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Diary: Emily Eavis

Backstage at the Glastonbury Festival

So by the time you read this, the gates of Glastonbury Festival 2009 will be open. There couldn’t be more activity here on the farm at the moment – in every corner, day and night, people are creating amazing things. To be honest, I thought it would be hard to beat last year’s energy levels. But this year everyone has really pulled out the stops.

It occurred to me recently that all we do is provide a space that enables extraordinary minds to put their ideas and visions into practice. They have real freedom to do whatever they like. That is what makes Glastonbury Festival different: people on the ground decide what they want to do, then go and invent and create whatever that is, without being controlled or reined in. Instinctively, people get a feeling about what’s right for Worthy Farm and they respond to that in very positive and imaginative ways. It’s great to think that pictures from the festival go all around the world. I think people can see that tiny little things make all the difference.

As I grew up on the festival site – which doubles as a dairy farm – each year’s festival build-up had its own rhythm. Even when I was very small, on my way to school in the morning, I’d notice the same things happening at the same time of year. First, the fence crew would arrive, then the workers would slowly start to come back: the bin painters, the litter crews. And, of course, tents and vehicles and activity everywhere.

I’d come back and say: “That wasn’t here this morning. What are they doing here?” You really appreciate the festival when it starts, if you’ve watched every single nut and bolt being put into place. Festival time is when the year-round, core farm family, the helpers and the milkers, meet the other bigger “family” who come here to work and to programme things for the show. For me, the past week has been all about catching up with area organisers like Joe Rush and Ruth, the creative force behind Trash City, to discuss ideas, as well as running around organising things with people who are here all the time. It’s all about sorting things out and moving on – and keeping up with my dad! Even after 39 years running the festival, he is more energetic than anyone I know of my own age.

In 1999, the year my mother, Jean, died, there was a minute’s silence across the whole festival. It had always been run by the two of them: her role was crucial to the festival’s success. It was a natural thing for me to support my dad afterwards. I started answering the phone and, before I knew it, I was dealing with all sorts of problems. Every year since, my role has grown. It’s great working with my dad. We knock along well together and have some good debates on all manner of things. Neither of us is afraid to speak out to the other, but I also know when to back down, as he has the ultimate knowledge and experience. Jean was an amazing mother, and it’s nice for me to continue the love, energy and care she put into the festival; that’s an inspiration to me. I think she would like to know that I was looking after my dad, too.

For the past three months I’ve been working not just with agents and music business people (which is probably what everyone expects me to be doing all the time), but also with people such as John Sauven and Bob Wilson from Greenpeace. The festival has supported Greenpeace since the 1980s, when we used to have a wind turbine next to the Pyramid stage, to raise awareness about renewable energy. These days, we’re lucky enough to be able to pass on some of the festival money to our nominated charities: Greenpeace, WaterAid and Oxfam get a large chunk of the £2m we give away. My dad likes to feel that the money will get there and actually do something; he wakes up in the night thinking about it.

In the past, we have both used the time between festivals to visit projects. A few years back my dad and I went to Mozambique with WaterAid – a brilliant hands-on experience. This year I’m supporting the White Ribbon Alliance, which campaigns around the world to help stop mothers dying in childbirth. The alliance’s work is incredible, and we’ve prepared some surprises for the festival in support of all it’s doing.

Musically speaking, getting Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen was a big deal for us this year. Both musicians are making their debut Glastonbury appearance, and we have really wanted them here for a long time. Politically, they are totally in line with us, and I believe they share the ideals we have all been striving for here. Add that to some great musical highlights in my own new area, the Park, and some other surprise performances, and we can say we have something for everyone. It’s also amazing that Blur will be doing their first big festival gig since they reformed, here on the Sunday. They are so much a part of British musical history . . . I can’t wait!

Emily Eavis is co-organiser of the Glastonbury Festival

This article first appeared in the 29 June 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Escape