While the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Fatboy Slim are Glastonbury veterans, there are plenty of performers taking to the stages at the famous festival for the first time this year – including one Sir Elton John.
For the Rocket Man, this one is extra special, as it marks his final ever UK gig before he retires from touring.
“There is no more fitting way to say goodbye to my British fans,” Sir Elton has said of what will be his first and last Glastonbury show. He has promised a different setlist to the one played during tour gigs, and teased special guests – with everyone from Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, Chris Martin and Britney Spears to Dua Lipa, Taron Egerton and Olly Alexander on the rumour list.
Despite being one of the biggest-selling music artists of all time, the 76-year-old has still admitted to feeling “intimidated” about headlining the most famous festival in the world.
But as a Glastonbury virgin, he’s in good company this year, with plenty of other acts experiencing the Worthy Farm magic for the first time.
Among them is Rick Astley, who will open the Pyramid stage on Saturday morning.
“I’ve dropped our daughter off many times, but I’ve never actually gone through the gates myself,” he told Sky News. “That’s kind of strange, considering I’m on the Pyramid Stage tomorrow… I don’t know how I’m going to get to sleep tonight actually thinking about that.
“You kind of think, we’ll give it our best shot, we’re going to go down there and we’re going to do this, that and the other. And then when you arrive and you see the enormity of it, the size of it and the scale of it – because cameras can’t do it justice – you have to actually be here and take that time to actually drift through a little bit.
“I think the nerves get worse, but I also want to kind of try and enjoy it, just be in the moment and not let it slip away without me actually being present, as it were.”
The size of the festival is something the singer realised he had underestimated.
“The scale is hard to deal with. I’ve looked at who’s playing and I’m thinking, ‘oh, I’d love to see them, I’d love to see them’. Now that I’m here, I’m thinking, you haven’t got a hope in hell of getting from that stage to that stage. So I’ve realigned my bands and artists that I want to see. It’s just massive.”
Astley is one of those artists beloved by everyone; as he chats ahead of a not-so-surprise set alongside Blossoms, he is stopped for selfies several times. No doubt his early Pyramid stage set will draw a big crowd, and the sing-along to his most famous hit, Never Gonna Give You Up, should provide a memorable Glastonbury highlight.
At 57, he says he is enjoying soaking up the festival for the first time as he experiences his career resurgence.
“There’s a lot of people who’ll come to Glastonbury and they might be 18 or 19 and play it for the first time, and that’s great. But having waited so long to get a chance, I think that’s a cool thing as well… to come to Glastonbury at this point I think is amazing. I’m really conscious of making sure I enjoy it and I think if I was a lot younger, it might just sort of buzz by without me realising.”
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Other big-name first-timers performing in 2023 include Guns’n’Roses, who headline the Pyramid stage later on Saturday, and Yusuf Islam, AKA Cat Stevens, who takes this year’s “legends slot” on Sunday afternoon.
Astley says he can understand why even Sir Elton feels some nerves. “I don’t care who you are, if you’re one of those people who gets up there and just dials in and doesn’t care, then you shouldn’t be doing it anyway.
“I’ve met him a bunch of times and I just don’t think he’s that kind of a character. I think he wants to put on a show and leave Glastonbury wanting more.
“I’m sure he’s like that. I’m sure [Paul] McCartney is like that, I’m sure they all are. They don’t want to come here and just be ‘okay’. They want to come and blow it away. I think it’s going to be emotional, his set, because of what it means – it’s the last British gig, almost the last gig ever. So it’s going to be… I think I might have a few tears anyway.”
As for his own set, Astley says he has no idea what to expect when he walks out on to that famous stage, following in the footsteps of stars including Sir Paul, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Kylie Minogue and dozens more.
“We’ve all seen it, you know, it’s enormous. It’s mad. But I also think there’s a lot of love here… I think music is way less separate and people’s tastes are way more eclectic. I think they’re quite as happy to go and see the biggest rock band in the world, then go and see Elton on the last night, maybe catch someone like myself, you know, at 12 o’clock… with a hangover.”
Hangover or no hangover, Astley will deliver, ticking off a milestone moment in his career.
“It’s a privilege to be in the audience at Glastonbury,” he says. “But it’s a super privilege to actually be one of the performers.”