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24 June 2020

Michael Eavis Q&A: “I first heard ‘Movin’ On Up’ in the milking parlour”

The founder of Glastonbury Festival talks Harold Macmillan, Paul McCartney, and the best speech ever delivered on the Pyramid Stage.

By New Statesman

Michael Eavis was born in Somerset in 1935. In 1970 he held the Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival on his family’s dairy farm. The following year it returned as Glastonbury Fayre, the festival Eavis still runs, now with his daughter, Emily.

What’s your earliest memory?

Playing with a toy motorboat in a stream by the house where I was born, in Pilton. It went under a bridge and I never saw it again. I was so upset.

Who are your heroes?

As a child I was keen on Julius Caesar. I wanted to be a centurion. It kept cropping up at school about Caesar conquering all these countries. For some reason I thought he was muscly and tough. And kids want to be muscly and tough! As an adult, Edward Thompson. His speech from the Pyramid Stage in 1983 is still the best speech ever at Glastonbury. 

What book last changed your thinking?

I never read a book right the way through, I’m afraid. I get bored! I’ve got so many other things I want to do. 

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Dairy farming. 

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Which political figure do you look up to?

Funnily enough, I liked Harold Macmillan. He was a good old-fashioned Tory, but he was so generous in his kindness.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I quite enjoy where I am now. It’s been a good 50 years for me. I can’t imagine anything better than what I’ve had.

What TV show could you not live without?

I don’t really need TV that much. When I was a kid I loved Dick Barton – Special Agent. I’d rush back from school to listen.

Who would paint your portrait?

Peter Blake is doing it now, for the National Portrait Gallery. He’s taken quite a long time, though! He wanted to get it ready for Paul McCartney to present it to me at this year’s festival, but that’s not happening now. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

What’s your theme tune?

“Movin’ On Up” by Primal Scream. I remember hearing that on the radio in the milking parlour for the first time and I totally fell for them. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I decided to put on a festival when I went to the Bath Festival of Blues in 1970. That was promoted by a guy called Freddy Bannister and he eventually came down in his Rolls-Royce and gave me some useful tips. They’re a bit unrepeatable though!

What single thing would make your life better?

Right now, a tablet that could cure coronavirus would be brilliant. 

When were you happiest?

When I was five. I enjoyed that time just before school when your mother is always there and she adores you, and you don’t know anything about crime or sinning. 

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I was in the merchant navy when I was younger and I think I would have stayed at sea had my father not died when I was 19, which was when I returned to the farm. 

Are we all doomed?

Well, I was worried about a nuclear war all through the Eighties. But I’m not a pessimist. In the end we’re all going to die of something, but I want to live right to the full, right until the end. 

“The Glastonbury Experience”, celebrating the festival’s 50th anniversary, runs across BBC radio and television from 25 to 29 June

This article appears in the 24 Jun 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Political football