Hay Festival is in full virtual swing, despite its doors being closed. Here are our must-watch highlights for the weekend. #ImagineTheWorld

One thing that the times we’re living through has proved again and again is just how resilient, resourceful and adaptable humankind is. Those who can possibly take their work online have generally done so, and we are awed by the proliferation of consequent cultural riches that are now available online.

One such is Hay Festival, which is currently in full high-brow swing. From AC Grayling discussing how to reform democracy to Hilary Mantel on the last in her astonishing Thomas Cromwell trilogy; performances from David Gilmour, Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West; and Sandi Toksvig discussing her autobiography, here are our literary highlights for the closing weekend.

David Crystal: Let’s Talk
Friday 29 May, 2.30 – 3.30pm
David Crystal is a linguist, an academic, a world-renowned lecturer on the English language and the author of over 120 books. The latest in that veritable library of works is Let's Talk: How English Conversation Works, and he’s at virtual Hay talking about some of his research, which looks at the evolution of how we use casual conversation in surprising ways, right up to how we interact online today. Fascinating stuff.

Credit Sam Harwick

David Susskind: A World Without Work
Friday 29 May, 4pm – 4.50pm
David Susskind’s book, A World Without Work, has a new resonance in today’s locked down world, as many of us navigate new ways of working, or our lives on furlough. And yet what Susskind is here to discuss goes much deeper, examining the impact of the marching tide of technology and ever-more intuitive AI on our work and asking whether its efficiency will ultimately render many jobs obsolete. Sounds pessimistic? Curiously, it isn’t. Susskind actually explores the idea that technology may aid our prosperity and productivity to the point that there may be enough for everyone, and thus work is no longer the central focus of people’s lives. Promises to be hugely thought-provoking.

William Dalrymple: The Anarchy
Saturday 30 May, 1pm – 2pm
How much do you know about The East India Company? Allow the brilliant historian William Dalrymple to be your guide, starting in 1765 when it defeated the young Mughal emperor, forcing him to establish a new administration run by English merchants. His latest book, The Anarchy, tells the story of how the empire came to be ruled, essentially, by a ruthless private company. It is a complex and horrifying tale of ‘corporate violence’, woven spectacularly well in his book. We can’t wait to tune in to what will doubtless be a fascinating talk.

Hilary Mantel Talks To Peter Florence: The Mirror and The Light
Saturday 30 May, 2.30pm – 3.30pm
Surely one of the hottest tickets in the literary calendar, Hilary Mantel is here, of course, to talk about the final instalment of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. The first two both won the Booker Prize. The final act is no less of a masterpiece. The organisers of Hay warn that there will be spoilers, so do ensure you’ve finished the book before tuning in.

Allie Esiri, Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West: Shakespeare For Every Day Of The Year
Saturday 30 May, 5.30pm – 6.20pm
William Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays and 154 sonnets. Allie Esiri is the editor of Shakespeare For Every Day Of The Year, through which she offers insightful and apposite extracts from them at the appropriate moments in our journey round the sun. Who could pass up the opportunity to hear performances of the Bard’s well- and lesser-known works from the ever-brilliant Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West?

Credit Sam Hardwick

David Mitchell Talks To John Mitchinson: Utopia Avenue
Saturday 30 May, 6.45pm – 7.20pm
Don’t miss the wonderful David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and the horrifyingly frightening Slade House, in conversation with John Mitchinson, founder of revolutionary publishing house, Unbound. They’re here to discuss Utopia Avenue, Mitchell’s latest work, which follows the titular rock n roll band, as it emerges from London psychedelia in 1967 and travels across America, charting ‘a multi-faceted tale of dreams, drugs, love, sexuality, madness and grief; of stardom's wobbly ladder and fame's Faustian pact; and of the collision between youthful idealism and jaded reality as the Sixties drew to a close.’ We’re excited.

Polly Samson and David Gilmour: A Theatre For Dreamers
Saturday 30 May, 7.30pm – 8.30pm
Why not get two for the price of one? Not only is Polly Samson here to talk about her enchanting book, A Theatre For Dreamers, which is set in 1960 on the Greek island of Hydra at a time it was colonised by a set of bohemian artists and poets, but you also get a special performance from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. In the book, paradise, of course, unravels – but we’ll take being transported to any Greek idyll right, crumbling or otherwise.

AC Grayling: The Good State: On The Principles Of Democracy
Sunday 31 May, 11.30am – 12.15pm
In a week in which an unelected Svengali is being dragged over the coals for breaking the lockdown rules he helped to write, this is an apposite moment in which to tune in to hear the philosopher AC Grayling talk about the democratic values are society is founded on. Here, he lays out what he sees as the remedy for our ailing systems. Clue: they include ‘addressing the imbalance of power between government and Parliament, imposing fixed terms for MPs, introducing proportional representation and lowering the voting age to 16’. Timely.

Anne Enright Talks To Peter Florence: Actress
Sunday 31 May, 1pm – 1.50pm
Another book that resonates down the decades from its setting in post-war America is Booker Prize-winning author Anne Enright’s Actress. A story of a mother and daughter, it also looks at the destructive power of celebrity. This promises to be a riveting discussion.

Credit Marsha Arnold

Diana Beresford-Kroeger: Black Mountains College Lecture
Sunday 31 May, 4pm – 4.45pm
We have a very strong sense that this will be an incredibly moving talk from the Canadian botanist and biochemist and author of To Speak For The Trees. Through her work, Diana Beresford-Kroeger has redefined the way we think about trees. Did you know, for example, that every forest has a ‘mother’ tree, and that they communicate with one another in a ‘chemical language?’ Through this talk, she will highlight just why heathy trees and forests are imperative if we are to survive. A must watch.

Sandi Toksvig talks to Lennie Goodings: Between The Stops
Sunday 31 May, 5.30pm – 6.30pm
What a great way to wrap up this exceptional Hay Festival on a high. Who doesn’t love the warm wit of Sandi Toksvig? She just puts smiles on faces, whether she’s broadcasting on Radio 4, from a Bake Off tent, or as frontwoman of QI. She’s here to talk about her memoir, The View of My Life from the Top of the Number 12 Bus, and we honestly cannot wait.

Main image Credit: Sam Hardwick.

By Nancy Alsop
May 2020


The Fragrant Best of Chelsea Flower Show Online
22 Museums And Galleries You Can Tour Online
5 English Heritage Sites You Can Tour Online

Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.