Monday, June 6, 2011

How did they get in? Hay Festival's success spawns its own fringe

The Independent - By Joy Lo Dico - 4 June 2011

Brian Cox and Rolf Dieter Heuer
Getty Images
Brian Cox and Rolf Dieter Heuer

Each May Peter Florence pitches his marquees in a field below the town of Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh-English border, ready to receive 100,000 visitors to his Hay Festival.
They are drawn by star names – Nigella Lawson, Chris Evans and VS Naipaul have already spoken, and Julian Assange is due onstage later today – as well as camaraderie and a love of books.

However, this year, the festival has been punctuated by references to "the other place". A rival festival has not only pitched up on Florence's territory but it is also seducing some of his high-profile speakers, for whom he has provided accommodation and travel.

How the Light Gets In is a philosophy and music festival, started up three years ago by Hilary Lawson, in the grounds of an old chapel in Hay, surrounded by a village of yurts and canvas canopies. Its name comes from a Leonard Cohen lyric.

This year the journalist Polly Toynbee, philosophers AC Grayling and Mary Warnock and the poet Simon Armitage (right) are among the high-profile speakers drawn to both festivals.
Lawson's hippyish theme and younger crowd also seduced Martin Amis. Last year, after speaking at Hay, he invited himself to speak at How the Light Gets In. "It was a mistake," says Lawson. "He didn't have anything interesting to say. We aren't here to help people sell their books, it's about ideas."

This year How the Light Gets In has pulled off a coup, and cannot be accused of borrowing Florence's talent. Tomorrow the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, will be speaking at two events there on global futures. Over at the Hay Festival, the top political guest is the less exciting Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary.
Lawson has been accused of "eating off Peter's plate". Last year a rumour went round that Florence had told one of his writers who dared to perform at "the other place" that they would not be welcome at Hay again. 

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