Legend has it that King Arthur slumbers beneath Glastonbury Tor, ready to awake in England's hour of need. A few miles east of the historical Somerset landmark, on a rather dreich morning, Michael and Emily Eavis are in the throes of plotting a rude awakening for the mythical warrior. Come the end of this month, the valley which is home to 350 cows at their 400-acre Worthy Farm will echo to the noise of thousands of revellers - some 150,000 of them, actually - and hundreds of musicians from every corner of the world. And for the first time at the Glastonbury Festival, in a marriage of apparent opposites which is likely to remain unsurpassed in the history of music, an operatic performance will join a line-up including Sir Paul McCartney, Oasis and the Chemical Brothers. No one knows what King Arthur (or festival diehards, for that matter) will make of it, but English National Opera is to

stage a full-blown version of Wagner's The Ride of the Valkyries, probably most familiar, if at all, to Glastonbury regulars from its use in the film Apocalypse Now.

Standing in his kitchen at Worthy Farm, an animated Michael Eavis chuckles at the prospect of a full orchestra of 91 musicians and eight terrifying Valkyrie maidens taking to the stage for a breakfast performance on June 27. ''A Glastonbury audience is prepared for anything,'' says the 67-year-old dairy farmer, who has been running the festival since he founded it in 1970. He looks delighted at the stir caused by this year's unorthodox line-up - the BBC has been on the phone requesting an interview with him for the six o'clock news.

He apportions blame to his youngest daughter, Emily, who stands beside him giggling and making coffee. ''I had no idea it would be such a big deal,'' protests the 24-year-old, who helps run the festival. ''The ENO wanted to take opera to the people and I thought it was important the festival had a cross-section of the arts.''

There is a definite buzz in the Eavis household today. Six weeks to go and counting. Emily is buoyant, darting in and out of the kitchen muttering about bands and her car's MOT later that day. Her father is telling me - after digressing slightly to discuss the farm's drainage problem - about a 70ft steel sculpture he's designing for this year's festival; an idea put to him by workers threatened with redundancy at the Appledore shipyard in north Devon. ''It's all about social justice,'' he explains. ''I'm thinking about having some of William Blake's poetry engraved on it.'' Then there is a book coming out, Glastonbury Festival Tales, for which Michael has supplied a foreword; plus a film in the making.

''Yeah, it's all go - but we both really enjoy it all. Don't we, Dad?'' Emily chips in. Michael, an affable, bald man with a beard that makes him resemble an Old Testament preacher, smiles and nods. The festival is in the lifeblood of both father and daughter.

Glastonbury - synonymous, somewhat unfairly, with mud, hippies and hedonism - has taken on legendary status since its inception in 1970. Today it takes place on an organic dairy farm that has been in the Eavis family for four generations. The profits go to charity, and the ambience is such that on occasions people wander around naked, barely attracting a second glance. For thousands of devotees it is a life-transforming, spiritual experience, and a British summer now seems unthinkable without it.

Glastonbury without Michael Eavis seems equally unthinkable. Yet he's 68 now, despite looking a decade younger, and even for a young man it would involve a superhuman effort to manage a 400-acre farm while simultaneously organising one of the world's most celebrated festive extravaganzas.

''We don't plan,'' he says. ''We take it one year at a time. I never, ever thought at the start it would last this long.

Over the last year, Emily says, she has been thinking carefully about her role within the event, unsure as to whether she could ever replace her father and if the festival would ever be the same without him. A reluctant heiress, she stresses that Glastonbury has always been ''Dad's gig'', and appears slightly embarrassed at the mention of taking on his mantle. ''The festival works because of the history, and maybe nobody can do it quite like him,'' she says. ''But there are a lot of bubbling issues. Things will definitely unfold.''

As a child, Emily used to get uppity at the hordes of people tramping through her back yard. The youngest of Michael's eight children, she remembers standing at her bathroom window, aged five, bawling at them: ''Go back to your own garden.'' Now the festival is her raison d'etre.

Michael Eavis's family has farmed in the fields around the village of Pilton in Somerset since the 19th century. His father and grandfather were Methodist preachers but Michael, born in 1936 and educated at Wells Cathedral School, opted at 15 to join the merchant navy. From there he joined a shipping line that sailed the upper classes to Kenya and South Africa. ''It was a good life, quite exotic,'' he says, pointing to a black-and-white picture on the wall. It shows him as a teenager, resplendent in his uniform, that trademark beard already in place.

His father died when he was 19 and he found himself with no choice but to return home to the family's farm, which at that time covered 150 acres and held 60 cows. ''The bank manager told me the farm would be sold if I didn't come home from sea, so although I wasn't really a farmer I got stuck in about it,'' he says.

The early years proved so financially testing that Michael had to juggle a day shift down a mine with working the farm in the morn-

ings and evenings. The money he earned at the coalface - (pounds) 25 a week - helped save the family business.

At around the time of his father's death he married his first wife, Ruth; they had three children before they divorced in 1964. His inspiration for the inaugural Glastonbury came from a trip to the Bath Blues Festival with his second wife, Jean, in 1970. The ambience of the event and its microcosmic embodiment of the liberalism and free thinking of the time proved to be something of an epiphany for both of them. ''It was all these people just having a good time, doing what they wanted, all on the same side,'' he recalls. ''Very special.''

After Bath, in a somewhat unconventional move for a Methodist farmer, Michael decided to take out a massive loan; and, with the help of his wife and Arabella Churchill, a prominent hippy and the granddaughter of Sir Winston, he set about organising his first festival. ''It was a very radical thing to do, but it derived from the same trait that produced Methodism in the first place, where you challenge the status quo and the establishment,'' he says. ''That's important to me even now.''

The first festival, the Pilton Pop Festival, was held at his farm over two days in September 1970 and featured performances from, among others, T.Rex. Marc Bolan made a suitably rock 'n' roll entrance in a Cadillac lined with crushed velvet both inside and out. Some 1,500 festival-goers paid (pounds) 1 to enter, and drank milk from Michael's herd of cows.

The event was renamed Glastonbury Fayre in 1971, and immediately became a focal point for a disaffected youth who generated a counterblast to anyone who thought the idealism of the sixties was dead and buried. Those who played that year included Joan Baez, David Bowie and Hawkwind. ''It was about embracing respect for nature and life - a spiritual awakening,'' says Michael. The famous Pyramid stage was constructed to align with the purported Stonehenge/Glastonbury leyline, and, according to festival lore and in keeping with the spirituality and sacred landscape of this part of England, which Jesus is said to have visited, a shimmering angel was seen hovering above the stage during a set by singer-songwriter Melanie. There were other festivals, sure, but very few that featured spontaneous manifestations of angels. Glastonbury had arrived.

By the eighties the event had mushroomed and begun to adopt a greater socio-political conscience, a reflection of the Eavises' ideals. This meant aligning the festival with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. ''We supported CND for ten years and raised over (pounds) 1m,'' Michael says. Around the same time the progressive nature of Glastonbury was embodied by the development of the Green Fields area, which embraced organic food, responsible lifestyles and alternative therapies - all treated with ridicule and suspicion by much of the wider world at the time, but now part of everyday life for a growing number of people.

The environment is an issue about which Michael and Emily care deeply. The festival is now a supporter of Greenpeace, and has donated (pounds) 200,000 to the organisation from last year's profits alone. Do they share the same world view, I ask? ''Yes,'' they both say, almost in unison, glancing at each other and then bursting into a fit of laughter.

There are no airs or graces about father or daughter. Both are earthy and unassuming, and share an endearing warmth and joviality. Two peas in a pod, in fact. Emily was born to Michael and Jean in 1979, the year Margaret Thatcher came to power and the year Glastonbury developed its political drive with CND coming on board. When she was a child, Michael would take her on demos against the Tories - ''Maggie Out days'', she called them - which moulded her social conscience and engaged her with the ethics of her parents and the festival.

As a youngster, Emily was regarded by her friends as being rather unusual. While other parents held down proper jobs, drove family saloons and listened to Dire Straits, her parents were labelled marijuana-toting hippies. The irony, of course, is that both Micahel and Jean were Methodists who went to church every Sunday, sang hymns round the piano at Christmas and never drank alcohol or took drugs - Emily also does neither, as a result of witnessing a few too many examples of people wasted when she was little. Still, there was certainly a strong rock 'n' roll connection. It's not as if every child has Peter Gabriel kipping in their bed or the Stone Roses round for tea.

She did have mixed feelings quite a lot of the time, Emily says, and although there were some incredible, life-affirming moments through seeing and being surrounded by all those people in her space having an amazing time, there were times when she yearned to be like everyone else in a normal, childlike way. ''It freaked me out sometimes,'' she admits. ''But it's just normal for me these days. We had Thom Yorke of Radiohead staying in a tent in our garden during last year's festival. I don't really think about it.''

In May 1999, Jean Eavis died from cancer. She was 60 years old. She'd had a melanoma about eight years previously, which the family thought had been cured - but it returned, and she died within six months. It was an agonising period for her husband and children, but on reflection it appears to have bound Emily inextricably to Glastonbury.

Although her mother was very ill, she and the rest of the family felt it was only natural to go ahead and plan the 1999 festival. In fact, she says, it was almost a saving grace in the sense that it was something for her parents to become immersed in. For the final time, they could create the event that was born of their intense love for each other and had become symbolic of their values and beliefs.

''After she died, that was the first time I'd really stood back and looked at this incredible entity,'' says Emily. ''How on earth did they do it?'' That year's festival proved to be one of the most memorable and uplifting, she says, as there were so many poignant moments when it struck home how much Glastonbury meant to people. There were little tributes paid to Jean all over the vast site, from bands on stage such as REM paying personal homage to a beautiful tapestry created in the Theatre Field.

Emily, then 19, the same age Eavis was when his own father died, remembers walking down to the Pyramid Stage for the minute's silence, through thousands upon thousands of people standing quietly respectful in the fields of the family home. ''I think people were very touched and really felt the enormity of the festival that year, and everything it stands for,'' she says. ''It was a great feeling of togetherness.''

That experience, says Emily, led to her leaving college in London, where she was studying to be a primary school teacher, and returning to Worthy Farm to help her dad continue her mother's legacy. Everything she does now is because of Glastonbury.

Her father threw himself into his work to deal with his grief. ''It was a difficult time, of course, but you learn how to cope,'' he says. He has since remarried. In 2000, while dressed as a cardinal at a medieval fancy dress party, he met his third wife, Liz, a divorced midwife. Her two children have now added to the eight already in the family. ''It was luck - or fate,'' he says. ''But Liz is not really a festival person. She'll wander about the festival with me, but it's not really her scene.'' And he breaks into his infectious staccato laugh.

Michael had his own scare with cancer a few years before Jean died. In 1994 he underwent an operation for cancer of the colon - and despite the fact he was undergoing chemotherapy, the 1995 festival still went ahead. ''I did think about giving up,'' he admits, but says he he feared that the festival could disappear with him.

To ensure he fully recovered, Michael took a year off in 1996 and cancelled Glastonbury. With no festival to preoccupy him, his political aspirations came to the fore - and he was persuaded to run for parliament as the local Labour candidate in the 1997 election. It was a futile attempt, some said, in a Tory heartland - but although Michael knew he couldn't win, he performed admirably and managed to increase Labour's vote by 16,000.

''It was all quite exciting, with Tony Blair coming in and the Tories being ousted, and it felt quite natural to stand,'' he says. Now, though, his allegiances have shifted. He is backing the Green candidate in the forthcoming European parliament elections: a protest vote from a lifelong Labour party member who says he is completely disillusioned with Blair and Bush's illegal war.

Emily has also become even more involved with political issues, and last year she organised an anti-war concert in London in aid of the Stop the War Coalition. Her experience with helping to organise Glastonbury proved invaluable: in a period of only two weeks, she explains, she managed to garner support from an array of musicians including Elton John, Fran Healey from Travis, Chris Martin from Coldplay and Paul Weller.

''It was a fantastically successful evening, and the feeling of unity everyone left with was something quite unique,'' she says. ''There was an incredible feeling of respect and humility between the artists and crowd.''

Emily also works to highlight issues for Oxfam and Shelter within the music industry, and is passionate about the impact high-profile campaigns can have. ''It can make a difference, as it has before with Live Aid,'' she says. ''I have a sense that young people have strong feelings about politics again.

''In one view there is Glastonbury the fantasy land, hedonism central; but the other view is that it's also possessed by this amazing positivity, and a sense that we can change the world. Whenever else do you have that many people, in one space, that have such similar feelings and politics? No other place in the world has that.''

Sitting at her side, her father simply smiles.

Since its inception in 1970 Glastonbury has blossomed into one of the most revered music and arts festivals in the world. In 33 years it has raised more than (pounds) 3.5m for organisations including CND, Greenpeace, Oxfam and Water Aid, plus a host of local charities in Somerset.

The frenetic ticket scramble for this kaleidoscopic jamboree escalates each year, and this April 112,000 tickets sold out within 24 hours, with the official Glastonbury website receiving three million hits during the hour before they went on sale. Such is the demand, a friend compared the moment he got confirmation of his ticket with Charlie unwrapping his winning golden ticket for Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. It is a truly uplifting experience for thousands of people, and the festival now encompasses circuses, theatre, political debate, a casino, roller skating, healing, marriage ceremonies, a radio station, paganism, religion oh, and music of course.

And, sitting with Eavis and Emily at Worthy Farm, I suspect that if English myth has any truth, and if Glastonbury can marshall a potential 100,000-strong audience for an operatic performance, then King Arthur might have a few problems sleeping through the shrieks of the Valkyries later this month. n

Glastonbury Festival Tales, by Crispin Aubrey and John Shearlaw, with a foreword by Michael Eavis, is published by Ebury Press priced (pounds) 18.99. The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts takes place

on June 25, 26 and 27.