Making Hay while the sun don't shine

Katy Guest sorts the wheat from the chaff, and the wellies from the suits, at the literary festival
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The Independent Culture

Yesterday's rain was met, counterintuitively, with some relief by festival audiences, most of whom have carried their posh wellies all the way from Notting Hill and are damned if they're not going to use them. This has led to some strange sights. The first two things that one must know about the Hay Festival are that it has almost no mobile phone reception and that it always rains on the first weekend. The people standing on one leg, flowery welly in the air, holding a free refillable plastic water bottle in one hand and an iPhone in the other, are not interpreting the works of Iris Murdoch through the medium of dance, but trying to pick up their emails.

Although festival-goers this week are mostly wearing wellies, the linen suit count is rising. The Peter Florence/Paul Blezard axis shares an elegantly crumpled one in navy blue vibe. Christopher Lloyd, author of What on Earth Evolved?, paired his with a red bow tie. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Ian McEwan, who stopped by to collect his Wodehouse Prize, teamed theirs with jeans, and two members of Adam Boulton's panel wore theirs – but not Mr Boulton himself, who wore green corduroy.

His appearance on the panel, whose aim was to advise the audience on "Breaking into Television", was a coup for Mr Boulton, who revealed that after 28 years in broadcast journalism his festival pass has finally been upgraded from "crew" to "guest". Raffle tickets were handed out at the start of the event so that "20 lucky winners [could] continue their conversation in the Ascari's hospitality tent over a glass of wine". Nobody mentioned what the second prize was. The young people in the audience were keen to ingratiate themselves with the panel, so nobody asked Mr Boulton about the importance of keeping one's temper to maintaining a productive media career. But the announcer did suggest "with respect" that this was one time when Mr Boulton did want to be told what he thinks. He reacted with his unique smirk/sneer hybrid. Is it a snirk? Or a smeer?

On Friday, everyone was talking about Nigel Mansell's event, at which – so went the story that was put about – the racing driver would reveal something shocking. I can exclusively reveal that Mr Mansell has shaved off his moustache.

Meanwhile, an exclusive and apparently slightly mismatched group gathered for dinner at Llangoed Hall house as the guests of Sky News. Among the cross-party guests, Tessa Jowell was thrilled to be off duty. As a child, she always had a book in front of her face – she would wander around the house, walking up and down stairs, still engrossed. She can't wait to have time to go back to reading like that, she said.

Ms Jowell did brave the rain the following day to support Ed Miliband, who was in conversation with President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives. Mr Miliband also seemed demob happy, telling the President that "our Cabinet sometimes felt like it was under water – but only metaphorically".

All the MPs were probably grateful to have missed Mr Lloyd's dash through the 100 Species That Changed the World. Among the five ways that species make a living, Lloyd lingered on two which he said remind him of modern politics. There is symbiosis – "the ultimate coalition" – and oophagy – a technique used by sharks, in which the baby shark that eats its siblings inside the womb lives to see the light of day.

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