Like so many people, I’m devastated about Glastonbury – a place where I have died on and off stage

The most fun booking of the year for me has always been Glastonbury. The best audiences are those who choose to fill the comedy tent when they are at a world renowned music festival

Shappi Khorsandi@ShappiKhorsandi
Friday 22 January 2021 18:02
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<p>Shappi Khorsandi and Billy Bragg at Glastonbury in 2004</p>

Shappi Khorsandi and Billy Bragg at Glastonbury in 2004

Getting booked regularly to perform at the Theatre and Cabaret tent at Glastonbury has been one of the joys of my career.

Yes, alright, so television bookings give you glossy hair, a goody bag full of things you will actually use and a chance to get drunk and say something stupid to the producer, ensuring you never get booked again. But despite all that, the most fun booking of the year for me has always been Glastonbury. The best audiences are those who choose to fill the comedy tent when they are at a world renowned music festival.

Yesterday, however, Michael and Emily Eavis announced that this year’s festival has been cancelled. I’m sad for them, for all the bands, the food stall owners, the bar workers, the riggers, the light designers, the man who I seem to see every year dancing naked, covered in mud at 2am, and for myself.

I first went to the festival in 1994. I was still a student and I couldn’t believe so much fun was being had by so many people all at the same time. I have returned pretty much every year since, until this joy-sucker of a virus held all our arms behind our backs and told us: “Fun’s over.”

Much as I love live music, back then I wasn’t a band hound dashing from field to field to see each one on my list. Glastonbury was about going with the flow (man). Before mobile phones, if you lost your friends, you lost your friends. You had to make new ones. I remember one year in the Nineties, holding hands with a woman after my nightly climb to the Sacred Space. We sat by the stone circle and watched the sun come up to the sound of drummers. I have no idea who the woman was and never saw her again but it was Glastonbury and I needed my hand holding, so she held it.

She was probably a quantity surveyor from Newport who tells her friends about the time “a total stranger at Glastonbury grabbed my hand, put it to her cheek and kept repeating, ‘Isn’t it all beautiful.’ I didn’t know where to put myself!” I prefer to remember my own version.  

One year, the friend I’d gone with ditched me in pursuit of a man. An unforgivable friendship sin, but I did meet a very nice bunch of young farmers and wandered off with them to watch Radiohead, which soothed my soul as I re-evaluated my friendship choices.

The first time I was booked at the comedy tent, I was a rookie comic. It was 1997 and I’d only been going for a few months. I died a painful, horrible death and didn’t do stand-up again for a year. Happily, I began to get booked again when I started to get a better hang of it and have had some of the best gigs of my career in that tent. I never ever step onto its stage without, for a second, remembering the sorry mess of 1997. Smashing it is now extra special.

I’ve met my heroes at Glastonbury, always an excruciating experience. I remember around 2004 I was booked to perform at The Leftfield. Backstage I bumped into Billy Bragg and excitedly thrust my camera into the hands of the companion he was with, a friendly looking chap with no front teeth. “CAN YOU TAKE A PICTURE WITH ME AND BILLY?” I hyperventilated.

My boyfriend at the time stepped bashfully forward and said to the man, “Let me take the picture and you get in it, too.” I did not understand why my boyfriend wanted the toothless man to be in the picture with me and Billy Bragg and, to my shame, I yelped, “NO! Please just take one of me and Billy.”

Bragg looked a little surly as we stood together for the photo. He said, "Do you have any idea who the man taking this picture is?”

“No,” I replied.

“Oh, it’s only Jerry Dammers,” he muttered.

The penny finally dropped. “The Specials,” I squeaked as Billy Bragg wandered off with Jerry Dammers, leaving me to be consoled by my somewhat mortified boyfriend. I am versatile enough to be able to die both on and off stage at Glastonbury.

I was never one of those pro-festival goers who pull a trailer around with their children asleep in them. I remember one Glastonbury trying to soothe my sleepy three-year-old who was wailing, “Tell the lady to stop singing”, during Beyonce’s set.

After that, I decided Glasto would be my one kid-free indulgence of the year. Of course, that three-year-old is now a teenager who, when the cancellation news was announced yesterday, said: “Will you go next year and take me as your plus one?” Let’s hope so, boy. Let’s hope so.  

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