Understandably, it’s all change this year for the HAY FESTIVAL, but even in these difficult times, when things aren’t quite as they once were, the organisers have pulled together a programme of events and star names to compete with any ‘regular’ year.

HAY FESTIVAL is the world’s leading festival of ideas, bringing readers and writers together to share stories and ideas in sustainable events around the world. For us though, it’s always been a place to relax, be entertained, meet others who enjoy what the festival has to offer and most of all, it’s the perfect place for the kids too. It may be online this year, but all of that still applies.

Hay Festival has today announced the cast lists for its two gala events, part of the free digital programme for its 34th spring edition, bringing writers and readers together for an inspiring array of conversations, debates, workshops and performances online, Wednesday 26th May to Sunday 6th June.

The names joining this year’s Hay Festival galas is as impressive as ever and includes scheduled appearances from: HRH The Duchess of Cornwall; actors and performers Kate Winslet, Vanessa Redgrave, Romola Garai, Theresa Lola, Juliet Stephenson, Suzette Llewellyn, Skin, Guvna B, Bishop Rose, Suzanne Packer, Richard Eyre, Jessica Raine, Louise Brearley and Charly Arrowsmith; campaigner Helen Lunkuse; comedians Sindhu Vee and Rob Brydon; scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock; and writers Elif Shafak, Hollie McNish, Juno Dawson, Karl Nova, Clemency Burton-Hill, Benjamin Zephaniah, Simon Schama, Rufus Mufasa, Hafsa Zayyan and Margaret Busby.

As usual, the best way to explore the programme, and get registered for free, is to go the festival site HERE.

Over 12 days, Hay Festival sees more than 300 acclaimed writers, global policy makers, historians, poets, pioneers and innovators take part, launching the best new fiction and non-fiction. It will interrogate some of the biggest issues of our time, from building a better world post-pandemic to tackling the compound crises of climate change, inequality, and challenges to truth and democracy.

Events begin at 8pm on Wednesday 26th May with the HAY FESTIVAL OPENING GALA – A NIGHT OF HOPE, hosted by classicist Natalie Haynes and set to feature readings of inspiring works of literature, theatre and poetry from The Duchess of Cornwall; actors Richard Eyre, Theresa Lola, Romola Garai, Jessica Raine, Charly Arrowsmith and Louise Brearley; comedians Sindhu Vee and Rob Brydon; writers Elif Shafak, Juno Dawson, Clemency Burton-Hill, Simon Schama, Rufus Mufasa, Hafsa Zayyan and Margaret Busby; poets Hollie McNish and Karl Nova; rapper Guvna B; scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock and more.

Then on Saturday 5th June at 9pm, the From Women to the World Gala sees another stellar cast share writing by influential women, drawing on work from two important new books, The Penguin Book of Feminist Writing edited by Hannah Dawson, and Elizabeth Filippouli’s From Women to the World: Letters for a new Century. Performers confirmed include actors Kate Winslet, Vanessa Redgrave, Juliet Stephenson, Suzette Llewellyn, Bishop Rose and Suzanne Packer, music star Skin, campaigner Hellen Lunkuse, and novelist Elif Shafak.

Heather Salisbury is the Hay Festival artist manager, she told us…..

“We’re delighted to share this galaxy of stars from stage, screen and the wider world in our gala evenings of hope and inspiration. This spring we beam our programme to you from Richard Booth’s Bookshop in the heart of Hay-on-Wye, welcoming writers, readers, thinkers and dreamers together from around the world to join our digital party. Let’s meet this moment of challenge with hope. Join us.”

Hay Festival 2021 is supported by lead sponsors Visit Wales and Baillie Gifford, and by grant funding from Arts Council England’s Cultural Recovery Fund. While events are free to attend, donations to Hay Festival Foundation will be welcomed throughout at hayfestival.org/donate to support upcoming projects and secure the Festival for generations to come.

We all a bit of merchandise, and the Festival has more than its fair share of really nice things to keep, wear and use. Signed books from Festival speakers are available to order now from the Festival bookshop HERE along with new lines of merchandise with proceeds supporting Hay Festival here and around the world.



Hay Festival 2021 kicks off Wednesday 26th May with the inaugural Opening Night Gala: a night of literary delights as we celebrate the power of words to offer hope in our darkest times with a selection of star readings hosted by Natalie Haynes. On Saturday 5th June, a special From Women to the World Gala sees women writers, thinkers and performers read excerpts from The Penguin Book of Feminist Writing and From Women to the World: Letters for a new Century.


The Festival launches some of the best new fiction with an exclusive film screening by Ali Smith (Summer) and conversations with Lisa McInerney (The Rules of Revelation), Lionel Shriver (Should We Stay or Should We Go), Rachel Cusk (Second Place), Ethan Hawke (A Bright Ray of Darkness), Jo Lloyd (The Earth, Thy Great Exchequer, Ready Lies), Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs (Resistance), Robert Jones Jnr (The Prophets), Brit Bennett (The Vanishing Half), Tahmima Anam (The Startup Wife), Sjón (Red Milk), Mel Giedroyc (The Best Things), Annie Macmanus (Mother Mother), Jon McGregor (Lean, Fall Stand), Monique Roffey (The Mermaid of Black Conch), Sarah Winman (Still Life), Rivers Solomon (Sorrowland), Hafsa Zayyan (We Are all Birds of Uganda), Jessie Greengrass (The High House), Dylan Moore (Many Rivers to Cross), Maggie Shipstead (Great Circle), Alice Albinia (Cwen) in conversation with Lily Cole, and Graham Norton launches his new book club with Marian Keyes (Grown Ups) and Richard Osman (The Thursday Murder Club). There’s standout poetry with Simon Armitage (A Vertical Art), Hollie McNish (Slug) and Creative Wales Hay Festival International Fellow Mererid Hopwood. Plus, critically acclaimed writers share their memoirs including Horatio Clare (Heavy Light) and Deborah Levy (Real Estate).


Each night of the Festival is dedicated to the best debut fiction, showcasing the Festival’s selection of future award winners alongside some established interviewers at 10pm:

  • Catherine Menon (Fragile Monsters) in conversation with Colm Toíbín
  • Raven Leilani (Luster) in conversation with Pandora Sykes
  • Ailsa McFarlane (Highway Blue) in conversation with Thea Lenarduzzi
  • Natasha Brown (Assembly) in conversation with Meena Kandasamy
  • Sam Riviere (Dead Souls) in conversation with Megan Nolan (Acts of Desperation)
  • Rebecca Watson (little scratch) in conversation with Thea Lenarduzzi
  • Robert Webb (Come Again) in conversation with Georgina Godwin
  • Julianne Pachico (The Anthill) in conversation with Rosie Goldsmith
  • Caleb Azumah Nelson (Open Water) in conversation with Candice Brathwaite
  • Patricia Lockwood (no one is talking about this) in conversation with Nina Stibbe

HAYDAYS AND YA WONDERS Morning sessions for children and young adults feature Baroness Floella Benjamin, David Walliams, Radzi Chinyanganya (Move Like a Lion), Pamela Butchart (The Broken Leg of Doom), Michael Morpurgo (The Puffin Keeper), Chris Riddell, Dapo Adeola, Cressida Cowell (The Wizards of Once), Benjamin Zephaniah (Windrush Child), Nadia Shireen (The Slug in Love), Angie Thomas (Concrete Rose), Julian Clary and David Roberts, Michelle Paver (Skin Taker), Isabella Tree (When We Went Wild), and Laura Dockrill, while Joe Wicks presents Joe’s Family Foods in conversation with The Happy Pear twins David and Stephen Flynn, and the winner of The Bookseller YA Book Prize 2021 talks to Sarah Crossan.

A series of digital workshops runs throughout the Festival HERE where audiences can get creative at any time.

Meanwhile, the digital Programme for Schools runs 24th to 28th May. To find out more about that, take a look at our feature HERE.

Harry Hill


Collaborations with Hay Festival events around the world include conversations with Chilean writer

Isabel Allende; Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis; Peruvian Nobel Prizewinner Mario Vargas Llosa and Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff; Granta Magazine presents a special showcase of Spanish writers and the winner of the International Man Booker Prize 2021 discuss their work; Book Aid International hosts a conversation between Lord Paul Boateng, pioneering library founder Ahmed Dahir Elmi and Somali-born British journalist and writer Rageh Omaar; and we mark 100 years of English PEN in a discussion around free speech with writers Lydia Cacho and Philippe Sands.


Author and poet Lemn Sissay curates a special three-part Festival series to mark the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s killing: diaspora writers Maaza Mengiste and Aida Edemariam discuss the ways fiction can change the non-fictional world; acclaimed memoirists Nadia Owusu (Aftershocks) and Hannah Pool (My Fathers’ Daughter) discuss the power of writing one’s own story; and American- British playwright, novelist, critic and broadcaster Bonnie Greer OBE talks to Ash Sarkar about her life in writing and activism. Meanwhile, a Still Breathing event features actresses Suzette Llewellyn and Suzanne Packer with athlete Colin Jackson.


The latest environmental science, sustainable policies and creative responses to the climate crisis are brought into focus in a 22-part Hay-on-Earth series with COP-26 president Alok Sharma along with researchers, writers and campaigners Suzanne Simard (Finding the Mother Tree), Owen Hewlett and Emily Shuckburgh, Jemma Wadham (Ice Rivers), Helen Scales (The Brilliant Abyss), Ray Mears (We Are Nature), Jojo Mehta, Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin (Back to Nature), Danny Dorling (Slowdown), Dieter Helm (Net Zero), George Monbiot, Jay Griffiths (Why Rebel?), Elizabeth Kolbert (Under a White Sky), Patrick Barkham (Wild Child), Anna Jones (One: Pot, Pan, Planet), Diane Cook (The New Wilderness), Imbolo Mbue (How Beautiful We Were), Rob Penn (Slow Rise), Lucy Jones (Losing Eden), Jonathan Drori (Around the World in 80 Plants), Colin Tudge (The Great Re-Think), Richard Walker (The Green Grocer), J. B. MacKinnon (The Day the World Stops Shopping) Tim Jackson (Post Growth), Martin Shaw (Smoke Hole), Anne Karpf (How Women Can Save the Planet), Cassandra Coburn (Enough) Sarah Bridle (Food and Climate Change without the Hot Air), Amika George (Make it Happen), Derek Gow (Bringing Back the Beaver) and Sam Lee (The Nightingale).

Festivalgoers are also encouraged to share their own creative responses to the climate crisis via the new Write for Change project HERE


Festival speakers discuss the impacts of the pandemic and share their thoughts on our post-Covid future as Reverend Richard Coles (The Madness of Grief) leads an event on grief in the time of Covid- 19; Peter Ricketts (Hard Choices) and Matthew D’Ancona (Identity, Ignorance and Innovation) talk the future of politics; Noam Chomsky presents Consequences of Capitalism, Rachel Clarke presents Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic alongside Michael Rosen (Many Different Kinds of Love) and Jim Down (Life Support); Andria Zafirakou (Those Who Can, Teach) discusses the future of education; Ed Miliband presents Go Big: How to Fix Our World; Jess Phillips joins Gina Miller and Francesca Martinez for a discussion on This Is how we Come Back Stronger with James Plunkett; Pandora Sykes talks HowdDo we Know We’re Doing it Right?; Martin Robinson (You’re not the man You’re Supposed to Be) and Guvna B (Unspoken) discuss toxic masculinity with poet Owen Sheers; former Culture Minister Ed Vaizey chairs a Country & Town House discussion on the future of arts funding with The Whitechapel Gallery’s Iwona Blazwick, the Government’s Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal, Lord Neil Mendoza and Nina Plowman of CulturalComms; and Alastair Campbell (Living Better) and Ruby Wax discuss mental health.


Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates leads a series of discussions around motherhood and the ways Covid-19 has impacted it: journalist Caitlin Moran, data scientist Pragya Agarwal and activist Joeli Brearley join Bates to look at the growing gender divide; and writers Margaret Reynolds, Nell Frizzell and Donna Freitas talk to Emma Gannon about how our ideas of motherhood are changing.


It’s 300 years since the UK first appointed a prime minister. A Festival series draws on lessons from the past to inform solutions to the global crisis in democracy in conversations with former Australian PM Julia Gillard (Women in Leadership), Mary Ann Sieghart (The Authority Gap), Sir Anthony Seldon (The Impossible Office) and Jim Naughtie, Steve Richards (The Prime Ministers), Vince Cable (Money and Power) and Grace Blakeley, Carole Walker (The Lobby Life) and more.


Historians share their fresh takes on past events: Alice Roberts talks Ancestors; Malcom Gladwell talks The Bomber Mafia: A Story set in War; Sathnam Sanghera (Empireland) and Kehinde Andrews (The New Age of Empire) discuss Britain’s hidden history; Lucasta Miller (Keats) and Jonathan Bate (Bright Star, Green Light) mark 200 years of Keats with Miranda Seymour; Nick Crane talks Latitude; Helena Attlee talks Lev’s Violin; and the Wolfson History Prize presents this year’s shortlisted writers.


The world’s first human cyborg Peter Scott-Morgan talks to Stephen Fry; a special event with The Royal Society showcases the best new science writing with Gaia Vince, Jim Al-Khalili, Camilla Pang and more; Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein talks to Angela Duckworth in the British Academy Platform; Jennifer Lucy Allan talks The Foghorn’s Lament; and Nick Hunt (Outlandish) and Emma Gregg (The Flightless Traveller) discuss the future of travel.


Thought leaders deliver headline think pieces throughout the Festival, tackling some of the biggest questions of our times, including the Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Anne Applebaum (Christopher Hitchens Lecture); Gary Younge (Aneurin Bevan Lecture), Gordon Brown (Raymond Williams Lecture) with Seven Ways to Change the World, former Bank of England governor Mark Carney (The Friends Lecture) with Values, Welsh poet Gillian Clarke (Anthea Bell Lecture) with The Gododdin, Jojo Moyes (The Reading Agency Lecture), Heidi Larson (John Maddox Lecture), Jini Reddy (the inaugural Jan Morris Lecture) with Wanderland, and Margaret McMillan (British Pugwash Lecture).

Leading universities share their latest research in the Festival’s new Lunchtime Lectures series: actor Michael Sheen joins Daniel G. Williams and Leanne Wood to discuss Raymond Williams at 100; Nobel laureate Didier Queloz talks exoplanets; Michael Bresalier, lecturer in the history of medicine talks living with Covid-19; geography and earth sciences expert Siobhan Maderson talks about designing a post- pandemic future; professor of history Suzanne Schwarz talks histories of enslaved Africans; politics lecturer Jennifer Mathers talks women in leadership; neuroscientist Becky Inkster looks at the mental health of young people; Duncan Westbury talks sustainable food production; Abigail Rokison-Woodall, Tracy Irish, Angie Wootten and Charly Arrowsmith present Signing Shakespeare; Rebecca Ruth Gould and Kayvan Tahmasebian discuss translation as a form of activism; and cultural historian Karen Harvey explores an early example of #FakeNews with The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder.


A series of Festival sessions encourages audiences to get creative with Sarah Raven (A Year Full of Flowers) and Carolyn Dunster (Cut & Dry); Robert Diament and Russell Tovey present Talk Art in conversation with Olivia Laing; David Hockney and Martin Gayford talk Spring Cannot Be Cancelled; Charles Saumarez Smith (The Art Museum in Modern Times) talks to Erica Wagner about curation in the Eccles Centre Platform; and Meadow Arts presents a discussion between artists Tom Jeffreys, Alex Hartley and Anne de Charmant.


Leading comics present their latest work in evening events with Pippa Evans (Improv Your Life), Tom Allen (No Shame), Frank Skinner (A Comedian’s Prayer Book) and Marcus Brigstocke, while musician Pete Paphides talks Broken Greek, Sam Lee presents The Nightingale: Notes on a Songbird and the QI Elves close the Festival with an evening of trivia.

Events will be broadcast live from temporary studios in Richard Booth’s Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye, HERE. Registered users will have the opportunity to interact with fellow audience members online and pose their questions to speakers. All events will be closed captioned and available to watch free for 24 hours after the live broadcast.

The Festival is part of a global series of digital initiatives to connect, inspire and entertain book lovers and home educators throughout the year. These include the Hay Festival Podcast, a monthly book club, and release of the free Programme for Schools archive and Beacons Project workshops, while Hay Player continues to offer access to the full Hay Festival audio-video archive.

Keep up to date with Hay Festival news by signing up to their newsletter or follow on all of the socials:

  • Twitter: @hayfestival / @hayfestival_esp
  • Facebook: hayfestival / hayfestivalimaginaelmundo
  • Instagram: @hayfestival
  • #HayFestival2021


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