This year will be Chloe Powell’s third Glastonbury, but it’ll be her first without her brother. “In May last year, Callum lost his battle to cancer,” she shares solemnly over email. Callum, known to all as ‘Cal’, was a Glastonbury acolyte: a twenty-something music lover who would cover every inch of Worthy Farm’s grass in search for his established favourites or “the next big thing”.
“Cal was a true Glastonbury goer,” remembers Chloe. “Each time, he would secure tickets for all his friends and me – taking his legendary ‘Costa del Porto’ flag [with him].”
As part of Cal’s pilgrimage each year, he did what hundreds of other inventive and committed souls do: he made his own flag. It was a tradition that became an integral part of Cal and his friends’ festival experience. One that will not cease now he’s no longer here.
Chloe believes the flag is emblematic of Cal’s character. “[He was] the one bringing everyone together for fun times, the most special moments, giving us memories that will last a lifetime,” she says.
Cal in black Rolling Stones’ t-shirt; Chloe touching the flag
Cal grew up in the northern town of Ellesmere Port, affectionately coined “Costa del Porto”, dictating the flag’s Spanish background.” He worked for GTM, a traffic management company in Manchester, and in a trade-off for his arduous commute he would often go to gigs at Manchester’s O2 Academy after work. “Music really was his biggest passion,” Chloe recalls, and lists the likes of Foals, Band of Horses, First Aid Kit, Johnny Marr, and The Killers as among Cal’s memorable standouts from their visits to the festival.
And much like Glastonbury itself, his flag evolved over the years. This included the incorporation of Liver Birds in honour of Liverpool Football Club, while stars on the top signalled “the years Liverpool won the European Cup”, whereas the stars below “the years Cal and his friends attended Glastonbury.”
The updated Costa del Porto flag
Plans had been put in place to attend Glastonbury 2020. Tickets were bought, as usual, by Cal for his sister and his friends. But Covid struck, and the festival was put on ice for two years. “By which time he became unwell,” shares Chloe. “He got sick when he was 27, and he died 12 months later, aged 28, in May 2022.”
Cal’s tragic passing meant that he wouldn’t be there in person for Paul McCartney’s 2022 headline set. “We grew up listening to The Beatles thanks to our mum, and Cal was a huge Paul McCartney and Beatles fan. Especially living so close to Liverpool.”
His friends did the next best thing to honour their friend. “Cal’s friends attended Glastonbury last year with his flag,” continues Chloe, “whilst the whole family and others friends watched at home. It brought us some comfort seeing the flag flying high at the front for all the headliners.”
This included a poignant moment when the spotlight shone down on Cal’s flag alone during McCartney’s headline set on the Pyramid Stage.
Cal’s flag during Paul McCartney’s set
Cal’s untimely departure highlights not only fleeting nature of our existence – and its fragility too –, but how important acts of remembrance are for those left behind. Glastonbury’s flag tradition affords unity and commemoration, bringing people together in a shared cause that can extend beyond the music.
In fact, the deeper you dig, the more you discover the impressive range of reasons that people wave a flag at the world’s largest greenfield festival. Take Annie Hughes, for example. She’s a member of a long-established, 1,400+ persons Facebook group known as Glasto Solo Polo, set up by Pauline Brontë Jones in 2006.
“[It’s] basically a group of people who will be at Glastonbury camping alone together!” she shares enthusiastically about the group’s inclusive MO. “I believe the first solo group camp was in 2011.” This year, Annie will camp alongside other Solo Polos and has a flag to boot, designed by a fellow Solo Polo Facebook group member whom she is yet to meet called, Rory Neighbour.
Annie’s SoloPolo flag (Rory Neighbour)
“I suppose it might be the first AI created flag to be flown at Glastonbury!” shares Sam Steele about his jovial and light hearted flag, created using OpenAI platform Dall-E.
“Me and a friend [of mine called] Tom recently found a local football team in Brighton who sell 10 sausages for £5,” he recalls. “Tom ate all 10 in one sitting and I wanted to commemorate this feat with a flag. He’s big into his medieval history so I wanted to make something that felt in keeping. The man on the flag is based on the description I felt encapsulated Tom: a cherubic-looking man with tight blonde curls.”
Sam Steele holding aloft his AI flag
If Sam’s approach is a nod to our new world, then others have history to share. One of the flag-hardy perennials is Jeremy ‘Jem’ Silverstone, who has not missed a single Glastonbury since adding the festival to his “bucket list” in 2002.
“When I first visited the festival, I can only remember a stuffed pigeon impaled on top of a fishing pole. Flags were yet to make their mark,” he recalls. “They weren’t a big thing in the first few years I went, but year-on-year, they’ve become a defining part of the world’s biggest and best party.”
A classic Jem flag combo
Jem’s reasons for flag-bearing were initially for practical purposes: he wanted to ensure that he and his wife would not be separated. As of now, he is arguably the doyen of Glasto flagbearers. Over 14 Glastonburys, his flags have become more varied, bespoke to artist and event. “From 2008, the template was established: the top flag was relevant to the day or headliner, whilst the lower flag simply said ‘JEM’ with an arrow pointing downwards,” he explains.
And then there are what he calls his “classic” flags: “I have two flags that are used on Wednesdays and Thursdays, before the music begins proper. These are: GLASTO – STILL THE GREATEST (which has features on the BBC many times, and was also featured in a Guardian article on Glasto); and WET BUT HAPPY – an essential Glasto standby!”
For all the joy of Jem’s flags, he acknowledges that hawking them around has not always been a harmonious experience. “For many years, there was a battle between the flagbearers and the cameras,” he imparts. “However, in recent times, the cameramen have accepted the flags, and changed their camera angles. On two occasions last year, I was specifically requested to shift my flag slightly to the left, or make it a bit higher, and I was happy to comply. The Glasto spirit of unity lives on!”
“Russell Auger had been to every Glasto since 1999,” shares Soup Man. “We all have different ‘jobs’ within our camp, and Russell was our MP, hence, ‘TEAM MP AUGER’. Very sadly, he died 4 years ago, but he still comes with us on this flag!”
Team MP Auger and Bez flag
“Russell was the funniest person ever to have lived and he is known with affection by the regular campers in Kidney Mead. We camp there every year. We’ve therefore known several other groups [for a long time], and have great friends that we see for a few days in June each year!”
Soup Man continues: “Bottom right in red says “Est. 1996”, that was the year we left school. Bottom left in red says “Weymuff” (we are from Weymouth). The black crown on the top left part of the flag says ‘BEZ’ underneath it. This refers to one of our other best friends who died 19 years ago, Nick Berry, who we called ‘King Bez’.
“He loved Glasto more than anyone and also came every year since 1998. His ashes are spread around the centre and the table stone at the Stone Circle. We visit every February for his birthday and we also spend a lot of time up there with him during the festival. Nick was from Bolton and he was my Northern Star.”
For others, the enterprise offers the opportunity to be, well, enterprising. For Charlie Palmer, there is the possibility to convey messages to the hitherto unreachable. “When I was around 16 years old, I wrote a manifesto for a fashion brand inspired by some words written on the cover of my favourite album at the time. I’m now 45 and finally giving it a go.”
There is a musician that he wishes to “collaborate” with for his “first collection”, and although he’s tried reaching out in a more conventional sense, he has yet to elicit a response. Therefore, a flag is his unorthodox attempt to get their attention. “I’ve decided to take a flag with a message to him on it,” he says.
Charlie Palmer’s inventive flag
And here’s the rub: “He’s not actually at Glastonbury,” he reveals, “but I’m taking a punt that the audience will tag him in photos/message him, as well as generally look him up, follow him, etc. If nothing else, I dearly hope more people will listen to him. It just so happens he’s dropping a new single on the Friday of Glastonbury.”
It’s an unusual approach, but Charlie is nothing if not ingenious and optimistic. “If I can make enough noise, I’m hoping he’ll at least offer me a meeting,” he adds. “My IG has been updated to give an overview of what I’m planning, with a personal message hidden within the page (on the photo featuring his face).”
He concludes: “Who knows if it’ll work, but my inner child is desperate to give it a go.”
For Charlotte Alder, she hopes all eyes will be on her flag, and ff she has her way, her eyes will be on stage too. It all stems from an incident a few years ago. “I happened to have the classic combination of some googly eyes in my bag and a statue of Jesus clearly requiring some eyes,” she recalls. “Since that fateful day I’ve found googly eyes are a stunning way of bringing people from all walks of life together.” It has resulted in her flag, which will get a Glastonbury outing in 2023.
Charlotte Alder with her Googly Flag
Charlotte and her friends have daily challenges, placing googly eyes in random places at the festival and “send pictures of their best ‘googling’ each day”, according to Charlotte. “It could be a cheeky toilet lock that becomes a face, or for the braver among us, perhaps the back of a bald head (bald head owners permitting of course),” she jests. The aim is to “spread a little joy”.
“We have a challenge to try and get some giant 8” glow-in-the-dark googlies on the Pyramid Stage so our friends at home can spot them on the tv – a big aspiration, but one we hope to achieve!! The dream would be to see Elton John covered in eyes…one can only dream.”
There are some boundaries, however: “We have strict rules around where we place googlies – we refrain from placing them in nature as there are already so many faces to be found in the flora and fauna of the UK, and we also accept pictures of accidental faces as an extension of googling!”
But while many see the exciting potential for flags, be it political, pun-centric, peppy, or profound, not everyone welcomes their presence. And we’re not just talking about aggy camera operators. Some festival goers resent their ability to impede sightlines for the acts playing on stage; while others curmudgeonly see them as, well, some folks just like to rant and moan for its own sake, don’t they?
Nevertheless, festival organisers were cognisant of the flags’ controversy. And so, in 2010, the festival held a vote to see if attendees felt they should be banned. The poll attracted decent numbers. Over 13,000.00 votes later, 55% voted in favour of them remaining (7,269 votes) while 45% wanted them banned (5,909 votes).
Although close, it wasn’t Brexit vote close, and so the topic has been lain dormant ever since. “Flagbearers fully understand the frustration felt by some audience members but I genuinely try to ensure that my flag is high enough not to obscure the artist,” concedes Jem.
He continues: “There have been many discussions about flags on the Glastonbury groups and forms on Facebook, Twitter etc, and I compiled a list in response to one question, asking for any good reasons to take a flag. These were mine:
- It allows me to meet family and friends who are attending
- It allows me to prove to my wife where I am if she’s at home
- It gives me something to lean on when I get tired from standing up and carrying a flagpole around all day!
- It’s a great conversation starter that has allowed me to make many friends over the years, and often year after year, they recognise the flag and come over.
- It gives other people a way of meeting with their friends
- It’s obviously some kind of penis extension.”
What’s in store for Jem for 2023’s edition, you might ask? “I still don’t know who I’ll be seeing on Friday night this year,” he admits. “I’ve seen Arctic Monkeys headline before and they haven’t done anything notable since, so I still haven’t decided on a flag. However, Saturday night will see me at Guns n’ Roses, for which the top flag will be a tribute to their lead guitarist: EVERYONE NEEDS A SLASH.
“And for Elton John closing the show, after what looks like being an emotional and exhausting five days, the top flag will – appropriately, I think – proclaim: I’M STILL STANDING.”
And with that, we return to the grieving Powell family. As Chloe points out about her dearly departed brother, Cal: “It’s really important to us that he’s remembered. This year, we’ve managed to get tickets for my mum and other family members who will be coming to Glastonbury for the first time. It already feels bittersweet, but I’m sure it will make us feel closer to Cal, especially taking his legendary flag carrying on his legacy.”