Glastonbury's five most controversial moments

The festival's most memorable sets and infamous slots

The crowd gathers to watch Elton John perform at Glastonbury 2023
Coldplay, Dua Lipa and SZA will headline Glastonbury 2024. (Getty)

Glastonbury Festival is back on Worthy Farm for another year, with Coldplay, Dua Lipa and SZA headlining its iconic Pyramid Stage.

With many flocking to the fest, what better time to have a look back at the always exciting, often tumultuous history of a festival that has battled licensing restrictions, drug dealing and modern health and safety issues?

An event that always has an eye on progression, in recent years Glastonbury has aimed to be a broader, more inclusive festival, especially on its main stages, meaning some headliner bookings have been met with various degrees of disgruntlement by old-timers.

Read more: The greatest ever Glastonbury TV moments

2024's edition aims to level the playing field, with a wide variety of acts of various genders appearing throughout the weekend.

But before we get to that, let’s look at some of Glastonbury’s most controversial moments.

Jay-Z performs on the Pyramid Stage during Glastonbury 2008
Noel Gallagher objected to Jay-Z headlining Glastonbury 2008. (PA via Getty)

Up until 2008, no rapper had ever headlined the most famous music festival in the world. That all changed when organiser Michael Eavis recruited Jay-Z.

While most greeted the move as a great leap forward for the festival, one particular big name was not shy with his objection to the booking.

Noel Gallagher, then still of Oasis, pulled his dog whistle out of his pocket and said it was 'wrong' for rap to be at Glastonbury, which was typically headlined by guitar rock acts.

The New York rapper clearly heard Gallagher’s ignorant badmouthing as he strode onto the Pyramid Stage with a Stratocaster draped over his shoulder and launched into an ironic cover of Wonderwall.

He’d later take another dig at Gallagher with his song Jockin Jay-Z which included the lyric: "That bloke from Oasis said I couldn't play guitar, somebody should have told him I'm a f***ing rock star."

A general view of the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury Festival in 1994
Five people were injured in a shooting at the 1994 festival. (Getty)

The darkest weekend in the festival’s history came in 1994. That year, Glastonbury was headlined by the Levellers, Elvis Costello and Peter Gabriel but is unfortunately best remembered for two dark incidents.

On the Saturday night, a man began firing indiscriminately into the crowd, hitting five people. Two women and three men were taken to hospital but fortunately they escaped serious injury. Armed police later arrived to arrest the man and the incident was described as 'drug related'.

The weekend also saw the festival's first-ever death as the result of a drug overdose. A 23-year-old man died in the early hours of the same night.

Kanye West performs on the Pyramid Stage during Glastonbury 2015
Kanye West delivered a blistering set at Glastonbury 2015. (Getty)

Never one to evade controversy, the announcement of Kanye West as a Glastonbury headliner in 2015 immediately drew the ire of online trolls.

They even went to the trouble of setting up a petition to try and stop the rapper from headlining the festival. The petition, which roused over 100,000 signatures, read: "Kanye West is an insult to music fans all over the world. We spend hundreds of pounds to attend Glasto, and by doing so, expect a certain level of entertainment."

West was backed by Eavis and went on to a deliver a blistering set of classics and album deep-cuts though was, at times, blighted by tech issues.

The Smiths performing live on TV show The Tube
The Pyramid Stage was ever stormed by fans as The Smiths performed. (Redferns)

The Smiths being announced as headliners in 1984 already generated controversy with the hippy crowd complaining the indie rockers were too 'heavy' for the festival with most of the headliners up to that point being of the progressive rock variety. But Morrissey and Johnny Marr won over the masses on the weekend.

So much so that a swarm of fans ambushed the Pyramid Stage structure and climbed it as the band performed. It was the type of raucousness that was possible before the age of health and safety. It was the only time the Pyramid Stage was ever stormed en masse.

The security fence at Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton
The £1m security fence was erected around Glastonbury in 2002. (PA via Getty)

Glastonbury was always known as being the easiest festival to hop into without paying, with Michael Eavis once joking there more fans there without tickets than with.

As the festival continued to grow in popularity through the 90s with headliners such as Oasis, Blur and Bob Dylan, a record rush of gatecrashers tunnelled their way into the festival in 2000.

As a result, organisers invested a mammoth £1m on an intimidating steel fence which upset many of the regulars who argued it was against the free love ethos of the festival.

Erected in 2002, Glastonbury has featured far less gatecrashing in the years since and also better ensures the safety of those attending.

Festival safety was also rightly at the top of the news agenda in 2021 after the tragic crush at AstroWorld in Texas saw 10 people die.

Glastonbury Festival 2024 takes place between Wednesday 26 and Sunday 30 June.