My Life: Emily Eavis On Growing Up With Glastonbury Festival In Her Back Garden

Meet Emily Eavis, The Daughter Of Glastonbury
[Picture: Jason Bryant]

Emily Eavis is very much the daughter of Glastonbury Festival. As the youngest child of Michael and Jean Eavis, who founded the festival in 1970, she grew up living on Worthy Farm and, at 36, is actually nine years younger than the festival itself.

Now, she works as the co-organiser and is responsible for booking major acts, such as Kayne West (more on that later), along with her husband, music manager Nick Dewey.

Her early Glastonbury memories are full of hot festival days, smells from the camp fires at dinnertime ("There was hardly any food available to buy back then.") and people sitting close to the stage watching music. But despite these positive memories, she admits to having had a love-hate relationship with the festival. She was a teenager, after all.

"When I was growing up I loved the festival but I also resented or hated it from time-to-time," she tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "I couldn't understand why so many people were in our garden. It was like an invasion. Why weren’t they in other people's gardens too?"

Today, having parents that run a festival might make you the most popular kid at school, but back then was a different story. Drug and violence rumours circulated around her school, fueled not only by local children, but local parents. "Kids thought bad stuff happened all the time, that people injected each other in the crowd and stuff like that," she recalls.

Part of this, of course, may be spurred by some home truths. In 1990, on the festival's 20th anniversary, there were violent traveller riots at the festival, with people trying to loot the site. The police made more than 200 arrests and the festival was cancelled the following year. Emily was 10 at the time and remembers it well.

"There were molotov cocktails thrown at the kitchen window and people waving flaming telegraph poles. It was very scary," she recalls.

"In the past there has been a threatening or dangerous environment," she says, adding quickly, "but that's part of the festival's history, so we can forget it now."

Fast-forward to the present day and the festival is incomparable to what it once was. Now, there are 150,000 festival goers, during her childhood there were just hundreds. Security has also tightened and infrastructure, once non-existent, is now well-oiled.

"There were no offices and no multiple phone lines back then. There was one phone to the house, and absolutely everything was sorted by my parents - they were central point for everything. Now it’s a bigger festival with a bigger team."

But perhaps the biggest difference is the music. The festival attracts big acts from across all musical genres and has hosted everyone from The Rolling Stones to Beyonce.

One of Emily's most memorable moments from 2014 was watching Dolly Parton on the Pyramid Stage, who drew "one of the biggest crowds ever". They had been trying to book her for five years and eventually the schedules matched.

This year, one of her biggest bookings has also been one of the biggest headaches, drawing memories that Emily would probably care to forget.

When she announced that Kanye West would be headlining the Pyramid Stage on Saturday, she was met with a huge backlash. A petition objecting to Kanye's performance drew 130,000 signatories and Emily was even sent death threats.

But she came back fighting and has no regrets - after all it was her decision to book Kanye, not her father's.

"You have to develop a thick skin, someone always complains about something, but this time I got defensive because of the sheer amount of backlash," she says. "I did feel quite protective of my dad. He didn’t book Kanye West, I did. He doesn't even book acts anymore."

Writing for the Guardian in March, she said: "We think the story this year should not be: 'Why is Kanye coming?' but: 'How amazing is it that Kanye is coming?'

"One of the world’s biggest superstars and a music legend, always interesting, never boring. He has agreed to play a festival where headliners get paid a fraction of their normal rate in support of Oxfam, Water Aid and Greenpeace as well as thousands of other worthy causes. We think that’s pretty great."

She says that the backlash was a window into the dark side of social media, something which she'd not experienced before.

"The guy who set up the petition has never even been to Glastonbury. The festival has an amazing atmosphere and is so friendly, with everyone helping and being kind to one another, it's not the same vibe," she says. "It really made me question the nastiness of Twitter and the internet."

Emily didn't always set out to work on the festival. She was training to be a school teacher, but when her mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 1999, Emily returned home to help with the running of the festival.

She describes her mother as the "backbone of the festival".

"My parents had such a strong relationship. Although what they did was very stressful and they were risking so much, they had so much fun, the house was full of laughter," she says.

"It was the ultimate partnership. My dad had ambitious ideas, but my mother was much more practical. She kept him in check. She allowed him to have his ideas and encouraged him, but when knew that wouldn’t work she would say so."

Emily says she has learnt so much from both her parents: "The festival is so deep in my bones, so much of work is instinctive. You really have to strip away public perception and go with your gut."

For Emily, her mother's enduring legacy is the positivity at the heart of Glastonbury. This is something she is determined to keep hold of.

The festival has long-standing partnerships with Wateraid, Green Peace and Oxfam (among many others), donating on average £2million per year.

"Everyday, all decisions I make is to keep the festival at its essence," she says.

It will come as no surprise that Glastonbury is a year-round job: the site is still being cleaned up in August; budgets for the following year are finalised by December; and after Christmas it's the home straight to the festival.

Nowadays, acts are also booked two years in advance: "We've just confirmed our headliners for 2016, which is crazy if you think about it."

Once the festival rolls around, Emily is lucky if she gets to see any acts at all. "It's always hard to see everyone I planned to or watch a whole set, as I get swept up in a million other things," she says. This can include anything from sorting security issues with people jumping the fence or putting wood chippings down in a flooded area.

She is particularly passionate about the Park Stage, which she has curated single-handedly since it was unveiled back in 2008.

"The Park stage is like a little island away from everything, you never have to leave," she says. "You can sit up there, watch music, eat good food and see things you don’t normally see."

Her favourite part of the festival is the first day: "When people rush in, excited and smiling. It still gives me butterflies. Even if there is pouring rain and treacherous conditions people are still smiling ear-to-ear weather. We’ve built this incredible city and it’s fantastic to be apart of it."

Glastonbury has always been a family affair, and Emily seems keen for that to long continue.

Emily grew up in the same small farmhouse where she now lives with her husband and two sons, George, five, and Noah, two. "It's right in the middle of the site, so there is no escape," she laughs.

In the morning her father, Michael, comes down to the house to take her boys out around the farm. And that's where the father-daughter duo talk business, exchanging updates about festival bookings and finer details.

When your office is on your doorstep and you work with your husband, maintaining a work-life balance takes a lot of effort. "We have a rule at home not to talk about the Pyramid stage after 9pm. Otherwise the festival absorbs our lives, especially in the busy months," she says.

That's not going to stop the full Eavis clan attending the festival once it kicks off, of course. Her and her husband are keen that the boys experience the festival to the fullest. She knows they'll probably spend most of their time at the Kids Field, which the boys love, but it's one of the areas she's most passionate about.

"We'll try and get the kids out in the day and keep their bed time as normal as possible. They are only young so they go to bed exhausted, it's quite full on and a lot for them to take in."

In short, she wants her children to have a similar upbringing to her own. George was born just weeks before Glastonbury in 2010.

"We talk about his birthday a lot in the lead up to the festival," she says. "Now, as he sees the tents and stages starting to take shape, he thinks it's for his birthday party."

We're sure that George will spend many birthdays amidst Glastonbury preparations on Worthy Farm, and who knows, maybe one day it'll be him living with his young family in the farmhouse and him booking the big acts. As his mother proves, it wouldn't make sense not to keep it in the family.