“We’ll leave the middle classes to do Glastonbury, and the rest of the great unwashed will decamp to Knebworth and drink a lot of beer and have fun.” So said Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden.
His is not an original view: Glastonbury, like any of the big set-piece events of the English summer, has been corporatised and gentrified over the years, to the extent that it is now risible to think of it in counter-cultural terms. The cool kids don’t go to Knebworth, either. They head to Croatia, or Belgium, or Spain for the true festival experience.
Mr Dickinson went further in his excoriation of Glastonbury. “Now it’s the most bourgeois thing on the planet, “ he added. (Has he never been to a Cath Kidston shop?) “Anywhere Gwyneth Paltrow goes and you can live in an air-conditioned yurt is not for me.” While that may sound pretty attractive to some of us, Mr Dickinson feels this is a betrayal of Glastonbury’s origins as an alternative festival. It was once “interesting”, he says, with the discreet understatement that is Iron Maiden’s hallmark.
He ignores the fact we live in the age of the big ticket, a cultural phenomenon which insists that people with more money than interest will pay what it takes to be at the must-be-seen-at event of the moment. Not surprisingly, this has a deleterious effect on the essential character of the occasion. For Glastonbury, read Wimbledon, or Henley, or Cowes.
In the end, it’s a question of class, entitlement, and inverted snobbery. Mr Dickinson’s complaints about Glastonbury will have been echoed in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot this week. Since they allowed commoners with money in, the whole thing has been ruined for those of us who were bred to be here.
Doing an unlikely duet with Mr Dickinson on the frontline of class warfare is Alan Bennett, who said this week that private education should be abolished. (The fact that Bruce Dickinson is the product of a private boarding school is a sweet irony.) Bennett believes that public schools are sustained by parents’ anxieties about their children having to “rough it” in the state regime.
Glastonbury archive at the V&A
Glastonbury archive at the V&A
1/7 Glastonbury archive at the V&A
A girl caked in mud dances at Glastonbury, part of the many photos that are in the archive
2/7 Glastonbury archive at the V&A
An image from the first Glastonbuty festival in 1970
3/7 Glastonbury archive at the V&A
A photo of a festival goer somersaulting in the air. The archive will include material that shows the festival's evolution
4/7 Glastonbury archive at the V&A
The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. The archive will document how the iconic stage has changed
5/7 Glastonbury archive at the V&A
Modern festival-goers enjoy a main performance
6/7 Glastonbury archive at the V&A
Festival-goers enjoy a sunset over Glastonbury behind their tents
7/7 Glastonbury archive at the V&A
An example of a scrapbook placed in the V&A's archive
Private education perpetuates the class-ridden structure of British society, he said, and was “not Christian either” for its unequal distribution of opportunity.
Bennett, 80 years old and the product of a grammar school, has clearly been shaped by his early experiences. He said the public schoolboys he encountered as a young man were “loud, self-confident, shockingly greedy” and he’s not had that much cause to change his mind.
As social mobility seems to have taken a step backwards in recent years, he may be on to something. On the day that a report exposed the massive social and economic inequalities in today’s Britain, his belief that there is an unfairness in our education system deserves respect. But it will take more than the abolition of private schools to break down Britain’s class structures, which are there to serve the elite.
Until a Russell Brand-inspired revolution occurs, there will always be a Royal Enclosure. And there will always be a VIP tent at Glastonbury.