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Ageing, ageism, photography, stories

7th February 2017

Michael Eavis, 79

Michael is a successful dairy farmer and founder of the hugely popular Glastonbury Festival, which takes place on his farm in Somerset.

“When I was young, I wanted to go to sea. We used to sing around the piano as a family twice a week and there was a picture on it of my mother’s cousin, a commander in the Australian navy – he was the image of success and charm and handsomeness – so I wanted to be like him. Isn’t that extraordinary? I didn’t even know this chap!

I don’t like drugs and I don’t drink much either but I’m all for freedom – people can do what they want to do with their lives.

Anyway so I went off to a training ship for merchant naval officers. I was just 19 and three years into it when my father died so I had to come home to save the farm. I was the eldest of five siblings and the others weren’t really interested. I was only halfway through my national service so I had to make up the years by working in a local mine for a couple of years. I would milk my cows morning and night after a day shift on the coalface.

I struggled doing two jobs and keeping it all afloat. Eventually, when I got married to Ruth I was a nightmare and absolutely impossible to live with.  Unfortunately we divorced, but we did have three great kids. I then got involved with a new lady who was called Jean. We became parents to Patrick and Emily and Jean also had children of her own so I brought them up as well. There was quite a gang of us. I’m still involved with them, all these years later!

Jean died after 35 years together and I now live on the farm with my new wife Liz. She was a midwife in the village and it was a case of right place, right time. That must be it for me as far as wives go, don’t you think? I think three is enough actually!

We have our village baker to thank for Glastonbury. Back in the day she used to come around delivering bread in her Morris van and she told us about a festival happening just down the road, so off we went. There was no fence or anything and we saw the Moody Blues and all the West Coast bands. I was nuts about it, I couldn’t believe it. I thought ‘this is for me’ and I started doing something the very same year, in 1970.

I got hold of the White Book which had all the celebrity contacts in it – the Rolling Stones, Elvis – the lot. I started phoning up at random and explaining I was a dairy farmer in Somerset – it sounded pretty useless really! The Kinks were my first choice, but they pulled out. I was disappointed as I used to play The Kinks to the cows every milking time! Instead I got Marc Bolan which was probably a bit more fashionable. About 1000 people came to the first one – not bad for a first effort. It grew every year from that and now there are 1.2million people pre-registered for 2016. We give two million pounds to charity every year. I think it’s a bit of a cop-out if we don’t deliver – even if we haven’t made a profit.

I don’t like drugs and I don’t drink much either but I’m all for freedom – people can do what they want to do with their lives. The hippies used to wear a badge saying ‘don’t tell Michael’ but we respected each other really ­– they were very entertaining and creative.

I think I should probably stop doing the festival when it gets to its 50th year but whether I will or not depends on how I feel. Emily is in the wings and a good crowd of people is on hand to help in future. If I had to choose between the farm and the festival though – the farm would always win. Last year we were the UK’s top dairy farm, it was such an achievement, a huge thing for me – and this year we ‘ve just won the highest achieving herd at the Cream Awards. The festival is more precarious. It could go any time.

I’m beginning to feel my age now – as you get older you get more tired but I think I was born happy really. Some of my contemporaries were born a bit grumpy! Mentally I’m still fine and I don’t notice people treating me any differently because of my age. Kids in the street want selfies taken with me – they’re certainly not saying ‘here’s an old man coming along.’ They don’t see me like that.

I get up and swim every morning in the pool on the farm without fail. It’s good for circulation. Then I have half a grapefruit and scratch out the pith – it takes about 15 minutes out of my life every day but I read somewhere years ago that it could prevent getting a stroke! I’m not a real health freak but I do cycle a bit around the village. When you drive, you can never stop for a chat, but on my bike, I can talk to people. Some people love what I do, but some people have gripes so it gives them an opportunity to tell me face to face.

The best age of my life so far is now. I have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve made the most of my life. I will die happy – but not yet!

My life motto? You’ve got to give as much as you take.

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