The Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis has said she was overcome with emotion as the first of 200,000 people flooded into the festival for the first time in three years.
Its return has long been anticipated after the pandemic forced organisers to cancel two years in a row. In celebration of its 50th year, Sir Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish and Kendrick Lamar will headline the Pyramid stage, while Diana Ross will fill the Sunday teatime legends slot.
Speaking as the first campers hauled huge trolleys through the Glastonbury gates on Wednesday morning, Eavis said there was a “totally unique atmosphere” and everyone was “so chuffed to be back”.
She said: “It was very emotional this morning. I had to step away [from the gates] … not only is it actually getting people in here but also the patience – people have really stuck by us. They kept their tickets – they rolled them over, they rolled them over. It’s been this never-ending journey to actually get here. I was like, I have to step away now. It’s just the moment we’ve all been waiting for.”
The five-day event will host about 200,000 visitors, with more than 80 artists due to perform, including Olivia Rodrigo, Lorde and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. But festivalgoers have faced difficulties arriving at the site in Pilton amid major rail strikes in the biggest industrial action in a generation.
Only a fifth of trains were running on Tuesday as about 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators walked out in a dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
In a statement, Glastonbury festival said that because of the additional traffic, festivalgoers could arrive at the site from 4pm on Tuesday evening while “traffic volumes are low”. But gates officially opened at 8am on Wednesday, which is when the majority of audiences are expected to start arriving.
Michael Eavis, the 86-year-old Glastonbury founder, posed for selfies as he welcomed campers back to his farm. Emily Eavis, his daughter, said the staff who had been busy for weeks preparing the 900-acre site were all “beaming” and had “devoured” every moment when in previous years they would have felt exhausted by the time the festival opened.
It was only in the past few months, she said, that they knew for sure that the show would go ahead. “There were many moments where we were just full of uncertainty. It was only really in the last few months where we were sure we were going to actually make it through. How certain can you ever be at the moment? It’s just a miracle that we’ve actually made it happen.”
Jon Collins, the chief executive of Live, which represents the UK’s live music business, said fans and staff were facing severe delays and potential safety risks as they were forced to choose alternative routes on one of the biggest weekends of the year for live music.
“While we recognise the legitimacy of this action, our sector is facing a perfect storm of fragile consumer confidence, rising costs, inflation, and supply chain issues, meaning we frankly cannot take the impact of further strikes threatened this autumn,” Collins said.
UK Music’s chief executive, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, said: “For the thousands of music fans who are so keen to get back to festivals and gigs after two years of lockdowns, these strikes risk causing chaos.
“The strikes come at a critical time for the live music industry and music businesses, which are battling to recover post-pandemic. Fans face a massive struggle trying to get to Glastonbury because of the disruption, which will add to traffic on the roads at a time when we’re striving to improve sustainability in the music industry.
“We need all sides to get around the table to end these strikes and deliver a crucial financial boost to the industry and a summer of fantastic live music.”
The Met Office has predicted a mixture of sunshine and rain for the festival. Helen Caughey,its deputy chief meteorologist, said people arriving at the site would enjoy plenty of sunshine and highs of 26C (79F) or 27C on Wednesday and Thursday.
But the forecast from Friday onwards looks muddy. “You should plan for both sun hats and raincoats for this year’s festival,” Caughey said. Heavy showers and thunderstorms are expected on Friday and Saturday, potentially providing a dramatic, if rather soggy, backdrop to the headline sets of Eilish and McCartney.
The downpours were not expected to last long but some surface water could accumulate, Caughey said. Surface water, at a festival with 200,000 people, could well mean knee-deep mud baths.
Caughey added: “Sunday is expected to be mostly dry and bright at first but with showers once again developing through the morning, some of which could be heavy, and possibly thundery. The unsettled pattern is expected to continue to dominate into the start of next week.”