Dylan Jones: 'At the Hay Festival, most of the audience know almost as much as the people on stage, sometimes more'

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I once interviewed Ken Livingstone in front of 500 almost motionless (read: asleep) people at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, although I had the suspicion at the time that most of them had just come in to shelter from the rain. When you see a full auditorium at the Hay Festival, you assume that most people there know almost as much as the people on stage (and in some cases, a lot more), and are looking forward to furthering the debate in some way.

In terms of media attention, Hay now gets more traction than the other big cultural event of early summer, Cannes, and if you want to make a splash, you do it here, in this small Welsh border town – which is why this year both David Miliband and Julian Assange chose to speak here (particular as ever, at breakfast in his digs, Assange apparently asked for freshly squeezed OJ that had been made no more than 10 minutes earlier). And even if the guests are determined to keep schtum, tidbits appear – pressed by Peter Florence, Andrew Davies let slip that he may be adapting Les Mis next year.

Unsurprisingly, there is no better place to be than the festival green room, which this year witnessed the long-awaited rapprochement between Paul Theroux and VS Naipaul, as well as the delightful sight of Germaine Greer and Richard Hammond happily oblivious to each other's fame.

My highlights were having lunch with Hollywood legend Roland Emmerich, watching AC Grayling dance at our party, seeing the Duchess of Cornwall glide between the deckchairs as though she were at Glyndebourne, and hearing David Bailey's aside to me on stage at his talk on Afghanistan, after a gentleman had objected to the tone of the session and stormed out: "I bet he hasn't gone to Helmand".

It is Peter Florence's intellectual rigour that makes the Hay Festival not only the best literary festival in the country – by some distance – but also one of the best festivals in the world.

Next year, Hay celebrates its 25th anniversary, and if I were you I'd book a hotel now.



Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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