For Mark Borkowski, the PR consultant, putting up a fence in 2002 was a “turning point” for the festival’s scale and momentum, and its profits, as it removed the mass break-ins which had led to seriously safety concerns and helped thwart the criminal gangs which had dogged the festival.
If this made it more professional, more commercially viable and therefore a place where the upper echelons of society wish to tread, many would say safety offset any complaints about ‘selling out’.
“For a long time the organisers have wrestled with the demands of putting on and clearing up a festival of this size — which is one hell of a bill — but also staying true to the spirit of Glastonbury,” he explains.
“I’ve worked with lots of booze and telecoms brands who would love to reach the Glastonbury audience but Michael Eavis is still an old hippy farmer and it’s just not in his make-up.
“Their biggest branding opportunities are still for charities — Oxfam, WaterAid, Greenpeace and Amnesty International have all been partners — and being on the BBC limits what they can show commercially.
I think everyone realises that no one wants to be sold capitalist messages while they’re at Glastonbury.”
Unlike smaller festivals, Glastonbury is so vast that it can afford to have a couple of “low-key sponsors” and not “kill the vibe”. This year’s partners are Vodafone and Brooklyn Brewery. “It’s a hedonistic weekend and a rite of passage,” adds Borkowski. “Look at the Brit Awards, it feels like a night for corporate sponsors ”
Borkowski says the luxury accommodation is just a “natural progression” of how live music events have evolved. “Festivals have matured, as have the audiences — they’re not just for a bunch of hippies any more.”
I’ve been to Glastonbury many times, in many different forms — from a skint 18-year-old staying in a leaky tent and wearing child’s size wellies that didn’t fit (they were cheaper than the adult version), to blagging a hospitality ticket as a guest of one of the sponsors.
Of course Glastonbury has changed. Yes, it’s still overwhelmingly white, but it’s getting more diverse. You see more influencers now, more people who look like they wanted to go to Glyndebourne and took a wrong turn.
But the beauty of Glastonbury is that it somehow contains multitudes. The site is so infinite that there’s space for all comers to find their version of fun, whether that’s posing at the Stone Circle for the ‘Gram with halloumi fries and an ice-cold Pimms, or slumped in a k-hole somewhere near The Other Stage, with a flagon of warm cider. At least you hope it’s cider.
And for anyone heading to Glastonbury today with just a two-person tent, take heart in the knowledge that you’re embodying the spirit of the original festival. “The toilets were very grim, very early on in the weekend,” recalls Lynne Telfer, of her experience 53 years ago. “They were filthy right from the start.” At least some things never change.