It was the song Glastonbury attenders wanted to hear the most. And Motown classic I’m Coming Out seemed a fitting soundtrack to this year’s Glastonbury after the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the festival to cancel two years in a row.
Diana Ross drew massive crowds on Sunday afternoon as she filled the teatime legends slot on the Pyramid stage – soaring through a set list that also included Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Baby Love and Upside Down.
Ross, 78, told the adoring crowd how much it meant to be performing after a difficult three years. She is known for forging a strong connection with her audience, and did so on Sunday. Despite widely being referred to as one of the great divas of Motown – and dressed for this show in a draped sequin gown and matching platforms – she was decidedly un-diva-ish, explaining that she likes to be able to see people’s faces so they can enjoy the music together.
Ross’s audience were among the more than 200,000 people who had flocked to the world’s biggest greenfield festival from Wednesday morning for a star-studded line-up of more than 80 artists, including headliners Billie Eilish, Sir Paul McCartney and Kendrick Lamar.
McCartney delivered an explosive, history-making set on Saturday night, as he was joined on stage by Bruce Springsteen and Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, and even sang a duet with his old Beatles bandmate John Lennon, via special effects.
At 80, the oldest ever headliner in Glastonbury history delighted crowds with a string of classics such as Let It Be, Hey Jude and Live and Let Die – just a day after Billie Eilish became the youngest act to top the bill. Meanwhile, Grammy-award winning rapper Lamar’s performance on Sunday night marked his Glastonbury debut.
Surprise speakers this year included the climate activist Greta Thunberg, who warned that the world faces “total natural catastrophe”, and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who in a video address urged festival-goers to help end the war in Ukraine.
Another theme prevalent this year was the US supreme court’s overturning of a constitutional right to abortion, with condemnation coming from Eilish as well as Phoebe Bridgers, Olivia Rodrigo, Lily Allen and Idles’ Joe Talbot.
Crowds at the event – which took place on more than 360 hectares (900 acres) of land and featured seven main stages and more than 70 performance spaces – seemed bigger than usual. Though attendees reported more instances of pedestrian congestion, Glastonbury said there was just a 2% rise in paid ticket sales this year (from 135,000 to 138,000.)
Many there viewed the event as a moment of closure after two difficult years of lockdowns and personal losses. Festival-goers were even encouraged to write down memories and images of people or situations they wished to let go of by inserting them into a 40ft sculpture of a lotus flower, which was due to be burned on Sunday at midnight.
Tom Summerfield, 32, caught a parasite travelling in India five years ago, which left him seriously ill and with severe anxiety about his health. Burning those emotions on a slip of paper would, he said, help him move on: “It’s about not letting it dictate my life any more, and letting go.”
Summerfield also said the festival had made him appreciate being around strangers again: “It’s a bubble away from normal life, and makes you appreciate people. It’s got a uniqueness which you can’t put your finger on [and] you don’t appreciate until you come.”
His girlfriend, Grace Reohorn, 29, wanted to banish the acute anxiety she feels about missing out on social events. For her, the ceremony was a fitting end to her first Glastonbury: “I’ve loved it. I don’t want it to end.”
While forecasters had predicted a mixture of sunshine and thunderstorms for the weekend, music fans were fortunate to enjoy mostly pleasant weather for the duration of the festival with only brief spells of light rain.
“This was my first Glastonbury for 15 years and it’s clear why it has a reputation for being the best of its kind in the world,” said Rose Llewellyn, a 35-year-old Water Aid volunteer from Warwickshire.
“A lot of people have rightly used this festival to make strong political statements about climate change and other issues people need to have front of mind right now. People’s freedom of expression has been the highlight for me – seeing people from such diverse backgrounds coming together and being who they want to be is amazing. There’s been terrific camaraderie between the visitors and volunteers and an incredibly warm, friendly atmosphere.”