A big hand at Glastonbury: A festival the size of a small town requires a crack team to keep the show rocking
Oscar Quine met some of them
Nearly 180,000 people, equivalent to the population of Oxford and then some, are descending on Worthy Farm this weekend to watch thousands of acts across 57 stages. It’s an annual ritual that seems from the outside to be pulled off largely by that cheery gnomic-looking fellow, and the daughter he’s roped in now that he’s pushing 80. But while Michael and Emily Eavis are the public faces of Glastonbury, they of course have a great deal of help.
Planning goes on year round, with logistics now overseen by corporate partner Live Nation. And while the Pyramid Stage doubles as a cow shed when the party’s over, some things require months of preparation: the toilets start being dug in January.
It’s a big-money operation: in 2011, the last year it was held, the festival turned over more than £32m. Nevertheless, the question remains: how the hell do they make a city of tents appear for what always seems to be the rainiest weekend of the year, and then seamlessly disappear without the whole thing sinking into the mud?
Steve Russell-Yarde, the off-site manager, is responsible for the massive logistical operation of getting everybody into and out of the festival through country lanes. He says it’s all down to experience, attention to detail and organisation. “It’s the same as a small town. We have the top-level management team, which might not be called a council but can deal with pretty much anything. Unless there’s a major incident, the emergency services will be looking for something to do.”
In 2012, he brought his experience to the Olympics, managing eight park and ride facilities with his firm CTM. But Glastonbury, he says, is unique. “If we came up with this now, on this site, people would laugh at us. But Glastonbury has grown organically over the years.”
Mr Russell-Yarde works out of the new Event Control Centre, a converted barn next to Eavis’s farmhouse where the fire service, stage management, security and police all oversee what’s going on. They look a bit like cows in pens. At one end, operatives flick through CCTV images on large plasma screens in studied silence.
Shirley Eden, a police inspector who has been involved with the festival on and off since 1993, says the facility is a great help. “There’s not really a line between us and the organisers. It’s a joined-up operation. We work closely with them. It’s their event and their responsibility for public safety.”
The main issues the police deal with are thefts, largely committed by opportunists, and drug dealing, in some part by organised gangs who infiltrate the festival. The organisers and police work from a colour-coded, grid-referenced map. “It works well. We have powers they don’t, and as organisers they can do things that we can’t. Together we can deal with anything that crops up, says Ms Eden. “I wouldn’t send my children here in 1993, but I would now.”
Crime aside, another unsightly but inevitable factor of the festival is human waste. Somewhere on site, there is a multimillion-gallon sewage tanker big enough to play five-a-side football in – known as the “Stadium of Shite”. The contents of the on-site toilets are deposited here for the duration of the festival before being taken to a sewage treatment facility.
James Stent is one of the people responsible for, well, getting the shite to the stadium. He drives one of 20 tractors, hauling a 3,000-gallon tanker with a hose that two co-workers poke into submerged tanks behind the portable loos. “I’ve got the glamorous job,” he jokes. “The smell is a problem but I just think about the money and try to avoid the splash back.”
Megan Lowry has been helping out one of the toilet cleaning companies owned by a family member since 2005 when she was 13. “We only do the backstage toilets so they’re not so bad, and the shifts are six hours so we get to see some of the bands,” she says.
Although it takes many thousands to pull off Glastonbury, however, Mr Russell-Yarde says there’s still one truly essential person. “Michael [Eavis] is the key person we all work too. He knows absolutely everything about what’s going on – and anyone who thinks otherwise is very much mistaken.”
What needs doing
With a support staff of seven, Steve Russell-Yarde, pictured, manages traffic direction, coordinates the 1,000 coach and bus dropoffs and the 50,000 vehicle car park – and has 27 CCTV cameras and a helicopter at his disposal.
More than 11 million gallons of water and as much electricity as the city of Bath will be used. Levels of the 1 million-litre onsite reservoir and kilowatt usage is monitored online. While Bristol Water will pump in the extra supplies needed.
The 15,000 bins, brightly painted by volunteers, collect nearly 1,900 tonnes of litter. The clean-up operation costs £780,000. From 6am, lines of litter-pickers move across the fields, sorting ankle-deep debris into recycling bags.
Until 1990, Glastonbury was essentially lawless, with no police officers on site. That changed when violence broke out between security guards and travellers, known in festival folklore as the Battle of Yeoman’s bridge. In a 24-hour period there are 230 CID officers working over three shift patterns and six mounted police. There is a helicopter on standby.
There are 3,225 toilets on the site – and enough loo roll to stretch from London to Baghdad, though it still seems to never be enough. A team of 300 clean the loos around the clock and try to keep the toilet roll topped up, kitted out with industrial strength cleaning products and 24 boxes of toilet roll. Sewage used to have to be taken 40 miles to Avonmouth for processing but, as part of efforts to reduce Glastonbury’s carbon footprint, investment in local facilities means it is all now processed in an 8-mile radius.
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