Edith Bowman: TV has changed the type of headliners Glastonbury books

The DJ and presenter says that the likes of Kanye West would never have played Glastonbury before it was televised, and recalls her first experience covering the festival live for the BBC with Colin Murray in 2003

Artists like Kanye West would never have headlined Glastonbury if it weren’t for live festival TV coverage, says Edith Bowman.

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She explained that thanks to TV, the type of bands that are picked to appear on the Pyramid Stage have had to cater for a much wider audience than simply the people who pay to be there live.

She also pointed out that Glastonbury organiser Michael Eavis would never have been able to “pay for Kanye West” without the broadcast revenue.

“With it going on to TV and getting the coverage it does now, it has become this enormous thing,” Bowman said at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. “There’s a bigger audience that goes to it for sure, and I think it’s definitely had an effect on the main stages, the type of bands that play those main stages, to cater for that audience.”

Edith Bowman’s festival guide

The radio DJ has been a regular presenter on BBC TV for Glastonbury, although she has also worked for other broadcasters over the past couple of years on the UK festival circuit. 

She admits that the experience of viewing the live music on TV is totally different to being there in person.

“Of course it’s a different experience watching it on TV,” she said. “You’re seeing a lovely glossy polished performance. And it’s really interesting because I haven’t done the BBC coverage for two years, I’ve been doing coverage for other channels. I did Isle of Wight this year for Sky Arts, and they also covered Latitude. It’s interesting, because channels are trying to think of different ways to do festival coverage.

“But what I love about the BBC is at some points you can watch six stages. That’s as close to being there as you’re going to get, in terms of if you don’t like one band you can check out another. It is about seeing those sets in their entirety. Whereas before when I first started doing the coverage, you’d get one or two songs of the set and then you’d come back to the studio, have an interview and a bit of a chat and then throw to another couple of songs.”

She says one of the most frustrating things for her as a presenter is when acts refuse to let their show be broadcast live.

“Eminem is a great example. We were going to bring Eminem at T in the Park. It was hell, it was horrendous,” she recalled. “It’s part of their contract when they sign to do the festival that the main media partner, whether it’s BBC1 or whatever, gets their set once you’ve signed off.

“Eminem was headlining, we were going to bring the whole set. We knew we were going to backtime it and start showing the set ten minutes after he’d started, because it was going to be pretty blue. He went on stage, and five minutes into his set his people were like, ‘Nah. You’re not getting any of it.’ What? The next two hours of our show is supposed to be Eminem. No, we weren’t having him. And I mean to be fair it was horrendous.”

Bowman also said that the way the BBC treated its presenters at Glastonbury has changed markedly since she first started presenting for the festival. When she recently worked there she was told she had to stay in a B&B off-site, “under lock and key” – very different to her first experience with co-presenter Colin Murray in 2003.

“When I first started doing the TV coverage for it, they kind of let us do what we wanted,” she recalled. “They were a bit more relaxed about looking after the presenters back then. They asked us where we wanted to stay, and we said, ‘On site, obviously.’

“They got us this tiny little caravan, he was at one end and I was at the other, and it was right behind the Pyramid Stage in the BBC compound. It was incredible.

“I would go out as soon as we clocked off at around 11 o’clock, midnight. Wellies on, up to the Park Stage or the Stone Circle. He’d go back to the caravan to get some kip. I came back one night, the sun had just come up. He said he woke up absolutely terrified because he heard this banging, this thud. He thought someone was trying to break into the caravan. He got up, went out to look and there was no one there.

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“He could still hear it, and was like, ‘Am I going mad?’ We had a curtain up between us for my modesty, and he looked through and saw me, fully clothed in my big parka jacket, headphones on, hood up, passed out but listening to Doves pounding, and my foot just bouncing along to it.”