Arabella Churchill: Key figure in Glastonbury Festival

Monday 31 December 2007 01:00 GMT

Arabella Churchill, charity worker and festival organiser: born East Bergholt, Suffolk 31 October 1949; married 1972 Jim Barton (one son), 1988 Haggis McLeod (one daughter); died Glastonbury, Somerset 20 December 2007.

Arabella Churchill, granddaughter of Britain's war-time prime minister, was one of the key figures in the Glastonbury Festival. Involved with the organisation since the "Glastonbury Fayre" of 1971, for the next 37 years she was a most valuable member of the team, and from 1981 responsible for programming and running the theatre and circus fields at the festival.

Churchill first came to Worthy Farm in Somerset towards the end of 1970. She was part of a crowd of upper-crust hippies headed up by a chap called Andrew Kerr, who wanted me to let them have the farm to put on a free festival to coincide with the 1971 summer solstice. I had already run a rather small affair at Worthy Farm in September 1970, which attracted Marc Bolan and various others to perform; Jean, my wife, and I had been to the Bath Blues Festival at the tail end of the 1960s and simply got caught up with it all.

Kerr had a job on his hands trying to make the project happen. He and Churchill felt that other festivals of the time were too commercial and so didn't want to charge a fee for their event. Various people gave money, including Churchill herself and the model Jean Shrimpton; but to me at the time they all seemed slightly unhinged. When I had a disagreement with them they threw a load of Tarot cards on the kitchen table. The message read: "No one with the name of Michael should be involved with the festival". And I said: "Hang on a minute, isn't this my farm?"

But Churchill and Kerr were in crusading mode, the eco-warriors of their day. Their energy meant the festival was a success, with 12,000 people turning up for five days of music, dance, poetry, theatre and entertainment during which Hawkwind, David Bowie, Joan Baez and Fairport Convention gave performances. The 1971 festival is remembered as a significant moment in the history of youth culture and green awareness.

I drove events at Worthy through the 1970s, until Churchill decided to run her own festival in 1979. It was to be in aid of the Year of the Child and again she wanted to use the farm. I was very happy to let her get on with it and I trusted her implicitly. Unfortunately, a couple of months before it was due to happen she and her fellow instigator Bill Harkin decided they couldn't go through with it. The money had run out and Arabella Churchill had become scared about the consequences. At that point I had to go to the bank to secure a loan against the farm to see the event through. And although the sun shone through the whole weekend and thousands bought tickets, the festival still lost money.

But Churchill had now acquired a taste for organising, and two years later in 1981 she ran the Children's Field at the main Glastonbury Festival. This was immediately followed by the setting up of her Children's World charity work, which continues to this day, sending performers into schools with special needs. It became her main passion and the focus of her working life.

The festival still claimed nearly half her time each year, with Churchill continuing to run the theatre and circus areas as they grew and developed. These fields now occupy over 80 acres of land, and have an annual budget of more than half a million pounds. At last year's festival, she was in charge of some 1,500 performers. Thorough and highly motivated, she dealt with all her artists on a personal basis. She ran an incredible show and commanded respect from the entire crew. She started work at 4.30 in the morning and every instruction was handwritten. Her determination to succeed never dwindled. Only two weeks ago we were planning the layout for the fields for Glastonbury 2008.

Arabella Churchill was born in 1949, the daughter of Winston Churchill's only son, Randolph, and Randolph's second wife, June Osborne. Arabella was close to her grandfather, visiting him frequently during his final illness in 1965. She was educated at Fritham House in the New Forest, followed by Ladymede School in Buckinghamshire, and was named Deb of the Year in 1967. But she was not to follow the path expected of her. "I was no good at being a Churchill. People never saw me for me", she said. She worked at the charity Lepra and briefly at London Weekend Television, but "I felt I wanted to be a hippie, I felt I was left-wing, I didn't feel like the rest of my family". She lived in Wales for a while in the 1970s before settling in Glastonbury.

Her first marriage, to Jim Barton, was short-lived and produced her only son, Jake. In 1986 she met the juggler Haggis McLeod, when he performed at the festival. Two years later, Jean and I, and Haggis and Arabella, had a joint wedding at Shepton Mallet Registry Office, with a reception afterwards at Worthy Farm. They produced a daughter, Jessica, who will, I hope, now follow in her mother's footsteps and help to run the theatre fields with her father.

Arabella Churchill had an uncompromising compassion for humanity, a great sense of morality and social responsibility and a willingness to work tirelessly to achieve a result. Occasionally she would give me a hard time and I probably reciprocated quite well, but we never actually fell out. We had a respect for each other and I think in the end that's why we got on so well and had such a good working relationship. The Glastonbury Festival won't be quite the same without her.

Michael Eavis

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