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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Sackur's world
Stephen Sackur and cows
Stephen Sackur, down on the farm at Glastonbury

On HARDtalk we pride ourselves on getting our hands dirty when the job requires it. But a trip to interview the organiser of the Glastonbury Festival gave Stephen Sackur a little more dirt than he was expecting.

It was time, we thought, to take Hardtalk out of its comfort zone. Give international politics a rest for a day. Get out of the studio and live a little.

So it was that I trudged down a mud track to Worthy Farm in greenest Somerset in a mini monsoon. This was my introduction to the Glastonbury Festival - three days of rock 'n' roll, performance art and midsummer mayhem in 900 acres of cattle pasture.

Heaven in the sunshine. A little more sensually challenging in the rain.

I arrived before the hordes and before the inevitable tide of mud. I wanted to quiz the founder and inspiration of Glastonbury, Michael Eavis, on the eve of the world's biggest outdoor music-fest. Why has Glastonbury become part of the national, and international, cultural fabric? Has it lost an essential part of its anarchic, rebellious spirit along the way?

In previous Hardtalks smells had never been an issue - not counting Peter Mandelson's after-shave
I found farmer Eavis sheltering from the rain in a marquee - one of dozens strewn across his picturesque dairy farm. In the distance I could see the pyramid stage which will this year play host to the usual eclectic mix of musical legends from the Arctic Monkeys to Shirley Bassey.

With 180,000 festival goers and performers about to arrive Eavis was in no mood to hang around¿but I found myself strangely distracted.

First there was the noise and the stink generated by the Worthy Farm 'slurry guzzlers'. 400 cows generate a lot of muck; it has to be carted off the premises, Festival or no Festival.

In previous Hardtalks smells had never been an issue - not counting Peter Mandelson's after-shave - but this was an odour capable of unravelling coherent thought.

Stephen Sackur and Michael Eavis on the interview set
The interview under canvas: no-one's immune to the elements at Glastonbury

And then there were Eavis's legs. A fine and sturdy pair he has too, considering his seventy one years. I began to wonder why no other Hardtalk guest has ever chosen to be interviewed in shorts. Imagine the extra spice to be added to a confrontation with Shimon Peres, or Angela Merkel if they were to don shorts for the occasion.

But I couldn't allow my mind to wander. Interviewing Michael Eavis was no walk in the park. Quizzing politicians and people in power is straightforward. They can be tested on their record. They can be held to account. More complex is getting to grips with a man whose turned an outrageous dream into reality.

Paul MacCartney, the Rolling Stones; he's had them all in his field. New Age hippies, pampered glamourpusses, lagered-up lads and ladettes... the clamour for tickets gets louder every year. But these days does he do it for the fun, or for the worthy causes that stand to benefit from the millions made in tickets and merchandise? And who milks the cows when the music's blaring?
I began to wonder why no other Hardtalk guest has ever chosen to be interviewed in shorts

Eavis proved to be refreshingly free of music industry b*****it. He gets enough of that particular by-product from his own herd. He's an original voice (with a very original beard) and I hope we'll unearth more like him.

I asked him for his favourite memory of three decades of Glastonbury Festivals. I expected an anecdote about one of the giants of rock. Instead he said it was a reading delivered to a hushed crowd by the great historian of the English working class, E.P. Thompson.

Glastonbury has retained its capacity to surprise. So has its founder.

Previous Sackur's World stories

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


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