Arabella died just before Christmas last year. The best obituary online that I have found was written by Michael Eavis and appeared in the Independent.
I was very privileged to see her the weekend before she died, making a special journey down to Glastonbury to do so, and then again, sooner than expected, the weekend after, for her funeral, on Christmas eve. The Memorial Service in Glastonbury Parish Church and Charity Benefit evening in the Town Hall in February were moving and very well attended events – Bella was widely known and widely loved. I am very lucky – and grateful – to have had the opportunity to tell her, that last weekend, that she was much loved, and what an honour it had been to have known her. Her presence here at the Festival is everywhere – particularly in the minds of all of us who have worked for her for so very many years and whose tasks here in the Theatre-Circus fields have been honed over many years of following her direction. The huge peace garden called “Let it B” in the newly renamed ‘Bella’s Field’ is testimony to her immense presence here. In my own humble portacabin, where I and my team of 25 make and distribute the passes that give performers and crew access to the restricted areas in the heart of the Theatre-Circus fields, I have made a little shrine of photos and flowers to her memory, that has caught the attention of and brought back many memories for some of the many people who have been in to sort out little problems with their passes.
Bereavement is a strange thing. It changes one’s perspective in many subtle ways, and can bring through some quite profound realisations about oneself, one’s life, and the prospects for the future. It can, despite the loss, bring about some much needed healing of older issues foregrounded by the deeper pressure of grief. This, indeed, in surprising ways, has to an extent been my story over the last six months. This week, in a field in Somerset, has been something of a culmination of that story of old issues and healing, with people from my life in the 90s turning up for the first time since, people from my current life with whom I have had issues recently turning out to be more than fine in the end, and on top of that a bit of a family reunion with my sister and her family on my team for the first time (oh the excited smiles on my niece and nephew’s faces!). I am glad to report a more settled sense of self than ever before.
Here amongst the madness, chaos, jollity and creativity of the Theatre-Circus area of the Glastonbury Festival I am at home in a bubble that seems like a parallel world to the other 51 weeks of the year, a forever fantastic world filled with old friends in a structure built for and now sustained by the many wonderful people who were fortunate enough to become a part of Bella’s world; a place where even in grief, there is healing. Let it B.
So here is my first blog post actually from the Glastonbury Festival.
Not because I haven’t been coming for some years, or because I haven’t had a blog for some years, nor even, because there hasn’t been broadband in my portacabin before, but this is the second year there has been broadband for me, and today I am sufficiently bored and short of work to do on my Saturday afternoon shift that this virtual scribbling should help to pass the time.
I have been attending Glastonbury Festival on a regular basis since, at the age of 21, I came to see the Smiths, in 1984, and discovered much more than just good music. By 1987 I was living in Glastonbury, working for Arabella Churchill’s Children’s World Charity
as a Drama Team member, doing Theatre-in-Education with Special Needs children around the South West. Living in Glastonbury involved a good deal of community arts work, too, and of course performing in the Theatre-Circus fields at the Festival over the next several years in various capacities. In 1991 I even went on holiday with Bella, swimming with the Dolphin in Dingle Bay on the south-west coast of Ireland, and gathering many fond memories. But ’91 was also the year I left Glastonbury, moving to Totnes to do my BA in Theatre at Dartington. I still worked at the Festival in 92 and 93, but stopped in my final year at Dartington, missing the Festivals of 94 and then again 95, busying myself with Tamworth. However, dragged into the curry house in Glastonbury one evening in the Spring of 97 by Sean Bridges, I found myself sitting at a table with Bella for the first time in two or three years and she encouraged me to come back, and I have been coming every year since. Details about my theatrical escapades at Glastonbury Assembly Rooms, Dartington, Tamworth, and Glastonbury Festival are all elsewhere on this site. This year is, however, particularly poignant, because this year is the first Festival without Bella.