Glastonbury: The hippy dream that became big business

This year's line-up has just been revealed, but the 2016 edition sold out in record time way back in October...

Glastonbury: The hippy dream that became big business

Kanye West will perform on the legendary Pyramid Stage at this year's festival Image: Anthony Devlin / PA WIRE

You know you've likely strayed somewhat from your hippy roots when a rock star with a licence to fly his own jumbo jet dismisses you as being too middle class.

In 2014, former public schoolboy Bruce Dickinson told The Daily Star why his band, Iron Maiden, would never play the largest greenfield festival in the world:

"Personally I have no interest in going to Glastonbury. In the days when Glasto was an alternative festival it was quite interesting, but anywhere Gwyneth Paltrow goes and you can live in an air-conditioned yurt is not for me".

The preliminary line-up for Glastonbury 2016 was unveiled today, with the likes of Ellie Goulding, Foals and CHVRCHES joining a June bill headlined by Coldplay, Adele and Muse, but it wasn't an announcement made to entice potential festival-goers into parting with their hard-earned cash.

Indeed, you haven't been able to buy a £233 ticket since a half hour after they went on sale last October.

Every year in recent times, tickets for the world famous Worthy Farm event have sold out faster than the previous one – and they've become increasingly expensive.

If you fancied seeing inaugural headliners T. Rex do their glam rock thing in a Somerset field, it would have set you back £1.

Long before the luxury Podpads and the £600,000 pumped into "super loos", Michael Eavis held the Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival, attracting a crowd of 1,500 in September 1970.

The following year, punters weren't charged a penny to the new Glastonbury Fair, as planners Andrew Kerr and Arabella Churchill felt that "all other festivals at the time were over-commercialised" and wanted to do something different.

The festival was held intermittently throughout that decade, only becoming a permanent fixture when Eavis took full control in 1981. It's been an annual happening ever since (barring fallow years to help the farm recover), and its size and expense have spiralled.

The 1990 edition was the biggest up until that point, with 70,000 people turning out to see The Cure and Sinéad O'Connor, but its huge attendance brought problems for organisers.

Violence between security and new age travellers forced a rethink, with the travellers not allowed onto the site for free any longer from that point on. A sturdier fence was designed, but it failed to rein in Glastonbury's other major issue – gatecrashers.

By 1995, Glastonbury was on TV. People were clearly still eager to be there in person, however, as an estimated 80,000 broke in.

Five years later, less than half of the 250,000 revellers had an official ticket.

Something had to give, and in 2002 the Glastonbury festival nearly gave up the ghost.

It certainly surrendered something of its old liberal spirit in order to survive.

As Eavis mulled over a partnership with Melvin Benn's Mean Fiddler, he apparently got spooked by a UK news headline proclaiming 'Glastonbury's Hippy Dream Is Sold To Rock Tycoon' and signalled that the move would not go ahead.

After making it clear to Mean Fiddler that he would remain very much in charge, however, a deal was eventually reached.
Mean Fiddler would take 20% of the net profit, in exchange for improved security and the company taking care of the complex licencing process.

The official capacity was increased to 177,500 and a 12-foot steel "super fence" dealt with the majority of the "unofficial" attendees.

Further security measures in recent years such as the requirement of photo identification to be presented on arrival has all but put the gatecrashing issue to bed.

Mean Fiddler became Festival Republic before parting ways with Eavis and Glastonbury in 2012, with the media commentating at the time that the union had brought a new professionalism to the event.

While Dickinson won't be visiting, today the festival is an altogether safer, more comfortable and better catered animal than in "the good old days".

There has been occasional outrage at the bookings of headliners such as Jay Z, Kanye West and this year Adele, but the yearly stampede for tickets means Glastonbury is now bigger than any one act. Prices have increased accordingly.

Going by figures released as the festival celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2015, over the past decade the cost of tickets has increased by 80%. Even the global recession couldn't stop a £50 increase in ticket prices between 2008 and 2013.

In the past 20 years, the price shot up 246%. That's in stark contrast to the 98% increase in the first 25 years of its existence.

Overall, £325 million had been made from ticket sales over the lifetime of the festival, with the official attendance put at 2.8 million.

The site itself has also expanded from a single field to a temporary "city" spread over 900 acres. Some 40,000 contractors are employed to make sure the show goes off without a hitch.


Despite being barely recognisable from its roots, the modern Glastonbury remains an example to other festivals around the world when it comes to charity work.

Eavis, now 80 and getting ready to hand over control to his daughter Emily and her husband Nick Dewey, revealed his annual salary last year and it said a huge amount about the principles he still holds dear.

The farmer takes home £60,000 per year, despite the fact Glastonbury's annual turnover is over £32 million.
He told the Western Daily Press:

"I am not going to buy a flashy car – I bought a Mini for my wife 14 years ago. I don't really like going on holiday – I just have a little cottage in Cornwall.

"There is no money stashed anywhere. We do a lot on the charity side – we aim for £2 million a year. I like to go into the following year on the edge – I like that. I like the challenge. Yesterday, the girls said there is a quarter of a million left over. I said let's get rid of it, send it on to the charity today".

And when a big act plays, it's usually for the kudos.

Even the Rolling Stones eventually agreed to headline in 2013 for a "bog standard price", which Eavis says is one-tenth of the normal asking price.

Commercialised then, for sure, but not as greedy as many and at least partially for a good cause.