Lenny Henry is 'surprised' by lack of black people at Glastonbury

Sir Lenny Henry says he is ‘always surprised’ by lack of black and Asian people in audience at Glastonbury

  • Lenny Henry said he is ‘always surprised’ by lack of BAME faces at Glastonbury
  • British comic, 63, discussed diversity ahead of release of his new documentary 
  • Glastonbury co-organiser called Stormzy’s headline performance ‘a bit late’

Sir Lenny Henry has said he is ‘always surprised’ and ‘interested’ by the lack of black people at British festivals including Glastonbury.

The actor and comedian, 63, made the comments in an interview with the BBC’s Clive Myrie for Radio Times, ahead of the release of his two-part documentary about Caribbean culture in Britain later this month.

Discussing diversity and places where different groups do not mix, Sir Lenny, who was born in Dudley in 1958, a year after his Jamaican parents moved to the UK, said: ‘It’s interesting to watch Glastonbury and look at the audience and not see any black people there.

‘I’m always surprised by the lack of black and brown faces at festivals. I think, “Wow, that’s still very much a dominant culture thing”.’

Sir Lenny, who shot to fame as the first black performer on The Black And White Minstrel Show, also addressed Myrie recently becoming the first black host of long-running BBC quiz show Mastermind.

‘It’s great to have David Olusoga on television talking about black British history that goes back to Hadrian’s Wall. Somewhere the gatekeepers have changed, because now we’re allowed to have you on Mastermind. But how long did that take?,’ he said.

Sir Lenny Henry pictured at a Q&A for the BBC drama My Name is Leon

File photo dated June 2015 of a woman dancing on the shoulders of a friend as crowds watch Jungle perform on the Other Stage at Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

‘We still want more representation because we deserve it. We are British citizens, we are colonials. We’ve been in this country, we have grown up in this country, we’ve contributed and a lot of us feel it still isn’t being reciprocated enough.

‘That’s also what this documentary is about. It’s about that feeling of “Well, come on, I fitted in. Now what? I’ve integrated, now what happens?”‘.

Sir Lenny’s comments came after Glastonbury’s co-organiser Emily Eavis said Stormzy’s 2019 headline performance was ‘a little bit late maybe’, as the grime artist became the first black solo British headliner in the festival’s history.

Glastonbury takes place next week at Worthy Farm in Somerset, finally celebrating its 50th anniversary after being cancelled by the Covid lockdown, with Sir Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish and rapper Kendrick Lamar confirmed as headliners. Glastonbury has been contacted for comment.

Last year, Sir Lenny said that he was used as a ‘political football’ after appearing on The Black and White Minstrel Show, which was known for its use of white singers and actors donning blackface to perform minstrel songs and which aired on the BBC from 1958 to 1978.

Revealing that he regretted being persuaded by his family and management to work on the show for five years, he told The Times: ‘People used to say Lenny was the only one who didn’t need make-up. 

File photo of the famous pyramid stage at the Glastonbury Festival

‘It was half funny once, but to hear that every day for five years was a bit of a p***er.

‘I had become a political football. My way through all of this was to bury my head in the sand and let any controversy wash over me.’

In April this year, Sir Lenny called on the BBC to do more on racial diversity, singling out the corporation’s news operation for particular criticism.

Speaking at a media event, he said: ‘When I look over into the newsroom, and all the people there that make the news, there’s very few that look like me. And every film set you walk on to there’s Dave, Pete, Charlie, Terry – there are not many Raheems. That needs to change too.’

A BBC spokesman said: ‘The BBC is working hard to ensure our staff reflect the full diversity of the UK, on and off screen, so we can better serve our audiences. We know there is more do and have clear targets to increase representation across the organisation.’

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