Obituary: Jean Eavis

Tim Bullamore
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:25

IN LESS than six weeks' time, Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset will thump to the beat of the Glastonbury Music Festival. Jean Eavis was one half of the formidable team that made "Glasto" arguably the world's most famous pop music festival.

She was known as the "mother" of Glastonbury. She soothed the troubled nerves of great musicians; she washed, ironed and repatriated lost clothing; and she kept the public face of the festival, her husband Michael Eavis, in check. He says: "She was my moderator. She knew when I was going over the top, getting something wrong. She would rein me in, put me in my place."

She was born Jean Hayball in 1939, the daughter of a major in the Somerset Light Infantry, and later worked as the forewoman in a Somerset factory making Morlands sheepskin coats. She was already married with three daughters when she met a local farmer, Michael Eavis, in the queue outside a fish- and-chip shop in Glastonbury in 1964; they became inseparable.

Along with thousands of others, in 1970 they gate-crashed the Bath Blues Festival where, according to Michael: "We discovered hundreds of thousands of strange and interesting people, the like of whom we had never seen before." By combining the pop festival culture with the rapidly dying West Country tradition of rural fairs, and placing the event on Eavis's Somerset valley farm that extends towards the Tor at Glastonbury, the couple figured they could surpass anything the Bath Festival could muster.

From an audience of 1,500 in September 1970 to a turnout of 100,000 last year (not to mention a budget of pounds 4.25m), the Glastonbury Music Festival has become a major economic force in the region. Jean Eavis was the company secretary and fielded all the telephone calls, hopeful musicians, complaints and aggravation. She was also the first to get stuck in when something needed doing. Last year, for example, she was leading teams of litter- pickers out onto the fields as soon as the crowds began drifting away as she strove to restore her beloved farm to some sense of normality.

Above all, Jean Eavis was a listener, who never let her responsibilities get on top of her. Visitors were nourished, even when they were neighbours, environmental health officials and politicians trying to silence the beat.

The Eavises - who invariably made large donations from the festival profits to causes such as CND and Greenpeace - sometimes suspected a political motivation to their harassment but by last year even the broadsheet newspapers were suggesting that Glastonbury had become a part of the establishment, an accusation the couple were at pains to deny.

Jean and Michael eventually married in 1989, in a joint ceremony with Winston Churchill's granddaughter, Arabella Churchill, and Haggis McLeod. Arabella Churchill had been a visitor at the first festival.

Jean Eavis maintained a dislike of the glitzy lifestyle associated with the world of rock. Even though musicians such as the Gallagher brothers from Oasis were firm friends, she would still be up before dawn keeping the farm - a working dairy farm - on track. Recently the Eavises received a quality award from Unigate Dairy for their outstanding performance.

Jean Hayball, festival promoter and farmer: born Gibraltar 11 May 1939; married 1959 Anthony Lord (three daughters; marriage dissolved 1970), 1989 Michael Eavis (one son, one daughter); died Pilton, Somerset 15 May 1999.

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