How is Glastonbury Festival built?
In our interview, Croissant Neuf organiser Sally Howell talks through the challenges in delivering a magical Glastonbury experience.
What holds 210,000 people, is home to a 40-ton pyramid and has a working dairy farm squeezed in?
No, the tourism industry of Egypt hasn’t gone down a weird path since you last visited. The answer is Glastonbury Festival.
It’s been a (mainly) annual fixture since 1970 and the iconic festival is back again after an enforced three-year hiatus for a belated 50th anniversary shindig.
And its scale is something to behold, with an area the size of a city springing up and coming down within weeks pre- and post-festival.
To put its size in perspective, if Glastonbury Festival was a city in its own right, the 210,000 people in attendance would make it the 27th-biggest in the country between Milton Keynes and Norwich.
While that might not sound too impressive, it’s worth considering that almost all of this city – aside from the structure of the Pyramid Stage – is temporary.
That’s over 100 different stages in over 30 areas across the site, including over 3,300 toilets.
To assemble all of that and make sure everything runs smoothly for the five days ticket holders are onsite is a gargantuan task.
“It’s almost an all-year round job,” says Sally Howell, who has organised the Croissant Neuf field at Glastonbury Festival for 36 years, speaking to Betway online casino.
“I have agents constantly sending through CDs and emails, so it never actually totally stops.
“But the big crunch starts just after Christmas and it’s full on. We’re recruiting all of our staff, exhibits and crews.
“My area is quite small and I’ve got a tight-run ship. With all my crew, so that includes site crew, stage and sound crew, tent crew, around-the-clock stewards, venue stewards, campsite stewards and gate staff, there are around 175 people. That doesn’t include any performers.
Born out of a green-focused community, Howell explains that fostering a sense of togetherness in the Croissant Neuf field is important and comes into her thinking ahead of the festival.
“The stewards in my area just work for me. They’re not given to me. You get a lot of the same faces back every year, they’re like family.
“That’s what creates that community feeling.”
Of the many different areas at Glastonbury Festival, the Croissant Neuf field is among the longest standing, having originally launched in 1986.
The field itself includes the Croissant Neuf tent, where the main acts play, a bandstand, where musicians play during the changeovers in the main tent, a café, a dozen exhibits and a handful of stalls.
“Our field is a bit like a village green, really,” says Howell.
“We have a pond, we have a garden, we’ve got seating areas. It’s all hosted with a green ethos and it’s relatively small compared to other areas of the festival.”
The variety of the festival becomes apparent when comparing the scale of Croissant Neuf to other areas.
Nightlife area Block9, for example, whose headline stage IICON, shaped like a metallic head, takes three months to build and nearly 100 tons of building materials.
But that is not to say the size of the task of organising the field is any less.
“It’s still like putting on a mini-festival within a festival,” says Howell.
“In terms of the manual work, though, we are able to build quickly and are able to start a bit later.
“I’ll live on the site from the Tuesday on the week before the festival starts and the crew start arriving the day after, with the bulk arriving on Friday.
“We then just go for it in four days. We all know what we’re doing, we’re all professionals and it’s like a pop-up in a few days.
“On the other side of it, I’m left with my very core crew on the Monday when it comes to dismantling, so around 20 to 25 people.
“Weather depending, we dismantle within two days and we’ll probably be onsite until about the Friday after the festival has finished.
“Usually that Friday afternoon, I’m back home in a blob running my bath.”
The Croissant Neuf field at Glastonbury is unique within the festival for being entirely run on solar power.
Given the changeable reputation for British weather during summer, and especially Glastonbury, one might assume that this is a risky strategy.
“We’ve never run out in all these years. We have to work out the figures with the power people will draw and book accordingly,” says Howell.
“With the weather, the biggest problem is the state of the ground can get in when it rains.
“Our most challenging year was 2016 because it had rained a lot prior to the festival and during setup.
“Tyres on vehicles ended up just churning up all the fields into muddy bogs. It was an absolute nightmare.”
Of course, building a festival isn’t purely about the manual side of things, you also have to book acts that people will enjoy.
It’s a big responsibility, but one that Howell is used to by now.
“Me and my sound engineer, who is my son, book the bands, just the two of us,” she says.
“Music comes in all year round and I have to put people off until January. By the end of March, we have it all booked and the closer it gets to the festival, my life becomes one big spreadsheet.
“We try to have all genres and need to have our ear to the ground, listening to different music all the time.
“Radio 6 is really helpful, as is networking with other stage managers at the festival. We have a good relationship with some of them and will bounce things off each other.
“But we’re always scouting for new and up-and-coming stuff. We’re a platform for people to make their debut.”
One such debut Howell gave was to an undiscovered 19-year-old in 2011 called Ed Sheeran.
“I can’t take the kudos for discovering him, he was a friend of a friend of people that I book.
“The first year he came to the festival and only did a couple of numbers on stage with his mate, which was amazing.
“The following year, he came on his own and launched A Team on my stage, and after that he went sky high and we couldn’t afford him.
“We gave him an opportunity on the bottom rung of the ladder and that’s really what Croissant Neuf is about.”