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ROBERT HARDMAN: Glastonbury is more mid-range than a Waitrose olive counter!

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With over 200,000 people squeezed together for four nights in all weather conditions, a few rules and regulations are to be expected. One thing in particular, however, is the organizers’ exercise here at this year’s Glastonbury Festival.

At the top of the official list of do’s and don’ts is a new edict: no pagodas.

If proof were needed of the quintessentially civic credentials (and innate niceness) of this unfathomably grand event — which is now celebrating its (Covid-delayed) 50th anniversary — it’s the need for a ban on the humble gazebo.

Robert Hardman went to Glastonbury for his 50th year, but he’s hardly a raver! Although his verdict is that the festival is middle class through and through

“Like I said, this thing is more mid-range comfortable than a Waitrose olive counter.  However, it is also proudly non-commercial, which is a central part of its allure.'

“Like I said, this thing is more mid-range comfortable than a Waitrose olive counter. However, it is also proudly non-commercial, which is a central part of its allure.’

“When one appears,” says a thoroughly Glastonburian official statement, “people can be politely asked to take them down to make room for others.”

I bet they had no problem with pop-up conservatories in 1970 when the first festival kicked off at Worthy Farm, featuring T. Rex and Al Stewart. At the time, owner Michael Eavis offered free milk from his farm with every ticket (price: £1).

Half a century later, ‘Glasto’ is celebrating its Golden Jubilee – the undisputed king (or should it be queen?) of the festival circuit. Yesterday’s opening act? Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appears by video to greet Glastonbury as “the greatest concentration of freedom.”

I don’t see many people drinking milk in one of the 101 bars spread across this 900 acre site these days. The staple food is wine for £7 a glass, beer for £6.90 a pint and gin and tonic for £10.50.

Even so, Eavis is still going strong at 86.

I spoke to him on Thursday night as he sang a few Elvis Presley numbers with his local pub band on the William’s Green stage.

His half-hour turn was sandwiched between ex-Spice Girl Mel C and a ‘surprise’ performance by the chart-topping rock band Bastille. Even more surprising, in my opinion, was the fact that they had a board reader on stage who interpreted their lyrics for the hearing impaired. That has to be rock ‘n’ roll first.

Eavis is the oldest act at this year’s festival, followed by tonight’s octogenarian headliner, Paul McCartney. But if you own the biggest pop festival in the world, why not have a small gig of your own?

Today, Eavis has handed over the organization to his daughter Emily.

There must be times when he stands on top of Worthy View to see what he has created: a temporary metropolis two miles wide and a mile long.

The best time to appreciate it is late at night as the walkway lights illuminate the entire span.

It’s about an hour’s walk from the £70 car park to, say, the Truth Stage, where Ukraine’s Eurovision-winning Kalush Orchestra is set to perform in the early morning hours. In other words, it’s the same distance as walking from the Houses of Parliament to St Paul’s Cathedral – a journey of several stops on the London Underground.

Or, in Scottish terms, the route from the motorhome area to the John Peel stage is the equivalent of walking from Edinburgh Castle to Murrayfield. And wherever you go, there is always an army coming in the opposite direction.

The first thing I discover here, my first visit to Glastonbury, is that there is no point in worrying about missing out.

Because no matter how hard you try, you will miss almost everything. There aren’t enough hours in a month to capture every attraction on its own. Therein lies both the attraction and the challenge.

This is really an accumulation of separate festivals screwed together around two colossal central auditoriums – the Pyramid Stage and the Other Stage.

They are Glastonbury’s answer to Wimbledon’s Center Court and Court Number One.

While strolling through just one of the busier nighttime party zones, called Shangri-La, I came across one venue after another, each with a crowd of hundreds, if not thousands, running off to a different band or DJ.

I stumbled upon a circular wooden colosseum called Temple. Like something out of a Mad Max movie, it pumped a tuneless beat to a packed house of 5,000 people, with more lines around the block.

Anyone can go anywhere, with a few caveats. There is a closed female only location called Sistxrhood. And while straight guys are allowed to enter the NYC Downlow club, they all have to wear a glued-on pink mustache.

For a softer, hippie vibe, there are entire fields full of gong-banging, candle-wielding people in various states of undress.

There is also plenty for children. And it’s not just the usual face painting and ice cream offerings. Come to the Kidzfield Big Top this weekend and you’ll see Lord (Julian) Fellowes, the Oscar-winning creator of Downton Abbey, perform Wind In The Willows.

Glastonbur is not just for adults with children who can enjoy time in the Kidzfield Big Top

Glastonbur is not just for adults with children who can enjoy time in the Kidzfield Big Top

Like I said, this thing is more mid-range comfortable than a Waitrose olive counter. However, it is also proudly non-commercial which is a central part of its allure. An event that will employ 67,000 people during the festival aims to cover the £32million cost and also do something to cover lean years like the last two.

The Eavis family can sign up any number of corporate sponsors, but the only branding is for a few charities that share the profits. The only other comparable national event without major corporate branding is Royal Ascot.

Despite the overtly leftist tone and a few Labor speakers (there’s no Jeremy Corbyn this year, but you can grab Labor’s Ed Miliband this afternoon if you don’t like Skunk Anansie), few of the punters seem to mind the cost of life crisis. This is an event where a basic ticket costs £285.

Also, no one is very fond of the RMT after the railway union made it even more of a nightmare than usual to get here.

Upgrade to a pre-set up bell tent and the cost will go up to £1,000. Just off the main site, I find lavish safari-style residences in the ‘Pop-Up Hotel’, complete with a swimming pool.

It also offers ‘gypsy caravans’ for up to four people for £3,999 for the long weekend and a £25,000 luxury cabin with private chef. There are no vacancies.

Some people just show up with nothing and go straight to the campground store to buy the whole caboodle from scratch. ‘There are some who come out of London with nothing and spend £500 in ten minutes,’ says a man behind the counter who trades heavily in £25 sleeping bags.

There is accommodation further afield (I found myself a modest hotel 20 minutes away for £175 a night). However, the vast majority view the camping element as an essential part of the experience.

Festival-goers at Glatonbury are music lovers who often just stay in the plastic tents they bring with them

Festival-goers at Glatonbury are music lovers who often just stay in the plastic tents they bring with them

'There is certainly nothing to blame for the atmosphere,' says Richard Hardman.  But he insists that usually everyone is very friendly

‘There is certainly nothing to blame for the atmosphere,’ says Richard Hardman. But he insists that usually everyone is very friendly

“Amazingly, the queues are not too bad, and neither is the stench.”

Most stay in regular plastic tents they brought with them. They are neither rich nor poor, just music lovers for whom this is the pinnacle of their year and they save accordingly.

You certainly can’t fault the atmosphere. Glastonbury’s grungier (and younger) opponents may scoff at his kindness, but everyone is very friendly to everyone. There must be exceptions, but during my stay this week I didn’t encounter anyone who came their way or became suspicious.

Even former hell-raiser Pete Doherty of The Libertines acted yesterday, dancing around in what looked like a monk’s habit as he took the stage with his band.

However, for all the talk of saving the planet, there will be an awful lot of stuff left behind.

Every night the fields are a carpet of crushed cups and discarded beer cans.

Among the unsung stars of Glastonbury are the 1,300 garbage pickers who show up every morning and make the whole place spotless again.

The top prize in my book, however, goes neither to Macca nor to Mr. Eavis. It should go to the logistics maestro who designed enough toilets for 210,000 people – including half a mile of urinals and thousands of latrines (2,300 of which are long-drop type).

Amazingly, the queues aren’t too bad – and neither is the smell.

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