The BBC’s Macca mystery: what went wrong at Glastonbury?

·4 min read
Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen on stage at Glastonbury
Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen on stage at Glastonbury

When Sir Paul McCartney played Glastonbury on Saturday night, it was with the energy of a man half his age. For nearly three hours and 38 songs, he didn’t flag, in what will go down in history as one of the festival’s all-time great performances. And when the show finally wrapped up after midnight, he headed off to a backstage party that kept rocking until 3am. Not bad for an 80-year-old.

Plenty of viewers at home, though, couldn’t match him for stamina. The BBC broadcast, which was transmitted “as live” but one hour behind the real show in order to accommodate the News at Ten, ended at 1.15am. No matter - bleary-eyed fans unable to stay awake that long could go to bed safe in the knowledge that the performance would be available to watch on iPlayer the next morning.

Except it wasn’t. With no explanation, McCartney’s set failed to appear. It took a full 24 hours, and a blizzard of complaints from disgruntled fans, before it was finally uploaded. The BBC had messed up its biggest Glastonbury moment.

The eventual statement was reticent about what the problem was. “Due to the complexity of broadcasting an event of this scale and the volume of performances we cover, there is sometimes variation between the transmission of performances and their availability on BBC iPlayer.”

Rumours began swirling on social media. Was there a problem because McCartney had included a video (accompanying his 2012 song My Valentine) of Johnny Depp? Were they remixing the sound to improve his vocals?

Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen on the Pyramid Stage - Getty
Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen on the Pyramid Stage - Getty

Initially, some BBC sources suggested that the delay rested with the McCartney team. The former Beatle is known for his perfectionism, and the set included material which resides with various rights holders. Other headline acts over the years, including David Bowie, had restricted the amount of content that the BBC could show.

But the McCartney camp insisted that there were no restrictions on their part, and expressed surprise at the delay. “It was not us. It should have gone up sooner,” an insider said. In fact, although the BBC was reluctant to say so initially, the issue was a technical failure. The combination of an outside broadcast unit based in a field in Somerset, and the difficulty of uploading a three-hour file to iPlayer, meant that technicians spent the day trying and failing to get it working.

“It was an enormous file to upload and it was incredibly frustrating,” said one person familiar with the set-up. The BBC had also committed to putting dozens of acts on iPlayer, meaning there was a backlog and staff struggled to cope. A BBC insider confirmed that the issues originated with the Corporation, and had nothing to do with McCartney himself.

Viewers had other gripes. People found the Glastonbury offerings on iPlayer difficult to navigate. Content was divided into baffling categories such as Top of Your Lungs or Beats and Bars. The Headliners and Legends category included acts that were neither.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s nervousness about bad language meant that one of the festival’s most viral-worthy moments - the chart-topping Olivia Rodrigo and her special guest Lily Allen protesting about the US Supreme Court overturning Roe vs Wade - was not included at all, as they sang the latter’s hit, F— You.

Despite all this, a peak audience of 3.9 million viewers did watch McCartney’s set, joining the 100,000 who packed in front of the Pyramid Stage. McCartney’s family watched from the side of the stage. Stella McCartney wrote on social media: “Dad… you made history, the largest crowd ever at Glasto. I am so proud to be your baby. Epic, epic, epic.” His other daughter, Mary, wote: “Dad + Glastonbury = magic.”

If you want to relive the magic, don’t delay. The performance will disappear from iPlayer after 30 days.