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Lucy Sweet: Glastonbury – ‘the maddest masterclass of sensory overload’

The BBC’s televised coverage of Glastonbury reminded Lucy Sweet how much she loves a festival – just as long as the cameras are not on her

It’s festival time, and after being on an enforced Zoom call for nearly three years, everyone is, understandably, going a bit nuts.

This summer, thousands of people will don a pair of neon shades and a bucket hat, get hammered on £10 beer and joyously contract Covid from the armpit of a guy in an H&M Hawaiian shirt. And why not? It’s what we’ve all been waiting for! Also some bands will be on, but WHATEVER.

I recently attended a music festival in Barcelona, and it’s good to know they’re pretty much the same as they ever were, except instead of finding a bottle of wee next to the stage, you’ll find it next to an empty hand sanitiser station (which is also, coincidentally, covered in wee).

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The crowds are the usual mix of braying guys and girls in various states of undress and inebriation, one bored baby wearing ear defenders, middle-aged men in band shirts who refuse to use the word vinyl as a noun, and the occasional drag queen or trendy Ibiza grandma off her head on ‘life’.

But I’m not sure there’s ever been this much fuss about festivals before – not until this year’s Glastonbury, anyway, which belatedly celebrated its 50th anniversary and got BBC blanket coverage of the kind usually reserved for the death of a senior royal.

If you switched on the radio in the week prior, the build-up was particularly excruciating, as it was clear nothing at all was happening apart from some people in hi-vis vests putting up scaffolding and overpriced food trucks called ‘Noodly Boodly’ slowly reversing onto a patch of grass.

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Then, BBC iPlayer went all out with the Glastonbury Channel, a livestream brought to you by various muppety junior presenters (daytime) and the real pros (night).

No matter who is delivering it though, there’s always something weird about live coverage of festivals, like filming a Wetherspoons on a Friday night. Anything can happen at Glastonbury – which is dangerous territory when the cameras are on. Personally I know this all too well, when I once stumbled on drunk to do ‘backing vocals’ for Belle and Sebastian, only to realise that I didn’t know the song and thousands of people were watching, including my husband and his friends who had spotted me on telly and were wondering what the hell I was doing.

Also, although its prohibitively expensive ticket prices have made it a mainstream festival, Glastonbury is traditionally the maddest one, a weird mix of hippies, freaks, geeks and trust fund boys called Tristram who are converting a houseboat. It’s a masterclass in sensory overload: so much so, people lose their minds and are found wandering around Shepton Mallet weeks later with no shoes on, thinking they’re Gandalf.

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Then you’ve got the double whammy of live TV – which is awkward by its very nature – and musicians, who are essentially swamp people who live in buses and vans for half of the year and don’t know how to interact with society. Sometimes, it’s impossible to get a word out of them – leading to what seems like hours of stilted silence while everyone sits on a hay bale, wishing they were dead.

Still, the BBC loves Glastonbury almost as much as it loves booking Nigel Farage for Question Time, and it seems like the love affair will last forever. And this year especially, after everything we’ve been through and continue to go through, not even a cynical trout like me can knock it.

It was actually lovely to see people enjoying themselves, letting loose, waving stupid signs and balancing on each other’s shoulders. After all, it’s about time we had some fun. And if that involves peeing on the hand sanitiser station, who am I to judge?

Lucy Sweet is a freelance journalist

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