The Hay Festival of Literature & Arts, better known as the Hay Festival (Welsh: Gŵyl Y Gelli), is an annual literature festival held in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales, for 10 days from May to June. Devised by Norman, Rhoda and Peter Florence in 1988, the festival was described by Bill Clinton in 2001 as "The Woodstock of the mind".[1] Tony Benn said: "In my mind it's replaced Christmas".[2]

Hay Festival of Literature & Arts
Hay Festival crowds reading between sessions
Location(s)Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales
Founded1988; 36 years ago (1988)
FounderNorman, Rhoda and Peter Florence

It has become a prominent festival in British culture, and sessions at the festival have been recorded for television and radio programmes such as The Readers' and Writers' Roadshow and The One Show. All the BBC's national radio channels apart from BBC Radio 1 have been involved in broadcasting from the festival, and Sky Arts showed highlights of the festival from 2010 until 2013, handing over the main coverage to the BBC for the 2014 event.[3]


Sign at the entrance to the 2016 Hay Festival.

The festival was founded in 1988 by Peter Florence and his parents Rhoda and Norman.[4] Hay-on-Wye was already well known for its many bookshops before the festival was launched. Richard Booth opened his first shop there in 1962, and by the 1970s Hay had gained the nickname "The Town of Books".[5] 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.[6]

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.[7] From 2017, the Tata Group and Baillie Gifford are among the principal sponsors, along with the BBC and many non-media companies such as the Arts Council of Wales and the British Council.[8]

Cristina Fuentes La Roche has been the International Director at Hay Festival since 2005.[9]

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 Aarhus, Arequipa, Nairobi, Dhaka, Zacatecas, the Maldives, Kerala at Thiruvananthapuram, Beirut, Belfast, Cartagena, the Alhambra Palace, Parc Prison in Bridgend and Segovia. In 2009 Hay Festival also took on the ailing Brecon Jazz Festival. It is run by a not-for-profit company, and entrance is free to everyone.[2]

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, A. C. Grayling, Germaine Greer, Michael Ignatieff, and David Starkey.

In 2020 the festival was held digitally online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[10]

In late July 2021, co-founder and director Peter Florence resigned as director.[11][12] He commented: "I consider that my role had become untenable due to the conduct of the board and its insistence on holding a disciplinary hearing in my absence whilst I was off sick after a breakdown."[4]

Awards for the festival


The Hay Festival was one of 11 Welsh winners of The Queen's Awards for Enterprise for 2009.[13] The 2009 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.

Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer's Award


The Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer's Award is given annually to two writers to support their work on a forthcoming book, either fiction or non-fiction, relating to the Americas. It is supported by the British Library's Eccles Centre for American Studies. The winners each receive £20,000, divided into four quarterly grants, and have a research residency at the Eccles Centre, with curatorial support, and opportunities to promote their work at Hay Festival events in the UK and elsewhere.[14][15]

Abu Dhabi controversies


Some of the biggest NGOs and some bestselling authors signed a letter condemning the abuse of free speech in Abu Dhabi as the 2020 Abu Dhabi Hay Festival[16] commenced in Abu Dhabi in February of that year. Authors who signed the letter included such well-known figures as Stephen Fry, Noam Chomsky, Jung Chang and Bernardine Evaristo. NGOs such as Amnesty International and PEN International condemned the abuse of free speech in the United Arab Emirates, which led to the arrest and abuse of human rights advocate Ahmed Mansoor. By the time of the festival, he was being held in solitary confinement and had been sentenced to serve a 10-year prison term.[17]

The festival's chair, Caroline Michel stated on 18 October 2020 that the event would not return to Abu Dhabi, as a mark of support for an allegation by the festival’s curator, Caitlin McNamara, of sexual assault by the tolerance minister of UAE, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan.[18] McNamara claimed that she had been assaulted by the minister when they met at a remote island villa in February 2019 concerning work. The Emirati Foreign Ministry declined to comment on personal matters. When reached out to, Britain's Metropolitan Police confirmed having received a report of alleged rape from a woman on July 3.[19] In November 2020, Caitlin McNamara vowed to fight on following the CPS October 2020 decision not to prosecute the UAE minister because the alleged attack was said to have occurred outside its jurisdiction. McNamara said that this decision sent a message to Sheikh Nahyan and others who commit similar crimes "that as long as they're of economic value to the UK, they can do whatever they want".[20][21] In an interview with The Sunday Times McNamara said she felt "abandoned" by the Hay Festival,[18] and in an interview on Channel 4 stated that "mistakes" had been made in the way the festival handled her reporting the sexual assault to them which had been "very distressing" to her.[22]

Criticism of Festival


In 2009, bookseller and proprietor of Oxford House Books, Paul Harris, who journalist Sean Dodson called a "Cromwell figure", held a mock trial of treason and symbolic "beheading" in effigy of Richard Booth as a protest at which criticism of the Festival was voiced.[23]

Harris was concerned about the threat posed to the independent character of the town by the over-dependence on the commercial, outsider interests of the Hay Festival, "saying, we cannot trade off the profile of the festival for 52 weeks a year". Harris's prosecuting argument was that the Hay Festival had become too publicly dominant and had negatively impacted the economic fortunes of the many secondhand books shops that made up the town.[24]

Harris argued that Booth, a promotional figurehead of the town due to his self-declared kingship of Hay, had been negligent in promoting the issues of the booksellers over the festival. He told the press in 2009, "You can fill a town with books, but that won't bring people to the town[...]You need publicity and promotion, which is now all sucked up by the festival. Richard used to be great at drumming up publicity and denouncing the festival. He's not able to do that any more, so we need to set up a council to replace him."[24]

There were opponents to the "republican" mission, including the founder of the festival Peter Florence, who blamed the decreasing fortunes of the booksellers individually and said, they "need to rethink their (business) strategy". However, Harris argued that booksellers had seen a 50% decrease in sales in the years leading up to the revolt. Popular British novelist Robert Harris commentating at the time, sympathised with the booksellers, also suggesting that the recession and the internet had affected their fortunes. Duncan Fallowell said, "I call the festival Waterstones-on-Wye. It's almost lost touch with intellectual value" but Matthew Engel said, "Many festival goers don't go into the town, but the idea that the festival detracts from Hay is clearly preposterous."[25]

Baillie Gifford controversy


In May 2024 the festival announced that it would suspend its sponsorship by Baillie Gifford in response to "claims raised by campaigners and intense pressure on artists to withdraw",[26] after speakers including A. K. Blakemore, Dawn Butler, Charlotte Church, Nish Kumar, Ania Magliano, Noreen Masud and Tori Tsui had announced that they would boycott the festival because of the sponsor's involvement with Israel and with fossil fuel.[27][28] The opposition to Baillie Gifford was led by Fossil Free Books,[29] which had organised a letter signed by over 200 authors which called on them to disinvest from Israel.[30][31]


Hay Festival 2016

See also



  1. ^ Hide, Will (20 January 2007). "The world this week: find 'the Woodstock of the mind'". The Times. London. Retrieved 26 January 2007.
  2. ^ a b "20 facts about Hay-on-Wye and its famous festival". BBC News. 27 May 2011. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  3. ^ "BBC to broadcast Hay Festival on radio, TV, and online". 1 May 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  4. ^ a b Thorpe, Vanessa (1 August 2021). "Hay festival in disarray as director quits after bullying claim upheld". The Observer. Retrieved 1 August 2021.
  5. ^ Thomas, Huw (29 May 2014). "Hay-on-Wye: A town of books or festivals?". BBC News. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  6. ^ Staff writer (27 May 2005). "Stars gathering for Hay Festival". BBC News Online. Retrieved 25 January 2007.
  7. ^ Singh, Anita (29 October 2010). "Telegraph signs deal to sponsor the Hay Festival of literature". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 1 November 2010.
  8. ^ "Global Partners". Hay Festival. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  9. ^ "Cristina Fuentes La Roche". Hay Festival.
  10. ^ Staff (6 May 2020). "Hay Festival reveals line-up for digital event". BBC News. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  11. ^ Flood, Alison (26 October 2020). "Hay festival founder suspended after bullying allegations". The Guardian.
  12. ^ "Hay Festival director and co-founder Peter Florence suspended". BBC News. 26 October 2020.
  13. ^ "Hay Festival wins business honour". BBC. 21 April 2009. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  14. ^ "The Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer's Award". British Library. Retrieved 22 September 2023.
  15. ^ "Writer's Award 2023 goes to Ayanna Lloyd Banwo and Jarred McGinnis". Hay Festival. Retrieved 22 September 2023.
  16. ^ "Hay Festival Abu Dhabi". Hay Festival.
  17. ^ Flood, Alison (24 February 2020). "As Hay festival opens in the UAE, authors condemn free speech abuses". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  18. ^ a b Lamb, Christina; Dipesh Gadher (17 October 2020). "Gulf minister of tolerance in 'sex assault' on Hay books festival worker". The Sunday Times.
  19. ^ Huio, Sylvia (21 October 2020). "UK festival curator accuses UAE minister of sex assault". AP News. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  20. ^ Cain, Sian (30 October 2020). "CPS will not prosecute UAE minister accused of sexually assaulting Briton". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  21. ^ Flood, Alison (12 November 2020). "British woman accusing senior UAE royal of sexual assault to fight on". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
  22. ^ Long, Jackie (21 October 2020). "Royal family sex assault claim – in United Arab Emirates". Channel 4.
  23. ^ Dodson, Sean (2 October 2009). "Overthrowing the King of Hay". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 5 May 2023.
  24. ^ a b "The Battle of Hay-on-Wye". The Independent. 25 January 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2023.
  25. ^ "The Battle of Hay-on-Wye". The Independent. 25 January 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2023.
  26. ^ "An update on our funding". Hay Festival. Archived from the original on 25 May 2024. Retrieved 25 May 2024.
  27. ^ Corless, Blathnaid (19 May 2024). "Hay Festival row as Labour MP pulls out over sponsor's links to Israel". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 May 2024.
  28. ^ Knight, Lucy (24 May 2024). "Hay festival drops main sponsor after boycotts over Israel and fossil fuel links". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 May 2024.
  29. ^ "Fossil Free Books". Retrieved 25 May 2024.
  30. ^ Knight, Lucy (15 May 2024). "More than 200 authors renew call for Baillie Gifford to divest from fossil fuel". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 May 2024.
  31. ^ Prinsley, Jane (16 May 2024). "Sally Rooney, Naomi Klein join calls threaten to boycott literary festivals over links to Israel". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 25 May 2024.

52°04′30″N 3°07′30″W / 52.075°N 3.125°W / 52.075; -3.125