The farmer and founder of the Glastonbury Festival talks cows and cunning

Be passionate about what you do

To begin with, you need to put all your energy behind something; you have to believe in it yourself. I went to the Bath Blues Festival in 1969; I picked up the enthusiasm for it then. I thought, “I’ve got a better site than this.” I’ve got energy and a passion for music. So you need to convince yourself that it’s going to work. Then just put all your effort into it.

Never, ever give up

The thing is to be resilient, don’t be put off and don’t be deterred. Keep bouncing back. In the ’80s Glastonbury was getting really dangerous, with too many travellers hell-bent on not paying to get in. They sent buses that were on fire through a roadblock. At that point a normal person gives up. In fact, the people who were working with me said, “We can’t work here anymore.” I said to them, “But it’s fun!” and they said, “Not to us.” So that sort of challenge kicks in and you have to see a way through all that stuff. When I have loads of problems and it all seems to be crashing down around me, I still want to carry on.

The highs always outweigh the lows

I just knew it was going to get better. And it did. The high point of my career is probably selling 125,000 tickets to people for Glastonbury, as I did this year, after three years of mud. I think that’s a high point.

Teamwork is key

You really do need a great team. I’ve got a whole group of people and they’re so good. You sort them out as you go through life, and you hang onto the best of them and you encourage them. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever fired anyone in my life. Trying to run something on this scale, you need a lot of people.

Keep your team happy

I enthuse them everyday. I wander through the office and cheer people up. I stimulate them. Because if they’re going through a rough period – lots of rain, poor ticket sales – you have to keep your chin up and keep everyone smiling. That’s not just a daily thing. It’s hourly.

Discretion is priceless

Loyalty is paramount, and my people are discreet, which is also great. For example, The Sun recently ran a story about Jay-Z being a problematic signing. But I’ve no idea where they got their sources from. I think they just come up with these things. I have a whole team of people helping me, so I get annoyed with newspapers that get it wrong.

Respect your enemy

I like rivals; I like a good struggle, because I’m a Puritan. I was bought up as a Puritan – I’ve never taken drugs or drunk alcohol. Plus, if you’re bought up in a struggle, you’ve got to struggle all the way. I’ve learnt to like it.

Work very hard

For 40 years I worked on the farm – we have 400 cows now. And Glastonbury was something that just came along while I was busy being a farmer. So during the milking I was taking phone calls from Primal Scream with the machine sucking away. We’re still making serious money from milking and as I was getting more revenue from the festival I employed more people to tend to that side of my business.

Be cunning

I’m quite shrewd, which is different from being naturally clever. I mean, I can’t even send a text message, let alone receive one. But I do have an astute way of getting around problems. You need to develop a unique way of identifying things that may cause you problems, and then immediately start addressing them.

CV

1949-1952

Thames Nautical Training School. After officer training, Eavis joined the merchant navy. “It was all very straightforward. I had to find our position at sea, using the moon and stars.”

1953-1955

Somerset Coal Fields. “I worked in the mines, loading coal into trolleys and pushing it for miles. Quite a struggle, but I loved it. I got £23 a month – a small fortune back then.”

1955–Present

Farmer, Worthy Farm. “My father was terminally ill so I came back to the family farm, which has been with us for 150 years. I realised I couldn’t keep this farm without running it myself.”

1970 First festival, then called the Pilton Festival

Eavis decided to do it after visiting the Bath Blues Festival. 1,500 people attended the first one and T-Rex headlined.

2005

Glastonbury Festival. The 900-acre fenced area of the festival had 385 performances and was attended by 150,000 people.

2007

Glastonbury Festival. 700 acts play across 80 different stages. The capacity is expanded to 177,000.

2008 The Jigga headlines

“I was discussing it with Jay-Z and his people. They were worried about the audience not being a London-style urban crowd. So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do something that I haven’t done for the entire 38-year history of the festival – I’ll take you onstage and introduce you to the audience.’ And Jay-Z said, ‘Michael, I’ll do your show.’”