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Internal News - 10 December 2004

Michael Eavis - Honorary Graduates - December 2004

Doctor of Arts

Orator - Professor Geof Wood

One of the intriguing aspects of humanity is the person who stands apart from the rest of us and makes a distinctive contribution to our lives. There can be no easy explanation why Michael Eavis added the Glastonbury Music Festival to his life as a dairy farmer in Somerset, but it is clear that he has made a remarkable contribution to global popular culture as a result. While there have been other popular music festivals around the world, famous in their own right, there is a consensus that none have had such a sustained impact as Glastonbury over the last 34 years. Every year, about 150,000 people make the pilgrimage to Worthy Farm not only to listen to their favourite bands, but also to participate in a broad set of values about the well being of individuals, communities and the globe as a whole. The mid-summer weekend is now regularly broadcast nationally and globally, enabling past and future festival goers, as well as millions of others, to share an experience of peace, tolerance and fantastic music. It keeps alive a vision of a better world amid the rapaciousness of capitalism, global inequalities and rising violence. Part of this vision is the celebration of diversity of tastes and lifestyles as manifested in the different venues on the site, expressing a wide variety of music and activities. But it is also a meeting place for debate about things that matter. Through the annual donations to CND, Greenpeace, Oxfam and WaterAid, it is also clear that the commitments go beyond words.

Michael Eavis with orator, Prof Geof Wood

How has all of this happened? Although Michael now has a team of devoted organisers around him, including his daughter Emily, there is little doubt among them that his strength and resilience has literally kept the show alive. Born in 1935 into a longstanding Methodist farming family, he was educated at the Cathedral School in nearby Wells. After merchant naval college, he sailed the world for the Union Castle Shipping Line but returned to take over Worthy Farm in 1958 when his father died. The 400 acre farm now sustains an efficient 400 strong dairy herd of Friesians, producing 10,000 litres of milk a day. So in his 'day job', Michael is a dairy farmer. In 1969 he was impressed by the concept of the Bath Blues Festival and the idea of a festival at the farm was born. In the summer of 1970, 1500 'hippy types' turned up, paid a pound, received a free pint of milk and listened to T Rex. By the 1980s, the festival really got into its stride and perhaps provided a key rallying point against the prevailing politics of the day, as represented by Thatcherism. Thus some of the acts and artistes were political and polemical, as well as musical. But as the popularity of the festival grew, so did the problems. The residents of neighbouring Pilton were increasingly nervous about large numbers of youth, and sometimes travellers, descending each year and roaming around the tiny village. The scale of the event, together with increasing issues of law and order, health and safety, entailed more regulations and an annual license by Mendip District Council. Annual complex negotiations ensued with neighbouring farmers, with neighbours in the village, with the police (often surprisingly supportive) and finally with the local authority (often hostile). Occasionally over the last 34 years, the festival was not held as a result of difficulties, for example after travellers rioted in 1990. More re-assurances were sought about numbers and security, requiring large-scale investment.

Michael Eavis accepts his honorary degree

These problems are recounted because they reveal not only the tenacity and spirit of Michael Eavis to pursue a valued dream for youth, but also an application of consummate skills of negotiation and diplomacy to these values. Combine these with, now, a near encyclopaedic knowledge of the contemporary music scene, widespread respect among some of the most famous bands and acts in the world, large-scale risk taking and corporate management of a complex enterprise, and we have an example of an exceptional entrepreneur, but one who has not departed from his core values in the process. He remains very hands-on. In a recent visit, he made the time to take me all around the farm, explaining the different venues and ideas behind them, recalling particular events. His wife, Liz, was organising with him the annual farm party. That afternoon, he was off to London to see a band and open up negotiations for next year's headline act. But he is still proud of his dairy staff on the farm, the newly discovered freshwater spring, and now the increasing support of his farming neighbours and the villagers of Pilton for the 'greatest show on earth', a unique contribution to global popular culture.

Chancellor, I present to you Michael Eavis as being eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Arts, honoris causa.