eavis
Michael and Emily Eavis

Posing patiently with daughter Emily in the persistent Somerset drizzle, Michael Eavis insists: ‘No, no, we don't need an umbrella - we're used to it.'

Without 137,500 music lovers and their multicoloured crop of tents, Worthy Farm is a peaceful place - mainly green,except for the black-and-white shapes of Friesian cows in the valley's rolling fields. But it has been a typically busy day for the Eavises.

Earlier that morning, 100 journalists ­descended on the quiet village of Pilton for a press conference about biodegradable tent pegs (the Eavises are providing festival-goers with more than one million biodegradable, potato-starch pegs this year in a bid to safeguard the cows from discarded metal).

The initiative is part of this year's mission statement: ‘Love the Farm - Leave No Trace'. The aim is to remind revellers that Worthy Farm is, well, a farm, and that it has to get back to work after they have left. There are a host of other environmental policies, too, including encouraging visitors to take coaches to and from the site, rather than cars.

The festival's PR operation is handled by a small in-house team and press conferences are few and far between - the team spends most of its time ­responding to media enquiries rather than pushing out messages.

Michael and Emily EavisMany of these enquiries are about the line-up, and the Eavises have come to accept that ‘guessing the headliners' has become something of a national pastime in recent years.

As Michael says: ‘People try to find out all the time. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don't; sometimes they make it up. So we have to deny it all the time.'

The rise of online journalism has made this even more of a headache. ‘It's a real disaster,' says Michael. ‘If they get it wrong, the whole world knows within seconds.'

Emily explains: ‘If a website wrongly claims that a band is playing, within minutes you've got their agent on the phone, because the band is actually booked somewhere else.'

When you consider recent stories alone - the furore around rapper Jay-Z's headline slot, the fuss when tickets failed to sell out within hours - it is clear that the Eavises could spend all their time managing the media, with no room left for organising the event.

But they are not tempted to take on a PR agency. ‘No, definitely not. It would cause us pain,' says Michael.

As far as he is concerned, a paid agency might not be doing it for the right reasons - and that, for him, doesn't sit easily with the festival's collectivist, freewheeling ethos.

Moreover, the abundance of goodwill that the Eavises seem to generate among celebrities puts them in a unique position to quickly sort out any media issues that arise.

In March, for example, The Sun reported that Radiohead's Thom Yorke would not be prepared to play Glastonbury because the ­environmentally conscious singer could not get to the site using public transport.

Sensing Yorke's quotes had been taken out of context, the Eavises were able to
speak to him directly, and Yorke promptly ­issued a statement on his website clarifying
his ­remarks.

‘We ended up with a really good story in the end,' says Emily. But media management does not always run this smoothly. A month before our interview, Emily experienced her ‘worst ever' PR nightmare, when she said that organisers would be treating this year's festival ‘as if it were the last' - meaning that they would be putting all their energy into it.

This became a huge news story, with hundreds of websites, radio stations and newspapers tolling the death knell for Glastonbury. As well as feeling frustrated that the comment became a story at all (apparently Michael has said the same thing every year for 38 years without anyone batting an eyelid), Emily was horrified by the timing of the story: it broke just as the rush to register for tickets kicked off.

‘It made it look like a stunt, and that's the last thing in the world we would do,' she says.  ‘It was just awful, really bad.'

At times, when talking to the Eavises about the more negative stories - the line-up leaks, or claims that they have ‘sold out' to commercial interests - they seem like a normal family, with normal family concerns, whose lives just happened to have become caught up in this ­sprawling, cultural behemoth.

Understandably, they seem a bit anxious at times, but they are also quick to laugh at the madness of it all. Michael, 72, and Emily, 28, make a charming double act. ­Despite their lives becoming public property, they try not to take negative press reports to heart and have learned that they have to relinquish control of a lot of what is said, and written, about the festival.

‘The media coverage is so cyclical,' says Emily. ‘You'll get one person saying Glastonbury has "sold out", then everyone says it. But as long as people involved in the festival feel they're in it for the right reasons, in a way it doesn't matter what the media are saying.'

Whatever others say, as far as the family is concerned, the festival is still a catalyst
for ­social change. Michael's father and grandfather were Methodist preachers, but he is keen not to use the festival as a platform for his own views.

‘We're not like that, are we?' he asks, turning to his daughter. ‘We don't think so anyway.'
Instead, the festival supports charities - Oxfam, WaterAid and Greenpeace - as well as a host of smaller groups. Michael is inv-olved with a number of local initiatives, having already given time and money towards rebuilding the town hall and building houses for working people to rent in Pilton.

He admits that the locals probably view the family as ‘a bit baronial', but insists he is ‘not showing off'.

Locals are also given free festival tickets, which the Eavises offer to buy back if they choose not to attend, and the family does ­occasionally ‘throw money around in the village a little bit', he says.

‘It makes it a nicer village, for one thing, and it's also because the villagers have been putting up with us for 38 years. In the past, it has been quite horrendous at times.'

Indeed, the atmosphere hasn't always been one of bucolic goodwill down on Worthy Farm. Michael still has vivid memories of the Glastonbury that captured press attention back in the 1980s.

‘There was quite a lot of trouble with hippies and travellers,' he recalls. ‘They looked like Sesame Street characters - sort of Russell Brand-looking people.

‘It was scary - people round here aren't used to seeing people looking like that, ­behaving badly. Lots of drugs. I was a bit scared, too.'

Both Michael and Emily are refreshingly frank about past shortcomings and problems. ‘There just wasn't enough seating last year - we're doubling it this year,' says Emily.

What they will not accept, however, is any suggestion that they have ‘sold out'. There are corporate sponsors, of course, but each contributes to the collective festival experience, bringing ‘things people need', such as mobile phone chargers, beer, a daily newspaper and programmes. And branding is kept - very strictly - to a minimum.

‘We get money out of these people and then we give most of the festival's profits away,' explains Michael. ‘We're trying to give money away, you see. It's not like we wander around town wearing suits and go to the ­Bahamas for the winter.'

‘You won't find us in the Bahamas,' agrees Emily. ‘God, I wish.' Michael adds: ‘We've enough money to live a nice life, we don't need any more.' Given that most other big festivals are not just commercially supported but usually have the main sponsor's name in their ­title, it seems odd that the Eavises are quizzed on the issue so often, but it's nothing new, as Michael was recently reminded.

‘I found an article from 1971, saying "this year was a complete sell out in comparison to last year". People are always going to say that,' he sighs.

Esther Addley - a senior reporter at The Guardian, which sponsors the festival - has reported on Glastonbury for five years.

She knows, first hand, how strict the Eavi-ses are about branding. One year, she and her colleagues produced a special edition of The Guardian's G2 supplement from a bus at the festival, but they were not allowed to place even a tiny ‘G2' sign on the front.

She feels criticisms are inevitable because Glastonbury is such a national institution. ‘People feel they have ownership over it,' she says. ‘They have an incredibly rose-tinted view of what it used to be like - whether it actually was like that I don't know.'

She adds that Michael is ‘great value for journalists', but ‘probably not very easy to handle' for his press office.

‘They have very strict embargoes about the line-up, but he often ends up saying something he probably shouldn't.'

Indeed, during our interview - a couple of weeks before tickets fail to sell out in the usual record time - Michael is worried that they may have ‘saturated the market'. ‘We're not sure whether demand is there any more, we can't be sure whether we'll need the photo IDs in future,' he admits.

While Emily is confident that the event will sell out (in ticket terms), her father frets about spare capacity come 27 June. He even wonders aloud whether it could be the last Glastonbury. With so many other festivals around now, Michael asks: ‘It's not such a big deal any more, is it?'

And, on learning that PRWeek has been represented at more than one Glastonbury, he switches roles, asking questions like an anxious father: ‘Do you think people will get bored with it? Did you have a good time? The mud wasn't too much for you, was it? Was there enough space for the tents?'

But despite the media scrutiny, the weight of expectation and the logistical headaches, the Eavises clearly love their festival progeny and the extraordinary life it has given them. As Michael says: ‘We enjoy what we're doing, we're working every day of the year, and we're so excited about it.'

In many ways, Michael is at his most excited when talking about his social housing work but, after all these years, he is still in thrall to the celebrity element of his job. He gleefully recalls the time Kate Moss greeted him with the words: ‘I've always wanted to meet you, Michael' - much to Emily's embarrassment.

The Guardian's Addley has ridden through the festival crowds with Michael in his jeep, and likens the experience to being in the Popemobile: ‘Everyone was waving, telling him he was a legend. People love him.'

Glastonbury remains an eccentric British affair, and an hour with the Eavises shows it still has its heart firmly in the right place.  Let's hope we haven't seen the last of it.

‘Ring of steel’ fence erected, ending the mass ‘jumping’ that had swelled crowds to dangerous levels

‘Year of the mud’ – the Prodigy’s set is beset by power failures and Radiohead wows the crowd during a rare break from the rain

Twentieth anniversary marred by conflict between security teams and travellers

Michael Eavis sees off five prosecutions brought by Mendip District Council

Name change from ‘fayre’ to ‘festival’. Eavises give Campaign for Nuclear Disarma-­ ment £20,000

Peter Gabriel’s fee is secured with a loan taken out against the deeds to Worthy Farm

First festival held the day after the death of Jimi Hendrix. Crowd of 1,500 pay £1 each to see Marc Bolan, and to drink free farm milk

Q How much do you rely on granting VIP entry to celebrities such as Kate Moss and Sienna Miller to ensure the consumer press publishes picture stories from the event? -- Niall Cowley, founder, Bright Young Things Consultancy
Michael We don't need these kind of pictures in the papers - they probably make people think we're slightly more special than we are.
Emily It's not something we're after. We have millions of VIPs wanting to come and we turn almost everyone down.
Michael We could fill the whole thing with people who work in the media and not have anybody else here. So we cut it down to about 800 for the media - everyone else pays.
Emily We don't have a very large allocation of tickets for celebrities. If they come as guests of the band or have a long relationship with Glastonbury, that's fine. But other than that, we try not to get involved with that sort of thing. We also try to make the backstage area a little bit boring, so people leave. One of my big things is trying to cut out the paparazzi, because that has become a little bit out of control. It can dominate things a bit too much.

Q How do you feel about the rampant drug taking at the event? -- Lawrence Dore, MD, Mantra
AMichael There isn't that any more, really, is there? People take their own stuff, but there aren't  a lot of dealers. There used to be. But not now.
Emily It's just what's going on in the world, really. People take drugs everywhere, from Bath to Glasgow, so they will at Glastonbury. We don't get involved in it, as long as there are no dealers.
Michael [to Emily]: Do you do drugs?
Emily I couldn't have had more of an anti-drugs lesson, seeing all these lunatics in the 1980s. It put me off for good.

Q Do you prepare a crisis management PR strategy ahead of the festival? -- Stuart Bell, director, The Outside Organisation
Emily We have lots of strategies in place. We plan for everything - we have a big health and safety workshop beforehand. We have meetings with the county council and go through hundreds of scenarios - we talk through how the fire service would relate to it, how the police would relate to it, how the press would relate to it. The operations director, Melvin Benn, deals with the actual logistics and we have a press team that is on top of everything, all weekend.

Q What would your dream day be at Glasto, if you weren't working? -- Rick Guttridge, acting MD, Brazen
Michael The Green Field. It's so peaceful.
Emily Or, if you have children, the kids area.
Michael Or the theatre. There are people there laughing the whole time. And there are always bands we need to see. But you'll always miss something - it's just such a shame you can't see them all.

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