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Glastonbury 2011: From behind the tabard

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Ever since its inception in 1970 Glastonbury has been unique amongst UK festivals. Aside from showcasing the very best in contemporary music and performing arts from around the globe, the festival remains dedicated to helping those less fortunate than its guests and every year donates over £2 million to charity. One such charity is Oxfam with whom the festival has been working with since 1993, and in my first year at Glastonbury it was from behind the fluorescent orange tabard of steward E599 that I came to witness the biggest and best festival on the planet.

Having spent the last two summers of my life boogying on the beaches of Croatia’s Soundwave Festival I was not sure what to expect from a far larger gathering in my own back garden. Visions of riots and ten foot fires a-la Reading Festival sprung to mind, but I was assured that such bedlam was not an issue in the rolling hills of Pilton. And as we pitched up our tent on Tuesday I could see why.

Positioned at the top of the hill our campsite gave the first indication of what was to be an extraordinary weekend.  A spectacular panoramic view of the festival site revealed a playground of limitless adventure and outstanding natural beauty, a vision that would only flourish further as the weekend wore on. In house things were equally impressive. Private showers, toilets and our own bar were only topped by five free meals from onsite caterers throughout the week which included curry, burritos and a life-changing Chinese belly of pork.

As the week progressed I came to realise that life as an Oxfam steward though is sometimes not all so cushty. Each steward is required to work three eight hour shifts throughout the weekend which include an early morning stint and a graveyard slot. Randomly allocated this does mean that you may miss out on watching your favourite band, but there are opportunities to swap, and with shifts running from Wednesday to Sunday chances are you won’t miss much.

Where you work is also pot luck. I found myself at Vehicle Gate 2, a barren featureless dessert at the far north of the site largely populated by toothless farmers eager to go where you don’t want them to. Mind-numbing it was but with your best mate or your girlfriend working by your side you learn to burn time quite effectively. Luckily for us our supervisor Chris, an exuberant, quasi-homosexual whisky drinker, made the hours fly-by dancing emphatically to Coldplay as they wailed out the same song repeatedly for two hours on Saturday night.

Otherwise my festival experience was like anyone else’s. I stumbled from stage to stage muddy, sunburnt and sleep-deprived watching a host of acts playing a wealth of music, and even managed to see my favourite band perform an intimate secret performance after an early morning tip-off from a Glastonbury regular.

Yet unlike those 177,000 who scrambled through the gate on Wednesday morning with no care in the world but as to how to find their tent at night, my memories of Glastonbury will be of a festival with a greater purpose. Working as a steward whilst a boring task in itself gave me access into a side of the festival scene I had not witnessed before. An appreciation of the selfless commitment of certain people to make a difference, and a respect that will see me patronise this wonderful festival for years to come. Thank you Glastonbury.

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