This Is What Glastonbury Is Like Sober

Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins
There are a few people you don’t want to be at Glastonbury. The idiot who thinks it's funny to roll around in the mud on day one and then realises there's no way of getting clean. The person who only brought shorts and T-shirts because they thought it was June. The person who gets lost at the festival and huddles in a portaloo for warmth, only to wake up there the next morning. And the sober person in a crowd of people “getting bang on it” – to quote ‘Keta Ben', who camped next door to us and spent Saturday night shouting about taking ketamine and shaving his balls to make his penis look bigger… which I’m not convinced would work, but hey, I don’t have a penis and I haven’t taken horse tranquiliser, so who am I to judge? Let’s face it, after nine hours of traffic and what feels like a trip into the fires of Mordor (too many bags, a heavy tent, and muggy temperatures), never has a can of warm cider felt better. Which is why it was this very moment that had me worried the day before leaving for Glastonbury because how could I enjoy this festival without any alcohol? My initial Twitter search looking for people doing Glastonbury sober was met with a lot of “Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Good luck finding them!” replies. But sure enough, people also began replying to say that they had been there sober before or also would be doing it this year. One girl, Kathryn, was full of excellent practical advice like, "Try not to get too annoyed with the drunk people – it’s your choice to be sober" and "Sometimes a hot chocolate around camp just before bed is exactly what you need after a hard day's rocking."

I was worried that I was going to plummet into a Wednesday of boozy hedonism when I arrived at Glastonbury

I quit drinking a couple of months ago when I went back on anti-depressants and, although I thought it would only be for a couple of weeks while the side effects and my mood stabilised, I soon realised I just didn’t want to drink. I don’t have bi-polar but there is a manic pattern to my depression and a low can often occur after a period of excitement, or a busy work schedule, and drinking only makes things worse. I mean, I’m 34, but when I get hyper I still have a tendency to behave in ways I know are destructive, which was why I was worried that I was going to plummet into a Wednesday of boozy hedonism when I arrived at Glastonbury. Twitter Kathryn reminded me that it’s okay to get excited as long as I make sure I look after myself.
Courtesy of Hannah Smith
So, instead of cracking open the cider as I pitched my tent this year, I was busy answering the “Is it true you're doing Glastonbury sober?” question from those I only really see once a year at the festival. The rumour had spread and mostly people were just curious. I go to Glastonbury with a big and evolving group of people every year; some of them do drugs, some only drink and one is basically sober, but he’s French so no one questions it. I have always been enthusiastically in the drinking-but-drug-free-camp, especially the year I went around the Pyramid Stage crowd making everyone do the ‘dentist chair’ by forcefully tipping their head back, only to pour wine into their eye instead of their mouth. But by Thursday night this time, as I danced my little heart away in the bar opposite the William’s Green tent and regaled my friends with tales about the massage I received from a half naked man in the Healing Fields that day, all worries of a sober Glastonbury being difficult had vanished. A man called Billy, from Bristol, who was high on MDMA, tried his best to get me to kiss him and, well, maybe drunk Hannah would have, but sober Hannah knew that, although she would definitely kiss Billy based on his fun personality and pretty blonde face, the answer to 'Is it a good idea to kiss people who aren't sure where they are?' is 'no'. And I probably did you a favour, Billy from Bristol who loves his Nan, because the answer to 'should you kiss people who write about themselves in the third person?' is also definitely a resounding 'no'.

I was taking time to do the things I enjoy most

Even the mud was easier to handle sober. I had so much energy without the day to day hangovers, I was eating healthy food because it was what I craved, I was taking time to do the things I enjoy most, like hang out in the Peace Dome watching an obscure Japanese orchestra on my own, dancing with both hands free to wave about and never once worrying about queuing for the bar or even the toilet, because even though tea does go through the bladder quickly, I wasn’t drinking anywhere near as much as I would have been drinking if I was on the beer. So a bit of mud was really nothing more than a workout; even when I nearly slipped on Sunday as I rushed to see Coldplay, I was able to save myself to a round of applause and appreciation. Sobriety 1 – 0 mud.
Courtesy of Hannah Smith
This Glastonbury was definitely a strange one though, sober or drunk. On Friday it felt as though someone had pressed the mute button on happiness as we all wandered the festival lost and confused about what had happened in the Britain outside of our bubble. News of the Brexit could be enough to compel anyone to drink their body weight in box wine but I kept a clear head and remembered that tea can be a great comforter in times of political turmoil. Surprisingly, it was Muse that finally dragged us out of the mud and reminded us we were somewhere special where people come together; the opposite of what the rest of the country was busy doing. That night the chill in the air was biting and so I took myself to bed instead of heading to the late night areas. Sometimes when the shit hits the fan it's best just to sleep. Tomorrow is a new day and it doesn’t have to arrive with the hangover of anything other than the Brexit, I told myself. My camp woke feeling a little jaded on Saturday morning. I may have chosen tea the night before, but everyone else had taken more drastic measures in a bid to cope with the emotions brought out by the Brexit. They were so sedate I had to take myself on a little shopping mission in the Green Fields, where I walked past Chris Martin with his children, but despite being a huge Coldplay fan (oh bore off, they are brilliant), I was sober enough to recognise I shouldn’t approach him when he’s with his kids, and that it might scare them to see a woman run up and lick their father.
Courtesy of Hannah Smith
By Saturday night, everyone was back in the Glasto party zone and, although my friends had started to repeat themselves or tell me how great a band were, even though we had watched them together, I didn’t feel out of place in the Saturday night crowd. My new Twitter friend Steph put it well when she emailed me before the festival: “Glasto definitely offers enough for those who don’t drink. I’ve never felt out of place there, not even at Block 9 in the small hours drinking tea.” Heck, I didn’t even get annoyed with the people who were so wasted that they kept dancing into me. To be honest, I was just glad they were having a good time. As the weekend drew to a close on Monday, and I walked my less-weary-than-usual Glasto self to the exit, I reflected on how, if anything, I felt more in place sober at Glastonbury than I have ever felt drunk. My drunken self sometimes feels like she has to keep her outgoing face on for the whole night but my sober self has realised that I don’t need a drink to feel confident enough to channel Kate Bush on the dance floor. Sometimes Kate Bush only wants to dance to one song, and sometimes she wants to dance all night, and it’s really okay either way. Sober, drunk, gay, straight, whether you’re into punk, hip hop, rock or pop, whether you’re an immigrant or born and bred British, everyone has a place at Glastonbury – and you don’t have to look further than the entrance gate to find it.

More from Pop Culture

R29 Original Series