Huw Stephens: A day in the life at Glastonbury as a BBC presenter

BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Radio Wales presenter Huw Stephens talks to Headliner about the past, present, and future of Glastonbury, his own personal highlights from the festival and what life at Worthy Farm looks like as a BBC presenter.

Having worked across Glastonbury in various capacities for over two decades, Stephens will be broadcasting live for 6 Music at this year’s Glastonbury, as well as featuring on the BBC iPlayer as part of the organisation’s unparalleled coverage of the world’s most iconic music festival. Taking place from June 23-25, Glastonbury 2023 will see Arctic Monkeys, Guns N’ Roses, and Elton John headline the Pyramid Stage, with the festival shaping up to be the biggest outing its illustrious history.

As ever, the BBC will be providing live Glastonbury coverage across radio, TV, iPlayer, and the BBC Sounds app, as well as highlights from across the weekend and legendary sets from years gone by.

To find out more about how the BBC is able to offer the most extensive coverage of any live event on earth, Headliner sat down with Stephens for an inside look what goes on behind the scenes, his own Worthy Farm highlights, who he’s most excited about this year, and what makes Glastonbury a festival like no other…

Tell us about what you’ll be doing at Glastonbury this year?

With the BBC we have three shows on 6 Music on the Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. So I’m on from 9pm on Friday and Saturday for the headliners, so that’s Arctic Monkeys and Guns N’ Roses. And I’m on Sunday afternoon so we’ll be having some sessions, some guests, and by Sunday we’ll have recorded loads of music from across the festival, so we’ll be playing loads of that. Basically, we’ll be bringing as much of Glastonbury to the 6 Music listeners as possible, and I’ll be on the iPlayer doing coverage in the afternoon, crossing over to as many stages as we can… there’s no time to go and lose myself in the Healing Fields!

Take us inside the process of broadcasting live from Glastonbury – what does each day look like for you?

Not everybody gets to go, so it’s all hands on deck. You talk to the producers for weeks beforehand, you figure out who is on when you’re on air, who you want to play on your show. Friday and Saturday I’m on late so it means crossing over to the Pyramid Stage before, then picking some highlights from what you’ve seen. You’re thinking with the producers about how much you can bring to the airwaves with the time that you have. It takes a long time to get from one side of the festival to the other, so you can’t just pick a bit of this, and then a bit of that from somewhere on the other side of the festival, you have to be planning carefully.

The tele side is different as there are already cameras at a lot of the stages, but it’s a huge operation, and it’s an even bigger operation for the producers and the technical people and the editors, because they are the ones sat in a van all weekend overlooking the stages, cutting up tracks, seeing which ones are they allowed to use with the rights issues etc, making sure everything goes to the right places. Glastonbury is such a huge thing for the BBC.

It’s the best festival in the world so you have to give it the best broadcasting. Huw Stephens

Do the demands become bigger every year? How has it changed since you’ve been involved?

I first went to Glastonbury in 2000, it was the year David Bowie headlined. Back then I was working on a show called The Session in Wales for Radio 1 and it was mind-blowing. I’ve been to every Glastonbury since and I’ve been presenting from Glastonbury for TV and radio and iPlayer for so long. For a music presenter that’s a dream come true. It has changed a lot because the iPlayer has grown so much and is massive now, as is BBC Sounds. So, all of our resources are at Glastonbury and we have to make the most of the festival while we’re there. It’s the best festival in the world so you have to give it the best broadcasting - the BBC is an amazing place to do that. And this year is bigger than ever. There is ever more on the iPlayer and we can show sets from years gone by. During Covid when there was no Glastonbury, we saw full sets on the iPlayer from previous years and you almost forgot about how special it all is. It really reminded you how magical it is and why we have to bring our best to it.

Has the excitement around Glastonbury intensified since going away during Covid?

Yes, definitely. And the organisers are fantastic at listening to the next generation and next audience. If Glastonbury had stayed the same, it would probably be over by now. No festival can stay the same, you have to evolve and they do it with such energy with an amazing team of people. They are very open to ideas and because of the Eavis family’s nature and the charities and issues they reflect, that helps to give the festival an energy. It’s the same with the line-ups - they’ve always pushed forward. And it’s not just about the headliners, it’s about every other band and artists. It’s not even about the music; it’s the energy of the whole place. It’s a lot of things to a lot of people and that’s why it’s so exciting every year.

Tell us about your recollections from your very first Glastonbury

That first year I remember sitting on a car bonnet looking art David Bowie on the Pyramid Stage, and the scale of it was unlike anything else. It’s massive, it’s lovely and it’s so exciting. Bowie was the one I remember most from that year. To be honest they’ve all blurred into one. I’ve worked at most of them but set wise you do tend to remember the big headliners. I remember Stevie Wonder bringing out Michael Eavis and we all sang happy birthday to him, that was incredible. I remember seeing Christine and the Queens on the Other Stage and that was really special. PJ Harvey played when the Brexit result came in and she played an incredible set that year. I remember the excitement of Jay-Z on the Pyramid Stage and being right at the front just in awe. There are a lot of lovely memories. Dolly Parton, Diana Ross in the legend slot. So many.

Who are you excited to see this year?

I’m a massive fan of Phoenix and they are headlining the Woodsies stage on the Sunday so I’m very excited to see them. Elton John I think is going to be spectacular, Arctic Monkeys will be great, Lizzo is going to be spectacular, but to be honest, because I’m working I’m only going to be able to work out who I’ll see in the flesh once I’m there. I’m there to work is what I’m trying to say – what a hero!

Stephens will be broadcasting from Glastonbury as part of the BBC coverage of the festival (Wednesday 21 – Sunday 25 June) on BBC TV, radio, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds.

You can listen to the full interview with Huw Stephens on Headliner Radio, here: