Hay Festival of Literature & Arts

The Hay Festival (Picture credit: Joseph Albert Hainey)

THE Hay Festival of Literature & Arts is a prestigious 10-day annual event held in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, during May and June, attracting well-known personalities from the worlds of literature, music, entertainment, science, arts and politics.

Devised by Norman, Rhoda and Peter Florence in 1988, the festival was described by former US President Bill Clinton in 2001 as “The Woodstock of the mind”, while British politician Tony Benn said: “In my mind, it’s replaced Christmas”.

The Hay Festival has developed into one of the most prominent festivals in British culture in a town already widely regarded for its plethora of bookshops. By the 1970s, Hay had gained the nickname ‘The Town of Books’.

From its inception, the festival was held at a variety of venues around Hay, including the local Primary School, until 2005 when it moved to a unified location just south of the town.

The festival has expanded over the years to include musical performances and film previews. A children’s festival, ‘Hay Fever’, runs alongside the main festival. It has also expanded internationally and sister festivals take place in numerous countries around the world.

The Hay Festival was one of 11 Welsh winners of The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise for 2009. That year’s festival included writers Carol Ann Duffy, David Simon, Stephen Fry, David Nicholls, Jenny Valentine and Melvyn Bragg, scientists Martin Rees and Sabine Bahn, economists Anthony Giddens, Nicholas Stern, Howard Davies and Danny Quah, comedians Dylan Moran, Dara Ó Briain and Sandi Toksvig, and general speakers David Frost, Desmond Tutu, Rowan Williams and Rhodri Morgan.

The 2012 festival included writers Martin Amis, Jung Chang, Louis de Bernières, Mark Haddon, Mario Vargas Llosa, Hilary Mantel, Ian McEwan, Michael Morpurgo, Ben Okri, Ian Rankin, Salman Rushdie, Owen Sheers, Jeanette Winterson, comedians Bill Bailey, Rob Brydon, Julian Clary, Jack Dee, Tim Minchin, politicians Peter Hain and Boris Johnson, scientists John D Barrow, Martin Rees, Simon Singh, and general speakers Harry Belafonte, William Dalrymple, Stephen Fry, AC Grayling, Germaine Greer, Michael Ignatieff and David Starkey.

In 2020 the festival was held digitally online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Guardian was the main sponsor of the festival from 2002 to 2010, succeeding The Sunday Times. The Daily Telegraph and its associated brands in Telegraph Media Group had two terms as three-year sponsors, starting with the 2011 festival. From 2017, the Tata Group and Baillie Gifford have been among the principal sponsors, along with the BBC and many non-media companies such as the Arts Council of Wales and the British Council.

The University of Cambridge has partnered with the Hay Festival for over a decade to deliver The Cambridge Series, which gives a taste of the research being conducted at the University.

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