A Queenager’s first Glastonbury

Louise Monaghan considered going to the world’s biggest performing arts festival for the first time at 55, nothing more than a been-there-done-that box-ticking exercise. It turned out to be a lot more life-changing than that. 

More than a week after returning home from Glastonbury, I felt as if I was still recovering from my whirlwind 5-day adventure. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, – trust me, I’m still having nightmares about the toilet situation – but there is something undeniably special about the place, and it has left a lasting impression on my heart. Even though it’s been a couple of months since I was there, I still feel much happier, much lighter and even, (dare I say it), a better version of myself.

I’m no hippy, eco-warrior or tree hugger. I’m not going to preach about Chakra Cleansing or Crystal Healing – although don’t knock it until you’ve tried it – but to anyone who’s even a little bit curious to discover what all the fuss is about, I’d say, bring an open mind (and some wet wipes), and give Glastonbury a go.  You might be pleasantly surprised. There really is something for everyone – even if that something is doing nothing.

I appreciated how lucky I was to get a ticket to the festival back in November last year, but I certainly wasn’t over excited about going.  I knew it would be 5 days of, let’s say, ‘rustic living’ and having seen the state of my kids returning from music festivals in the past, which didn’t look like fun at all to me, I approached it more like a box ticking exercise – a ‘been there, done that’ type of experience.

How wrong I was.

Glastonbury feels like being part of a Baz Luhrmann film. Not least, there’s the sheer overwhelming size of the place.  There is so much to see, smell, taste, hear, discover and learn. One moment, you’re in the Circus Fields surrounded by jugglers, trapeze artists and men towering on stilts riding unicycles, and the next you’re immersed in a laughter yoga session, surrounded by the serene atmosphere of the Healing Fields. It’s a vibrant celebration of life where boundaries blur and people of all backgrounds come together in harmony. And a powerful reminder to seize life and live it to the fullest.

There were people of every age. Families with young children braving the heat and the crowds. Older couples joyfully people-watching from well positioned camping chairs. The sense of camaraderie was truly heartwarming, especially amongst the older crowd.  We proved that age is just a number as we belted out every word to Texas, Blondie & Elton, all reminiscing on our own youth and creating new memories together.  The perfect example of the timeless power of music and the unbreakable spirit of the Queenagers at Glastonbury.

So many incredible women

I met so many incredible women, many who have been loyal Glasto’s for a long time.

One Queenager – attending her 16th Glastonbury – is a crime writer in her day job, and for the past 4 years she has been volunteering at the festival with WaterAid, a wonderful charity that works to provide clean water access to everyone. I thought I might consider doing something similar next year until she mentioned part of her role was to clean the toilets. Maybe not then!

I asked her what it was about Glastonbury that kept her returning year after year.   She explained that it wasn’t just the music, but ithe whole atmosphere encompassing the acres of fields around us. Glastonbury radiates an unparalleled acceptance, where anything and everything is embraced, irrespective of age, gender, colour, sexuality, size, ability, disability.  You name it – at Glastonbury, you can be it and do it.

Another Queenager, who I stood next to whilst watching Elton John, told me it was her 26th Glastonbury, and in all her years she had never seen such a massive crowd as the one gathered by the Pyramid stage on that Sunday night. As we bonded over our shared excitement, she told me that she now volunteers as a First Responder, and the most common callout was to festival goers in their 40s and 50’s who had overindulged with drugs and ended up collapsing.

Witnessing the Queenagers on stage in full force was awe-inspiring. Sharleen Spitari at 55, had the entire crowd in the palm of her hand. So many people saying “I didn’t think I knew any Texas songs, but I sang along to all of them!” Debbie Harri is 78 and she’s still got it! And as Lizzo thrilled the thousands of people from the Pyramid stage she told the crowd how her first performance at Glastonbury in 2018, was to an audience of exactly zero. Living proof that you must never give up on your dreams.

No limits

Glastonbury is both exhausting and exhilarating. I loved meeting so many amazing & cool women reminding me (at 55) that there are no limits based on age and that midlife need not be a time of stagnation or decline, but rather an opportunity for reinvention and exploring newfound freedoms.

I was lucky that my inaugural Glasto experience happened to coincide with one of the hottest weekends of the year. We had a single shower which cooled us off, and as Cat Stevens sang George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” the clouds made way for more glorious sunshine. Just how enthusiastically I would be extolling the virtues of the event if I’d been submerged in mud I can’t say!

Whatever your feelings towards this, the largest greenfield music and performing arts festival in the world, I genuinely believe that the message especially for us Queenagers, is very clear:  Whether it’s our lifestyle, our habits, our appearance or our mindset, we should all strive to embrace the free spirit within and ‘Be More Glastonbury’. As long as that includes a clean flushing toilet and a hot shower – I’m all in!

By Louise Monaghan

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