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Miriam Margolyes brings added sparkle to Hay Christmas lights switch-on

BAFTA-winning actor and national treasure Miriam Margolyes will switch on Hay-on-Wye’s Christmas lights as part of her Hay Festival Winter Weekend appearance on Friday, November 26.

The free switch-on event will take place between 5pm and 7pm in The Cheese Market, accompanied by carol singing to give a rousing start to the Festival weekend, which runs to Sunday November 28.

Miriam Margolyes is a veteran of the stage and screen, and an internationally acclaimed voice-artist. Winner of the BAFTA Best Supporting Actress award for The Age of Innocence, she received an OBE in 2002 for Services to Drama. 

Her memoir, This Much is True, tells her extraordinary life story to date. From declaring her love to Vanessa Redgrave to being told to be quiet by the Queen, it is packed with brilliant stories and features a cast list stretching from Scorsese to Streisand, a cross-dressing Leonardo di Caprio to Isaiah Berlin. 

Margolyes will be talking about the book immediately following the lights switch-on alongside broadcaster and classicist Natalie Haynes at 7pm on the Llwyfan Cymru – Wales Stage. 

Katie Sutton, chair of Hay Chamber of Commerce, said: “Hay-on-Wye is so excited to be hosting Hay Festival Winter Weekend in-person again, especially after 20 difficult months. We’re particularly delighted that Miriam Margolyes will be switching on the lights and we are all looking forward to welcoming people back to our beautiful town.” 

Hay Festival Winter Weekend returns with an ambitious programme for its first ticketed, in-person events in the UK for two years, bringing writers and readers together November 24-28 with a line-up to inspire, examine and entertain.

Explore the full Hay Festival Winter Weekend programme and book tickets now at hayfestival.org/winter-weekend. 

Over five days, more than 80 acclaimed writers and performers will take part, launching the best new fiction and non-fiction, interrogating some of the biggest issues of our time, and spreading joy with conversations, candle-lit storytelling, comedy, music, and family workshops.

In-person events take place in a new Festival site in the centre of Hay-on-Wye against the stunning backdrop of the Brecon Beacons. Comprised of Llwyfan Cymru – Wales Stage, located on the Cae Mawr field (at the base of the town’s Oxford Road car park) and the Baillie Gifford Stage in the neighbouring Hay Primary School, the new site also includes the Festival bookshop, hosting regular in-person signings, along with a food and drink court and exhibitors. 

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Events will also take place around the town more widely, in the Parish Hall, St Mary’s Church and the Cheese Market, while the booktown’s independent shops, cafés and markets open their doors with a warm welcome to Festivalgoers.

To ensure the safety of audiences, artists and staff against Covid-19, Hay Festival will have several new procedures in place in line with guidance from the Welsh Government, with detailed information at hayfestival.org/winter-weekend/faqs. 

A vibrant online programme of live streamed sessions and digital exclusives will amplify the in-person events further, embracing the Festival’s new global audience at hayfestival.org/winter-weekend with closed captioning offered for all digital events. 

Hay Festival international director Cristina Fuentes la Roche said: “We’re back for our first in-person events in the UK in two years with Hay Festival Winter Weekend 2021, a Festival of inspiration and optimism to entertain curious minds of all ages. With an ambitious programme filling an innovative new site, it marks both a return to celebrate and a fresh start. Join us in a safe space to imagine the world anew as we near the end of this year, with music, laughter and friends.”

Hay Festival Winter Weekend is supported by the Festival’s lead sponsors Visit Wales and Baillie Gifford. The free Programme for Schools and Beacons Project are funded by the Welsh Government and Hay Festival Foundation.


The Festival kicks off with a free Programme for Schools, 24-25 November, offering young people the chance to see their favourite writers, get creative and celebrate the joys of reading for pleasure, featuring events with Onjali Q Raúf (The Lion Above the Door), Emma Carroll (The Week at World’s End), Sally Nicholls (The Silent Stars Go By), Nicola Davies (The Song that Sings Us), Rob Biddulph (Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City), and rap-poet Karl Nova.

As mainstage events get underway, great novelists take centre-stage: Jeanette Winterson shares stories from The Night Side of the River and discusses 12 Bytes: How We Got Here, Where We Might Go Next; Sarah Moss launches her new novel The Fell; Sarah Hall talks Burntcoat; JR Thorp discusses Learwife; Elizabeth Day offers her thriller, Magpie; Christopher Meredith talks Please; former Hay Festival Writer at Work Catrin Kean presents her Welsh Book of the Year-winning debut, Salt; Hannah Beckerman talks The Impossible Truths of Love; and writers Kit de Waal and Jack Underwood talk to Salena Godden in a Royal Society of Literature panel on grief. 

Music rings out on the opening night as Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason discusses her memoir House of Music with performances by two of her multi-talented children; while later in the week Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie talks Tenement Kid, John Illsley talks My Life in Dire Straits, BBC Music Introducing… presents an evening of regional singer-songwriter talent, and Father Richard offers the silent German horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at St Mary’s Church with live organ accompaniment.

Interactive events for families and young people through the weekend include conversations, readings and workshops with Lauren Child (Christmas Elf) and Yuval Zommer (The Lights that Dance in the Night), while sports presenter Clare Balding offers Fall Off, Get Back On, Keep Going: 10 ways to be at the top of your game!

Inspiring creatives and household names share their life stories as actor Miriam Margolyes presents her memoir This Much Is True; local Oscar-winning writer, director and actress Emerald Fennell discusses her latest work; adventurer Bear Grylls talks Never Give Up; Anita Rani talks The Right Sort of Girl; John Barnes talks racism in sport;  journalist Henry Blofeld talks Ten to Win…And the Last Man In; broadcasters Fi Glover and Jane Garvey present Did I say That out Loud?: Notes on the Chuff of Life; and theatre director David Hare discusses his life’s work and new book, We Travelled: Essays and Poems.

The past is reimagined as Neil Oliver talks to journalist Oliver Bullough about The Story of the World in 100 Moments; Simon Jenkins talks Europe’s 100 Greatest Cathedrals; Dan Jones talks Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages with The Five author Hallie Rubenhold; Paul Mason talks How to Stop Fascism: History, Ideology, Resistance; andbroadcaster Jules Hudson talks to local historian Peter Ford about his new book, Matilda: Lady of Hay.

Science comes to the fore as broadcasters Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford discuss Rutherford and Fry’s Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything, and comedian Robin Ince talks to broadcaster Natalie Haynes about The Importance of Being Interested: Adventures in Scientific Curiosity, while mathematician Marcus du Sautoy talks Thinking Better: The Art of the Shortcut. 

Hay-on-Earth events explore the latest in climate science and debate including Jonathon Porritt on his new book, Hope in Hell; Jay Griffiths, Kaliane Bradley, and Testament on Gifts ofGravity and Life; Dan Saladino on Eating to Extinction, poet Owen Sheers joins Trevor Davies to presents their climate change documentary The Trick, Vicki Hird talks Rebugging the Planet, and an expert panel led by Future Generations Commissioner for Wales Sophie Howe reviews the action at COP26.

Social affairs are drawn into focus as a Saturday morning panel of Festival guests review the weekend papers, reflecting on the past year and looking ahead to 2022; meanwhile writer Jessica Nordell talks The End of Bias alongside writer and academic Emma Dabiri with What White People can do Next, and journalist Hannah Jane Parkinson presents her new book, The Joy of Small Things.

Spirituality and belief are explored as archeologist Richard Morris talks Evensong: Lives, Finds and Reflections on The Church in England and biblical scholar Francesca Stavrakopoulou talks God: An Anatomy.

There’s laughter, too: Saturday night is given over to comedy with Phil Wang, while later in the weekend Josh Widdecombe talks Watching Neighbours Twice a Day…How ’90s TV (Almost) Prepared me for Life. 

A curated selection of free, digital-only Winter Warmers will add inspiration to the programme, bringing international writers into the homes of book-lovers everywhere, including conversations with the soon-to-be-announced winner of the 2021 Booker Prize, writers Matt Haig (The Comfort Book) and Siri Hustvedt (Mothers, Fathers and Others), environmentalist Bill McKibben (The End of Nature), and Steven Pinker talks Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters.

Extra sparkle to live events comes from the town’s Market Square as a special guest turns on the town’s Christmas lights, Friday, November 26, in what has become an annual Winter Weekend highlight. And once again, the Festival will draw on public nominations to crown the Hay Festival Book of the Year following past wins for Dara McAnulty’s Diary of a Young Naturalist in 2020, Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five in 2019, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s Inventing Ourselves in 2018 and Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words in 2017.

Twenty aspiring Welsh writers, 16-18, will join us Thursday to Sunday for our revived, in-person Beacons Project. They will enjoy a tailored programme of inspiring events and closed workshops with Festival guests, while contributing to the Festival blog throughout.

And free Hay Festival Book of the Month events continue to celebrate great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry with upcoming events including writer-illustrator Charlie Mackesy with translator Mererid Hopwood launching the Welsh language version of his bestseller The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse – Y Bachgen, y Wahadden, y Llwynog a’r Ceffyl – on Tuesday November 9.