Feature Opinion

Glastonbury: Jumping the Fence

A graveyard of discarded Wellington Boots, ankle deep in mud. A sea of 135 000 music lovers who descend upon Pilton’s tranquil countryside in late June for four days, to play witness to some of the most iconic performances of today. Sound familiar? It took all of 30 minutes for Glastonbury Festival to sell out this year – and for those who were willing and able for fork out £228 (almost R5000) per ticket, a scintillating line-up awaits.

Let us take a moment to appreciate, supposedly, the impregnable fortress which is Glastonbury Festival. “There was the temporary wall of the festival, gap of about ten metres and then a smaller fence about 8 foot high – there was a kind of no-man’s land between the two which was patrolled by security,” explains Ivan Keir, who attended the festival back in 1997. Just two years before, the festival witnessed a mass break in of almost 80 000 fans, effectively doubling the on-site capacity – this happened again in 2002. Since then it has been notorious in being considered invincible. Even so, there are a fair few who have slipped through the cracks over the years.

It has become a tradition of sorts for some, to either blag their way into the festival grounds or hatch a cunning plan to break through its defences. A highly creative method, involving locking oneself into a portaloo before it is transported to site, can either be genius or go hilariously wrong – as was the case with a couple several years ago whose portaloos ended up at a service station miles away from the venue. The same goes for paragliding – while at the time it may seem ingenious there is, in fact, nothing remotely subtle about landing a glider aircraft with a wingspan of 10 meters in the middle of Glastonbury Festival.

“I’ve been going almost every year since I was about 16 and I’ve never paid,” says Sadie Womersley, the mother of a childhood friend of mine. “I’ve been pulled under the fence, gone over it, been hidden in trucks under lots of bedding…”

Marcus Haney’s career was essentially built upon sneaking into festivals. In 2010 the Californian film student snuck into Bonnaroo, shot some footage of Mumford and Sons and succeeded in getting the resulting short film into the hands of the band themselves. Fast-forward 6 years and countless festival break-ins and Haney is now Mumford and Sons’ official photographer. Having gained a reputation in 2014 with the release of No Camera’s Allowed, a documentary outlining how sneaking into festivals shaped his career, Haney’s story of sneaking into Glastonbury in 2011 has surfaced. Perhaps one of the less adrenaline-inducing accounts, however certainly one of the best documented, Haney, armed with cameras and fake wristbands, sidled through the production entrance at a 7am security shift change.

Break in busted - photo by Marcus Haney

Once safely inside the festival’s mega-fence it becomes something of a sport to watch people in their attempts to jump it. A circle of standing stones at the top of the venue serves as a chill ground for festival goers prone to soaking up the sunlight in the rare years there is no rain. Among the entertainment of a collection of mad punks who had been playing steel drums for days on end Ivan recalls the theatre of watching hopefuls attempted the vastly barricaded fence. “People would attempt to jump over the outer wall. You would see a few heads pop up and look for the patrolling security,” he explains. “If they weren’t around they would hop over and try to run the 10 meters between the two walls – and the people relaxing on the grass would cheer them on and help them disappear into the crowd if they made it.” Ivan himself succeeded in sneaking in by discretely hopping into the back of an equipment track in the slim gap between the security check and the doors closing.

Grappling hooks, rope access, attempts to storm the fence systematically with battering rams – it’s all been done when it comes to Glasto. With just the right amount of charm and persuasion some have simply blagged their way in. “In around 1999 I was living near the festival site in a Hare Krishna Ashram,” says Julan Briant, who had succeeded in sneaking around 6 people into the festival on one ticket a few years before. “I went along with a Hare Krishna friend. We got to the door and told them we just wanted to go in to watch Kula Shaker [a Krishna band] – and the guy just let us in.”

Fake wristbands are a long shot but they have paid off multiple times. Garth Ensley, a family friend, explains his way of sneaking in under the guise of being part of an organisation called the Green Anarchists. “We had a plan to get through the multiple security gate system in order to get into as a close a ring of parking as your could,” he explains. “And once we got in close enough, all you needed to do was keep an eye out for people doing it. Within twenty minutes we had found someone who could get us in. We paid about £20 each and got a fake stamp and a wristband.”

Failure, as usual, is always a very real possibility – and even if you have succeeded in vanishing into the crowd of 135 000 there will always remain the risk of being inauspiciously extracted from the crowd and thrown out on your muddy arse.  Many have witnessed said band-less bandits being marched from the grounds, flinging a wellington boot toward the graveyard in a last ditch attempt to leave their mark.

As for me, I have yet to decide the best strategy for my entry when the time comes. While an illicit, adrenaline-inducing leap remains appealing, so does the prospect of a pretty wristband and a sanctioned front row spot beneath Pilton’s summer sun.