Julian Hall's Festival diary

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The Independent Culture

BBC journalist Alan Johnston (right) told his Book Festival audience that this was his final public appearance to discuss his kidnapping in Gaza last year. However, he told his chair, Sheena Macdonald, that he felt recovered from his ordeal. "For the first six weeks I had nightmares but not anymore," he said. "Recently I actually dreamt that I kidnapped someone, which is much better."

Elena Duran has not one, but two pianists for her show, Mexico of My Heart. The first, Luis Zepeda, is Mexico's premiere Jazz pianist, the second is classical pianist Betty Woo. Taking on the extra hands proved particularly useful during one performance when Zupeda handed over to Woo half-way through so he could dash to the airport and fulfil an engagement in Mexico.

Tony Benn's Book Festival events covered a range of topics, but returned to his complicated relationship to the Labour Party. "The public is to the left of the government so I don't feel lonely," said Benn. "Labour has always had socialists in it just as the church has some Christians in it."

When Sarah Tipple, the director of barbershop show Barbershopera, overheard comedian Lucy Porter talking about ending her latest show with a special flourish she knew she was the woman to help out. Porter had been heard joking that she wanted to have an a capella version of The Jungle Book's "The Bare Necessities", also the title of her show. Tipple stepped in and a pipe dream became a straw hat reality.

Anything can happen at Dean Haglund's X-files improv shows but matchmaking isn't usually part of the act. However, a couple who had their first date at a performance of the show last year, which included volunteering to come on stage and play Mulder, are back to celebrate their first anniversary.

Joke of the day...

"I don't drive, which makes trips to the safari park really scary." Lloyd Langford, The Underbelly