Greenbelt’s been around for 45 years now. And along the way, we’ve been lucky enough to host myriad awesome women. Today, we’re looking back at a handful of our favourites in celebration of International Women’s Day.
- Dame Anita Roddick
In between founding the Body Shop and campaigning for the environment, fair trade and human and animal rights, Anita found time to swing by our little festival and inspire us to change the world. She liked it so much she came back a second time! This is what she said: “I had fallen for the zeitgeist that says anybody who has a religious inclination has no sense of rationale or intellectual understanding and therefore should be dismissed. But I am cheering the Greenbelt Festival from the top of every bloody mountain…for me, it’s like a heartbeat. And I’m ashamed of my bloody prejudices, but I’m delighted to be a convert. I find it wonderful.”
- Mpho Tutu
You might recognise that surname. Yes, Mpho is Desmond’s daughter. But she’s more than made a name for herself, too. She’s a black South African priest who had to give up her vocation because of her love for her now-wife, the white Dutch atheist academic Marceline van Furth. She joined us at the festival in 2014.
- Mavis Staples
Now into her eighth decade of gigging – working with everyone from Bob Dylan to Jeff Tweedy along the way – it’s not surprising that people call Mavis the queen of gospel. We welcomed her to the festival in 2011 and, despite her grand old age, she showed us how to party.
- Jill Saward
The first place that Jill spoke publicly about the terrible ordeal she had suffered as the victim of the notorious Ealing Vicarage rape in 1986 was at Greenbelt. She went on to become a tireless and courageous campaigner for women’s rights and against sexual violence.
- Saffiyah Khan
As a teenager, Saffiyah faced down all the bile, bluster and machismo of an EDL protest in her city of Birmingham armed with nothing more than a smile. The image of her beaming face, cheek by jowl with an angry EDL protester, went viral – transforming Saffiyah into an overnight emblem for non-violent resistant and giving women of all colours, creeds and ages hope the world over. She came to Greenbelt and spoke about her youthful, defiant and infectious resistance in 2017.
- Jack Monroe
Of course, Jack Monroe shouldn’t really be on this list. We know that they don’t identify as a woman. But we checked: and they’re happy and proud to be listed here! Which is great. Because, when Jack came to Greenbelt in 2017, our hearts were completely overthrown. Jack was utterly open, honest, vulnerable.
- Sister Teresa Forcades i Villa
Greenbelt is, perhaps, one of the few festivals where nuns (and monks, of course) mingle with festival-goers. Sister Teresa brought her considerable intellect as a theologian, physician and economist to bear in her sessions at Greenbelt 2017. From Brexit to Mary, she was persuasive and challenging. Holy Orders have never looked this essential.
- Josie Long
After many years of inviting her, stand-up comedian and founder of charity Arts Emergency Josie finally made it to Greenbelt in 2016. And we weren’t disappointed. Heart-on-sleeve comedy, kindness and positivity doesn’t come any more tender, uplifting and – at the same time – provocative as this. Josie said she felt like we were “in on the joke” and she relaxed with us after a long and gruelling Edinburgh Fringe run.
- Sarah Corbett
Sarah founded the Craftivist movement and is an advocate of gentle activism, a form of protest that suits those of us who are introverts. Over the years, her carefully considered delivery of beautiful acts of protest has made an impact in the board rooms of some of the UK’s biggest corporations. We love Sarah and her methodology and have been proud to support her in producing her book How to be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest through Trust Greenbelt. As The Guardian‘s Lucy Siegle writes: “Sarah Corbett mixes an A-grade mind with astonishing creativity and emotional awareness.”
- Sara Miles
Sara’s is an amazing story. She is the founder and director of The Food Pantry in San Francisco. She believes in feeding people as the best and most important thing anyone can do. Her book Jesus Freak is widely hailed as the most influential book of faith many, many have ever read. And The Food Pantry itself is short on bureaucracy: it doesn’t ask hungry people to fill out forms or prove that they’re ‘deserving.’ It’s also strong on participation: most of its volunteers are folks who came to get food and stayed to feed others.
Pictured: Mavis Staples at Greenbelt 2011