Home » Hay Festival Winter Weekend 2023 triples attendance with programme of new perspectives
Entertainment Entertainment Mid Wales National News Powys

Hay Festival Winter Weekend 2023 triples attendance with programme of new perspectives

Hay Festival Winter Weekend closed Sunday 26 November after festivalgoers enjoyed events in and around the booktown of Hay-on-Wye with more than 10,000 tickets sold, up 133% on last year, with triple the volume of footfall.  

Over four days, more than 70 acclaimed writers and performers take part in 60-plus events, launching the best new fiction and non-fiction, offering creative solutions to some of the biggest challenges of our time, and spreading festive joy in conversations, candle-lit storytelling, comedy, music, and workshops.

Hay Festival CEO Julie Finch said: “After a year of global change, ideas sparkled at Hay Festival Winter Weekend 2023 as we marked the year’s end with bold new visions for the future and a heady dose of entertainment and joy. With a new home in the grounds of Hay Castle, funded by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, we widened the capacity of this year’s event, offering access to more Festivalgoers than ever, live and online. Thank you to all of our supporters who made it possible and here’s to all that’s ahead with some exciting Hay Festival 2024 news to come later this week.”

Bestselling books were:

1. Be a Birder by Hamza Yassin
2. Playing Under the Piano by Hugh Bonneville
3. How They Broke Britain by James O’Brien
4. The Savage Storm by James Holland
5. The Final Whistle by Nigel Owens
6. Shattered Nation by Danny Dorling
7. The Farmer’s Wife by Helen Rebanks
8. Decolonising My Body by Afua Hirsch
9. Enchanted Wales by Miranda Aldhouse-Green
10. How To Be by Adam Nicolson

Now in its 24th year, events took place in a new 350-seater marquee in the grounds of Hay Castle, tripling the event’s previous capacity. Additional events also took place in the Castle’s Clore Learning Space, plus venues around town, including St Mary’s Church and The Poetry Bookshop. 

For audiences unable to attend in person, the Festival’s commitment to digital accessibility also continued with selected sessions available to live-stream remotely with an Online Festival Pass. 

More intimate than the spring edition, Hay Festival Winter Weekend sees the Welsh booktown’s independent shops, cafés and attractions offer a warm welcome to Festivalgoers within the stunning surrounds of the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park.

Hay Festival Winter Weekend received funding from the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Next year’s event will take place 28 November–1 December.

PROGRAMME IN DEPTH

The best new fiction took centre-stage in the programme with the Booker Prize 2023 shortlisted authors sharing their work in an exclusive event, including Sarah Bernstein (Study for Obedience), Jonathan Escoffery (If I Survive You), Paul Harding (This Other Eden), Paul Lynch (Prophet Song), Chetna Maroo (Western Lane), and Paul Murray (The Bee Sting), chaired by Gaby Wood. 

Hay Festival President Stephen Fry launched his new book Mythos: The Illustrated Story. Writers including Sebastian Faulks (The Seventh Son), Louis de Bernières (Light Over Liskeard), Kim Sherwood (Double or Nothing) and Ava Glass (The Traitor) launched new novels, while Miranda Aldhouse-Green joined Daniel Morden for an afternoon of Enchanted Wales: Myth and Magic in Welsh Storytelling and poet Nii Ayikwei Parkes performed from his new novel Azúcar. 

Inspiring life stories marked the changing seasons with hope as actor Hugh Bonneville presented his memoir Playing Under the Piano, farmer Helen Rebanks talked The Farmer’s Wife, journalist Louise Minchin offered Fearless, cyclist Lee Craigie shared Other Ways to Win, sailor Suzanne Heywood talked Wavewalker and Welsh former international rugby union referee Nigel Owens discussed The Final Whistle.

With the UK election on the horizon for 2024, Wales today and the role of Britain in the wider world came into focus in conversations with politicians Chris Bryant (Code of Conduct) and Lisa Nandy (All In); journalists James O’Brien (How They Broke Britain), John Crace (Depraved New World), Jennifer Nadel (How Compassion can Transform our Politics, Economy and Society), Gavin Esler (Britain Is Better Than This) and Afua Hirsch (Decolonising the Body); and geographers Tim Marshall (The Future of Geography) and Danny Dorling (Shattered Nation).

Hay Festival 2023 Thinkers in Residence – curator Will Gompertz, Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates and historian David Olusoga – took stock of the role of festivals today and shared their bold visions for the future, while biologist Lewis Dartnell offered Being Human: How our Biology Shaped World History and historian James Holland launched The Savage Storm: The Battle for Italy 1943.

The natural world was explored and celebrated in conversations with gardener Naomi Slade (RHS The Winter Garden), wildlife cameraman Hamza Yassin (Be a Birder), and broadcaster Kate Humble (Where the Hearth Is), while classicist Adam Nicolson shared How to Be: Life Lessons From the Early Greeks. 

There was much seasonal joy and laughter to be enjoyed with lexicographers Susie Dent (Roots of Happiness) and Sarah Ogilvie (The Dictionary People), comedian Matt Lucas (The Boy Who Slept Through Christmas), chef Gelf Anderson (River Cottage Great Roasts), wine writer Oz Clarke (Oz Clarke’s Story of Wine), a new set from comedian Reginald D Hunter, and music with Father Richard Williams offered an atmospheric performance of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

At Hay Castle, audiences enjoyed full-day writing and book-art workshops, drop-in crafting sessions for families, and a special panel discussion around their current Dark Skies exhibition.

Extra sparkle to live events came from the town’s Market Square as Hamza Yassin turned on the Christmas lights, Friday 24 November, in what has become an annual highlight. 

After another transformative 12 months at Hay Festival HQ, CEO Julie Finch invited the public to share their visions for the Festival’s future in an open forum event to kick off the weekend programme.

Author