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Hay Festival 2021 closes after a fortnight of wonder


HAY FESTIVAL 2021 came to a triumphant close on Sunday, June 6 after a fortnight of live and online conversations, debates and performances brought thousands of writers and readers together.

Events were streamed by festivalgoers in 135 countries for a combined running total of 9 years, 236 days, 5 hours, 51 minutes, 43 seconds and counting.

Full Festival events can be enjoyed on Hay Player now at hayfestival.org/hayplayer. Annual subscriptions cost £15 per year and offer access to the Festival’s audio and video library of 8,000+ events.

From Wednesday May 26 to Sunday, June 6, events were broadcast live from temporary studios in Richard Booth’s Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye, and featured more than 300 acclaimed writers, global policy makers, poets, historians, pioneers and innovators, launching the best new books and interrogating some of the biggest issues of our time. 

Speakers who appeared in person from Hay-on-Wye included poets Simon Armitage, Hollie McNish and Owen Sheers; novelists Monique Roffey, Tahmima Anam, Sarah Winman, Dylan Moore and Alice Albinia; politicians Ed Miliband and Vince Cable; journalists Laura Bates, Caitlin Moran, Jennifer Lucy Allan, Pete Paphides and Horatio Clare; scientist Dr Pragya Agarwal; geographer Danny Dorling; environmentalists Ray Mears, Patrick Barkham, Jay Griffiths and Mya Rose Craig; historians Natalie Haynes and Kehinde Andrews; Talk Art hosts Russell Tovey and Robert Diament; Still Breathing editors Suzette Llewyllen and Suzanne Packer with athlete Colin Jackson; and Global Teacher Prizewinner Andria Zafirakou. 

Michael Rosen and Jim Down talk to Rachel Clarke

Meanwhile, a galaxy of stars beamed in from around the world including novelists Ali Smith, Isabel Allende, Ethan Hawke, Maggie Shipstead, Brit Bennett, Marian Keyes and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa; artist David Hockney; former Bank of England governor Mark Carney; journalists and commentators Anne Applebaum, Gary Younge, Bonnie Greer and Ash Sarkar; the world’s first human cyborg Peter Scott-Morgan with Festival President Stephen Fry; historians Alice Roberts, Malcom Gladwell and Sathnam Sanghera; philosopher Noam Chomsky; former Australian PM Julia Gillard with journalist Mary Ann Sieghart, former British PMs Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and COP-26 president Alok Sharma spoke to Christiana Figueres and Espinosa Patricia; comedians Mel Giedroyc and Graham Norton; actors Kate Winslet, Romola Garai, Jessica Raine Michael Sheen, Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson; Reverend Richard Coles; children’s writers and illustrators Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Patience Agbabi, Cressida Cowell, David Walliams and Radzi Chinyanganya; along with HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.
While events couldn’t have ticketed audiences in person, the booktown of Hay-on-Wye embraced the Festival spirit. The Festival provided a free WIFI network throughout the town centre to offer unlimited event streaming for visitors. Meanwhile, all events were closed captioned and available free to view, making it the most accessible and inclusive event yet.

free digital Programme for Schools, captioned in English and Welsh, ran May 24-28 for KS2-4 pupils, mixing storytelling and live performances broadcast to schools all over the UK to inspire reading for pleasure. Meanwhile, partnerships with the Living Knowledge Network, Calibre Audio, LitHub and Monocle24 brought event highlights to thousands more. 

Joeli Brearley, Pragya Agarwal and Caitlin Moran talk to Laura Bates

Hay Festival Medals were awarded to honour exceptional work in drama, poetry, journalism and prose: writer, director and actress Emerald Fennell was awarded the drama medal to celebrate her directorial debut, Promising Young Woman; poet Benjamin Zephaniah’s poetry medal marks four decades of tackling some of the biggest social issues through his work; George Monbiot’s journalism medal salutes his climate activism; and Ali Smith’s prose medal was for the culmination of her seasonal quartet. 

Caroline Michel, Hay Festival chair, said: “This has been another extraordinary Hay Festival. To welcome the world’s greatest authors, thinkers and world-changers back to Hay-on-Wye to appear live on our stages has been a triumph, not just for the Festival and the town, but for our audiences around the world.

“With increased engagement around our Programme for Schools and new partnerships, this is our most accessible yet. And if we can celebrate something wonderful in this challenging time, it has been the expansion of our Festival to a truly global event, with an audience spreading from the UK to book lovers across 135 countries.”