Glastonbury 2011: Interview – Emily Eavis

The festival organiser on how she snared superstar Beyoncé

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Another spring day on Worthy Farm, another pop star wrangle for the father and daughter duo behind the world’s greatest rock festival.

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“Today we’ve had a classic scenario,” says Emily Eavis, 31-year-old youngest child of Glastonbury founder, Somerset dairy farmer Michael, 75. “We had one slot left, and a band’s representatives in Los Angeles came in [requesting to perform] – but they can’t play on the Saturday, only the Sunday. So we have to swap around a few artists. That involves them all changing travel plans.”

The former teaching student who’s been running the festival with her dad for almost a decade gives a what-can-you-do shrug. When you have dozens of stages spread over 1,000 acres entertaining crowds of 175,000, such last-minute juggling is par for the course. “You’re trying to fit in so many artists, which means thousands and thousands of people with different needs.”

Still, at least one of this year’s top acts was locked in a while ago. Beyoncé has been keen to sink her diva stilettos into the muddy aura of “Glasto” ever since she watched her husband – rapper Jay-Z – perform at Emily Eavis’s invitation in 2008.

But that was only the start, says Eavis. “Luckily we spoke to Beyoncé before she planned her tour this year, so she managed to put Glastonbury in her schedule, then build a European tour around it. And her split from her manager dad was all happening at the same time. That was partly why we’ve had to have lots of personal contacts involved.”

These personal contacts include Chris Martin, frontman with Saturday night’s headliners Coldplay. While Jay-Z’s appearance was ultimately a success, the media fuss beforehand had given his wife pause for thought: in the view of many, including Noel Gallagher, the world’s most venerable rock festival was no place for hip hop. Yet Martin, close friends with the American musical power-couple, helped persuade Beyoncé that appearing at Glastonbury would be a triumph.

It’s easy to see why. With a new album due out this week, and with Lady Gaga dominating the headlines and sale-charts, taking the closing-night slot helps give Beyoncé a rock ’n’ roll edge.

“Chris is a bit wary of people knowing he’s been so involved,” admits Eavis. “I don’t know why because it’s actually cool. Chris is loyal as they come; he’ll do anything for Glastonbury. He’s really an unlikely frontman. Most people are a bit more all-consumed with their own thing.”

It seems managing lack-of-ego can be as difficult as soothing actual egos. But Eavis has the CV to be undaunted by most things the festival can throw at her. She’s done the lot at Glastonbury, beginning as a nine-year-old litter-picker, graduating to “getting in a boat and fishing things out of the slurry pit” as a teenager, then starting to help book bands while based in London in her 20s. She was an early champion of the likes of Coldplay and Kings of Leon.

Now she and her husband, who also manages the Chemical Brothers, help put the bill together. Michael Eavis, though, remains as active as ever.

“Me, my dad and my husband still sit down and discuss it all. There’s so much bartering and hustle with the booking agents – you have to try and sell it. A lot of agents are not that keen on Glastonbury,” she admits, pointing out that the fees the Eavises offer are lower than other events. “They just don’t get it because it doesn’t pay enough money. And it’s so competitive now because there are so many festivals and there are only so many bands.”

Also, adds Eavis, many industry “professionals” view this authentically bohemian festival with its roots in 70s hippy culture as “all a bit of a farce or something. But it annoys them because the bands all want to do it and they can’t really stop them.”

Such is the allure of Glastonbury. Those three days in Somerset’s mystical Vale of Avalon remain the benchmark by which all other festivals are judged.

“In my 20s,” reflects Eavis, “I did realise that if I was going to commit to Glastonbury on a professional level, I was going to have to commit my whole life. There’s no escaping it here [on the farm]. It’s got so much family history, it’s a huge commitment, and it’s such an emotional job.”

This year is more emotional than most: not only is 2012 a scheduled fallow year for the festival, but Eavis’s first baby, George, has just been born. “There are about 100 people who make it work. We’re all passionate about it: we spend all year thinking about it, worrying about it, trying to make it brilliant – and always trying to improve it.”

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Now the forward planning is complete. The headliners are booked. Beyoncé is sorting her spangly frock as we speak. The only thing that can’t be relied upon? The good old British weather.