David Bowie’s headline performance at Glastonbury in 2000 has been described as perfect, spellbinding and emotional.
The Thin White Duke closed that year’s festival from the Pyramid Stage with a set that contained many of his greatest hits such as Life on Mars?, Starman and Let’s Dance.
As Glastonbury Festival headline sets are shown live, millions at home were glued to their TVs, eagerly anticipating Bowie’s performance.
However, they were left infuriated when after just five songs the cameras left the man behind Ziggy Stardust and switched to Jamie Theakston in the BBC studio.
Now, 20 years later, the BBC can finally show the set in full for the first time. But what happened back in 2000?
Ahead of the festival, Bowie wrote in his diary: “As of 1990 I got through the rest of the 20th century without having to do a big hits show.
“Yes, yes, I know I did four or five hits on the later shows but I held out pretty well I thought…big, well known songs will litter the field at Glastonbury this year. Well, with a couple of quirks of course”.
He, of course, delivered.
When asked about Bowie’s set, Glastonbury co-organiser Emily Eavis described it as the “perfect headline set”, saying: “I often get asked what the best set I’ve seen here at Glastonbury is, and Bowie’s 2000 performance is always one which I think of first.
“It was spellbinding; he had an absolutely enormous crowd transfixed.”
Her father Michael – the festival’s founder – added: “He’s one of the three greatest of all-time: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and David Bowie.”
Despite performing the perfect set, the BBC had a problem when it came to showing Bowie’s performance.
“Bowie really didn’t want to be filmed,” recalled Mark Cooper, the man who presides over the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage.
Cooper told The Guardian hoped that previous meetings would help persuade Bowie to change his mind. He was wrong.
“Weeks of wrangling, cajoling, even pleading through Bowie’s publicist, Alan Edwards, had resulted in an amiable but immovable stalemate. We could film and broadcast the first four songs of the set and then a song or two from the encore, but no more.”
On the night, Cooper realised Bowie’s set would be a “resounding triumph” as soon as he took to the stage, and went backstage to try, one last time, to persuade his entourage to let the BBC show the whole set.
His pleas were rejected, but the “shenanigans bought our broadcast one more song”, which was Life on Mars?, before Bowie disappeared from TV screens.
While the Worthy Farm crowd ate out of Bowie’s hand, BBC viewers got to hear Theakston read out all the songs they weren’t allowed to watch.
“I should have asked him to explain to the nation that it had been insisted upon by the artist himself,” Cooper reflected.
“But naively I didn’t want to blame Bowie: it was the early days of our coverage and I hadn’t yet reasoned that the audience’s expectation of a Glastonbury headliner no longer sat with the artist but with the BBC.
“Jamie sat there by the campfire and – clearly smart enough not to take the hit – proceeded to read out the entire setlist. Which we wouldn’t be broadcasting … “I am not sure I’m supposed to do this,” he announced, before running through hit after hit while the sound of Absolute Beginners wafted over from the Pyramid stage.”
Thankfully, the cameras kept rolling, so at least the show was being recorded while the BBC showed the likes of Embrace and Basement Jaxx before returning for Bowie’s encore after 90 excruciating minutes.
“Wonderful, but too little and much too late,” mused Cooper, who spent much of the next fortnight writing explanations to irate fans.
Since then Glastonbury headline acts have revelled in having their sets shown live and in full on the BBC for millions to enjoy.
Cooper suspects though that Bowie had a reason for not wanting the BBC to show his performance that night.
“He wasn’t about to give away his peak performance or his catalogue for nothing.
“He hoarded that night so that one day it could be shown in all its glory as his legacy, the culmination of his golden years and surely his greatest concert since he buried Ziggy Stardust at Hammersmith in July 1973.”
An official release of Bowie’s Glastonbury performance was indeed released on CD, vinyl and DVD in 2018, two years after the great man’s death, while an hour-long highlights show was broadcast on BBC Four.
But now, finally, the BBC can show the whole set.