For much of the Glastonbury festival’s 50-year-long history, paying for a ticket wasn’t the only way to get in – if you were prepared to take a few risks, get a bit dirty and run fast in the dark. Adam Bloodworth talks to four gatecrashers about their dramatic experiences with the perimeter fence.
You either go up and over or down and under.
On the other side of the fence you reach no-man’s-land, or more specifically a wide, exposed ring road patrolled by security guards 24/7. Make it across that and there’s another fence – plus it’s liable to be thick with mud and bucketing with rain.
It’s slightly different now, but historically, for legions of Glastonbury attendees, getting into the festival without paying was a rite of passage, an essential part of the Glastonbury experience.
In the 1990s, when the festival’s popularity was rapidly increasing, break-ins were particularly rife. In 1995 it’s estimated that 80,000 bought tickets – and as many again gatecrashed.
Weak fences, corrupt security teams and the sheer number of revellers arriving at the site resulted in something close to anarchy, and perhaps surprisingly, Michael Eavis, the festival’s founder, actively encouraged it. One year the farm owner woke up in the night and forklifted a fence to allow 2,000 revellers to get in. A devout Methodist, Eavis’s religion teaches tolerance and acceptance, which may explain it.
But following an incredibly tumultuous year for break-ins in 2000, which saw Eavis fined for breaching licensing conditions, his team built a “super fence” when the festival returned in 2002, putting an end to mass break-ins.
“The fence we had back then [in 2000] was a Mickey Mouse affair,” Eavis wrote in his book Glastonbury 50: The Official Story of Glastonbury Festival, published last year. “Along with the good weather we enjoyed that year, huge crowds of people turned up and just walked in.”
He’d started designing a new “super-duper fence” by the Monday after the festival, and didn’t give up on it even when the price rose from £300,000 to £1m.
“I knew I had to build it,” Eavis wrote. “In truth, I’d never minded whether people paid to get in or not, as long as we sold enough tickets to keep going. But it was clear we had to be able to control the numbers and keep it safe.”
That isn’t to say punters no longer try to break in. I stewarded for Oxfam on a vehicle entrance gate to the festival in 2011, and chancers would run past us once or twice per shift. We were often delirious after standing soaked and frozen through the night – and sometimes, the runners made it.
Another time, a security guard threw a Maglite torch at a runner’s feet. After a few more paces, he was slowed down by the mud and fell as security caught up with him.
Technology has also helped to deter interlopers. Gatecrashing now requires faking wristbands or photographic ID – or borrowing a friend’s and pretending to be them.
I spoke to some of the people who managed to get through, under or over the fence in the last three decades.
Julie, 1993: ‘It was girls underneath, boys over the top!’
I first bunked over the fence in 1992, but my memories are a bit hazy.
In 1993 we went down in car convoys. God only knows where we parked up. We walked through some fields near the Stone Circle late at night, and through some dense trees and came out at a clearing near the first fence.
There would be a security patrol passing every 15 minutes. People would shout that they were coming and we had to wait under treetop cover with perhaps another 40 people, all trying to break in.
It was very well organised. For one thing, it was obvious who to pay the £10 “entry fee” to: a young guy in a high-vis jacket. He was working with a corrupt security guard who had cut a hole in the first, outer fence.
I was a bit nervous, but we could see there were other people going through. I thought, “This is fine.”
You could see searchlights up in the air, high up on poles. You had to queue to go through the hole in the first fence. There were 30, maybe 40 people in a queue as you could only go through one at a time.
At the second, larger fence, I remember thinking, “How am I going to get over that?” Someone said: “Girls go underneath, through a hole, and the boys over the top.” It must have been about 12ft high.
It was chaotic and there was a bit of anxiety. But I thought, “This is what everyone’s doing so it’ll be fine.”
My friend Susie was a bit larger, so she decided to go over the top with the boys, and she twisted her ankle when she came down the other side. I always remember that – she spent the whole weekend hobbling.
I got through and it was a feeling of elation. Everyone was excited, and whooping: “Yay, we did it! We’re in! We’re in!”
Everybody knew you could break in back then. Late at night, you’d talk to other people that had come over the fence. You’d ask where they’d done it and how much they’d paid.
There used to be so many more people, the toilets were a lot worse, because so many people just jumped over the fence.
It’s true the festival lost its edge after the 90s. It was more edgy then, but it’s a much better festival for everyone now. Safety is important and now there’s the right number of people. Everyone looks out for each other, the food is amazing, and it does a lot for charity.
Martin, 1998: ‘Imagine a 12ft fence resting on your gut’
Me and my best friends Otto and Baz (a proper Essex boy) were on the smash on a caravan holiday in Newquay. At the end of the week it was Glastonbury, so we chucked a tent in, in case we fancied stopping on the way back.
We decided to go for it. On the Friday afternoon we headed toward the festival in Baz’s Astra, registration plate BAZ 132Y. I remember it was World Cup 98, England v Colombia that afternoon. We arrived at the festival around eight o’clock at night and started to walk to the main gates.
We met people who were also breaking in who steered us to the left toward some trees.
We saw security guards on foot and in Land Rovers around the perimeter of the fence, and a lot of dodgy looking people kicking about.
We thought, “Bloody hell, we’re going to get mugged.” In those days you just had the money in your pockets. Back then we didn’t have a lot of money – if we’d lost that we’d have lost everything.
When you stand next to the fence you realise how high it actually is. And this was before the super fence that was erected for 2002. It must have been at least 12ft high.
We found a gap. It was a hole underneath the fence. There were other people nearby and this guy near us got out a ground sheet and pushed it through the hole, and the first guy went on his back, head down backwards and his mates pushed his legs through.
I was up next. Imagine lying on the floor on a ground sheet, the mud coming over the edges so you’re basically lying in mud. It was awful, horrendous. And absolutely chucking it down.
I lay on my back, as if you were on a slide but going down backwards and head first. Imagine there’s a wall behind you: you’ve got to put your head underneath that wall.
As it got to my hips it was tight. You’re looking up at this fence directly above you. You’ve got 12 foot of fence effectively on your gut. But I got through and the others threw the bags over.
Otto got to his hips and got stuck. And he started to panic. It’s 11 o’clock at night. I told him to stop, and to start breathing deeply because he was panicking. But all I could hear from the other side of the fence was Baz laughing. All he could see was Otto’s legs wiggling about in the mud. Neither of us could stop laughing.
We eventually pulled Otto though, Baz followed and we’d made it into the festival.
Ruth, 2000: ‘I broke in, but my punishment was camping by the 24-hour techno tent’
I have jumped the fence a few times, which I feel fairly guilty about, so I’m paying it back now by helping the recycling team there every year. It can be hard work but I actually love it.
In 2000 it was a choice of going up a really wobbly ladder and paying some scousers or going through a hole in the “high security fence” and paying some Brixton boys. Both options were organised by gangs who looked very scary and organised. I chose the hole because the ladder looked very hazardous. I think I paid £20.
Once through the hole, you had to cross a no-man’s-land which had security Land Rovers and security on horseback roaming around. But luckily for me the security were also in on the action. They clearly saw me crossing no-man’s land in their headlights and the Brixton boys were shouting “Run, run!”… but nobody chased me.
I hopped over the inner fence and made it in. I still feel terrible that when I was trying to walk through the camp site, it was so crowded I trod on someone’s head in their tent.
I’d like to apologise for that.
My punishment was that the festival was so overcrowded that year that the only place to camp was outside a 24-hour techno tent.
I’m not proud of jumping the fence but I’m glad to have that memory of me doing something exciting and naughty when really I never did anything like that normally. I’ve never even stolen a sweet out of a pick n’ mix!
Freeloading must run in the family, as years beforehand, my mum went to the first Glastonbury and didn’t pay – but apparently she should have paid £1, which included free milk from the farm.
Tamzin, 2019: ‘I like breaking rules – I’m a bit of an anarchist’
Breaking in is notoriously hard these days. It’s not like it used to be: you definitely can’t rely on it. But it’s a challenge.
And paying for someone to drive you in is not the same as breaking in, that’s like cheating. You may as well have bought a ticket. The thrill of breaking in is that it’s free.
My dad used to go when he was younger and resents what it’s become: how much money it costs, how much harder it is to get in, it’s completely different. A lot more middle class people go now, and proper hippies can’t go because it’s too expensive. A lot of people think it’s too big now: you can’t possibly see everything or do everything. It’s really exhausting and it’s too intense, it’s really overwhelming.
My dad says that years ago there were underground tunnels near the Stone Circle, and even a stream where people crawled along to get in. The Stone Circle used to be an easy spot, because security didn’t expect much trouble around there.
I take after my dad because I like breaking the rules. I’m a bit of an anarchist. So me and my ex-boyfriend gave breaking in a try. We certainly didn’t expect to get in, so when it worked we weren’t particularly prepared.
My ex came to the UK from East Africa as a refugee when he was 16 and had never been to a festival in this country, but was also very up for trying.
After walking the perimeter of the fence for a while, we met a group of scousers looking shifty in the car park. They were waiting for the coast to be clear so they could put up the telescopic ladder they had hidden in a rucksack. At one point they did get it up on the fence. Someone said: “Go go go!” But when we all scrambled up it – about 10 of us altogether – the person at the top said, “No no no! Go back!” as he realised there was a security guard right on the other side.
You can’t see through the fence so you don’t know what’s on the other side til you’re up there. They had got the wrong spot.
We decided to carry on by ourselves. Not long after that, we met another guy who said he would get us in for a price.
He had a ladder hidden in a ditch right next to the fence and kept watch while we propped it up and slipped over, straight into a campsite. My ex said he would pay him as soon as I was over, but by the time I was at the top of the ladder, we’d been spotted and more security were on their way over, so we had to just make a run (or rather, jump) for it.
There were these sort of supports holding the super fence up on the other side, which I used to slide down like a banister. Then the second fence was much smaller, perhaps 7ft or 8ft, which I got over with a push from my boyfriend (he jumped and vaulted it like a proper athlete).
It’s a massive adrenaline rush. And when you feel adrenaline you don’t really feel pain: it’s like fight and flight.
I scraped my knees on the main fence and I gouged my hand on the smaller fence; a massive piece of skin was taken out of my hand as I scaled the two fences, but I didn’t even feel it.
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