Who owns Glastonbury? The family behind the UK’s largest music festival

Glastonbury Festival 2022

Following a two-year hiatus forced by the coronavirus, 200,000 people descended on the village of Pilton, Somerset, to attend the beloved Glastonbury Festival. With headliners like Sir Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, and Kendrick Lamar, the organizers expected a sell-out crowd – and the British public proved them right. 

In October 2021, Emily Eavis, the event’s co-founder, talked about her anticipation of Billie Eilish’s performance:

“We couldn’t be happier to announce that the wondrous Billie Eilish is headlining the Pyramid on the Friday at next year’s Glastonbury Festival, becoming the youngest solo headliner in our history. This feels like the perfect way for us to return and I cannot wait!”

As expected, the Glastonbury Festival delivered, with social media still abuzz with excitement about some of the performances. 

Key Highlights

  • Glastonbury’s co-founder Michael Eavis runs the event alongside his daughter Emily Eavis. 
  • Micheal Eavis claims to make less money than his top herdsman, despite the Glastonbury Festival making millions of pounds. 
  • Eavis planned to temporarily move the festival to allow the land to recover, but following a forced two-year break, the Eavis family seems to have abandoned those plans. 

Glastonbury is owned by Michael Eavis and run by his daughter Emily Eavis

Michael Eavis was born in the mid-1930s in Pilton, Somerset. He joined the Navy after clearing high school but didn’t spend long out at sea. Michael’s father died when he was 19, forcing him to take over the Worthy Farm’s 150 acres of land and 60 cows. 

Eavis operated the farm alongside his first wife, Ruth. The couple welcomed three children before divorcing in 1964. 

Micheal then married Jean, and together, they conceived the Glastonbury Festival. The idea for a music festival sparked as the pair watched Led Zeppelin at the Shepton Mallet Blues Festival. In 1970, the couple hosted the first Worthy Farm event dubbed Pilton Pop Folk & Blues Festival, which would later morph into the Glastonbury Festival. 

Michael, Jean, and Emily Eavis

By the late 1990s, Eavis and Jean wanted to retire, primarily because Jean couldn’t handle the constant media attention. “The local press was pretty hostile at the time,” Michael told ITV. “I could take that at the time but she found it hard.”

After Jean passed away in 1999, Michael decided to keep the festival alive. “I thought ‘I haven’t got a wife, but I’ve got a festival’ so I carried on with it,” Michael said. “I’m not really keen on retiring on my own to be honest and the festival is still quite fun.”

Emily Eavis dropped out of Goldsmiths University in 1997 to care for her sick mom. After Jean passed away, Emily took over. 

She helped diversify the genres at Glastonbury by introducing headliners from genres other than rock and pop. In 2008, Emily helped book the event’s first hip-hop headliner, Jay Z. In 2019, she pushed for the ban of single-use plastics at Glastonbury. 

“She [Emily] is half my age, but we get on exceedingly well together,” Michael continued. “There are issues that we disagree on from time to time – not music, it’s more functional stuff.”

Michael Eavis with his daughter Emily Eavis
Michael Eavis with his daughter Emily Eavis attends the NME Awards 2020 | Photo by Neil P. Mockford/Getty Images

The event collects millions of pounds, which the owners donate to charity

Michael and Jean’s decision to host a music festival was partly inspired by the need to diversify their income. Eavey told ITV:

“Farming is such a dead loss. We’ve got to look at other ways of making money. It’s fun. Milking cows is fine – getting up in the morning and milking cows but it’s not the whole thing in life – you’ve got to do more than just that.”

In 1970, a ticket to Glastonbury cost one pound. Revelers enjoyed music from Keith Christmas, Stackridge, and Marc Bolan as they sipped on free milk from the farm. 

Unfortunately, Glastonbury’s first events made losses. “At the start I thought I’d make some money – but I don’t think I will now,” Michael said. The third event almost bankrupted Michael and Jean. Nevertheless, the couple decided to press on:

“There was a dream and it was that something I really wanted to do on a whim – and a prayer. I thought I’m serious, I’m going to stick this out because this is the moment.”

As time went by, Glastonbury became profitable – but the Eavis family decided against pocketing the profits. After paying the staff’s wages and event costs, they donated the remainder to charity. 

Michael told the Western Daily that he pays himself a yearly salary lower than his top herdsman’s salary. Eavis doesn’t holiday abroad, preferring to unwind at his holiday cottage in Cornwall. Michael said:

“I suppose I am a lot better off than I would have been for sure, but I don’t have millions or anything. I am not going to buy a flashy car – I bought a Mini for my wife 14 years ago. I don’t really like going on holiday – I just have a little cottage in Cornwall. We do a lot on the charity side – we aim for £2million a year.”

Eavis told the outlet that Glastonbury doesn’t have money ‘stashed anywhere,’ but Emily told The Daily Mail that the event holds £10 million in the bank as a contingency plan:

“The elements are so unpredictable. We are completely at the mercy of the elements. We have to sell out to breakeven because the event costs so much to put on – about £40m. Our other goal is to be able to give the charities we support about £2m a year. Glastonbury employs about 50 people full time.”

The owners have apparently shelved plans to temporarily move the festival

Worthy Farm has held all Glastonbury Festivals since the event’s inception. In December 2016, Michael talked to the BBC about plans to temporarily move the festival to a different location to protect the land. He said:

“I am arranging for one year off, say every fifth year or so, to try and move the show to a site that’s more suitable, I have to say. But it would be a huge loss to Somerset if it went forever, would it not?”

Glastonbury takes a regular fallow year to give locals and the land a rest. Michael said the planned move would happen in 2019, but that year’s event occurred at Worthy Farm. 

The event’s owners now seem to have shelved plans to move the festival. Glastonbury had a scheduled fallow year in 2018, and two forced fallow years in 2020 and 2021, giving the land enough time to recover. 

Michael told Oxford Union that Worthy Farm isn’t big enough to host the festival, so he’s forced to rent land from other farmers during the event. “It’s nothing short of a miracle that we’re still going!” he said. 

The organizers have already published the dates for the 2023 event, set to happen at the Worthy Farm.