The REAL Glastonbury
“Whhheeeeee,” squeals the little girl with delight as she zips off the end of the helter skelter. “Again, again,” she pleads to her father, tugging his hand, in which is discreetly cupped a marijuana “joint”.
A few yards away, in the Big Top, about 50 children are listening in rapt silence to Goffee the Clown.
The Glastonbury Festival may be best known for its music, mud and drug-induced madness but more and more it is becoming a holiday destination for the children.
Sitting outside the Big Top, in the Kidz Field – 12-acres of fenced-off activities – is Gary Cooper, his partner, Ali Howarth, and two of the five children – Josh, 13, and Liam, five – they have brought.
“We came for the first time last year and it was great,” said Ali. “I was surprised at how much there was here for children. Normally we would go abroad. But this year we decided to make Glastonbury our family holiday.”
In addition to the 112,500 paying adults it is estimated that there are more than 5,000 children at this year’s festival. The exact number is not known because under-12s get in free.
By mid-morning yesterday, the Family Camping enclosure was full, despite having been expanded yet further this year.
“It is one of the largest – if not the largest – free children’s festival in the world,” said Tony Cordy, who has run the Kidz Field for 11 years.
Glastonbury has featured an area for children ever since it started about 30 years ago at Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset. But in recent years the Kidz Field has expanded dramatically.
“Glastonbury is evolving,” said Cordy. “People who came here 30 years ago as stoned hippies are now coming back – with the children and grandchildren in tow. We’ve even got a girl working here who was born in this field 17 years ago.”
“It’s the best-kept secret in the world,” said Andrew Steer, a designer from Suffolk, who, together with his three children, has been coming to the festival for years.
“Everything a child is into is here. There are no restrictions on time, there is more diversity than with a local fair, and it goes on all day.”
Jugglers and magicians wander the site, keeping children entertained as they queue for some of the more popular activities, and, to minimise the risk of the ground being turned into a mud bath, no vehicles are allowed in the field.
“Every thing on this field has been carried on to it,” said Cordy. “We had 50 people lifting a caravan, to prevent it churning up the ground.”
Most adults were not worried about their children missing school.
“They learn more in four days here than they would at school,” said Jenny, an illustrator, as she stood in the queue for the “Making Things” tent with Ellie, six, and Laurie, 10.
“There’s no television and they learn to make their own entertainment. It gives them a really good grounding and really helps build their confidence.”
Increased security has been a big factor in encouraging families. An 11ft fence encircles the entire site, preventing a repeat of the debacle of 2000, when thousands of gatecrashers caused chaos. There were no reports of robberies yesterday and only 57 recorded crimes – down 21 per cent on last year, said police.
“It’s a lot safer now,” said Mr Steer. “The loss of the traveller element means it’s lost a bit of character, but on the up side you don’t have someone coming up to you trying to sell you acid while you’re with your kids.”
Security in the Kidz Field is particularly stringent. The area is monitored by CCTV cameras, while an army of stewards guard the perimeter. Unaccompanied adults are politely quizzed before being allowed entry.
“We don’t want to turn anybody away. It’s healthy for adults to see children having fun,” said Cordy. “But we’re very aware of who is in this field.”
Dressed in a top hat, ringing a bell, trying to drum up a crowd for Panic Circus’s next show is Chris Panic, a festival veteran. Glastonbury has changed, he says, becoming more gentrified but also more commercial. The falafel stalls have been replaced by cappuccino stands, and mobile phone operators now sponsor the event. There are even cash machines.
“This is an enclave,” he says of the Kidz Field. “We don’t sell anything to children here. We don’t put parents under any pressure.
“Here is where you find the real spirit of Glastonbury.”