In Focus

Hay Festival 2024: our guide to this year’s highlights

Judi Dench talking Shakespeare, conversations with bestsellers Marian Keyes and David Nicholls, and a deep dive into the day’s news with Independent journalists and leading thinkers – this year’s Hay Festival programme is fit to burst with unmissable events. Jessie Thompson picks the highlights

Thursday 23 May 2024 11:34
Literary feast: Miriam Margolyes, Toby Jones, Gary Lineker and Marian Keyes appear at Hay Festival 2024
Literary feast: Miriam Margolyes, Toby Jones, Gary Lineker and Marian Keyes appear at Hay Festival 2024 (Getty/PA)

The annual literary behemoth that is Hay Festival is here. The biggest, most enticing event on the annual literary calendar, it promises a host of big-name authors and thinkers having the kind of unique conversations you can only hear at Hay, all set in the beautiful, bosky environs of Hay-on-Wye.

With over 600 events, the programme is vast – so to help you navigate this year’s must-book events, we’ve selected a host of the absolute not-to-be-missed highlights.

Toby Jones

ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office was the show that outraged the nation. Not very often do we see TV dramas make such a Richter scale impact, but this four-part series about subpostmasters who were wrongly accused of fraud and theft due to dodgy IT software is still sending shockwaves through the political sphere. So it will be a real moment to see the show’s star Toby Jones, who played Alan Bates himself, lifting the lid on his role in one of the most talked about dramas of the year. Saturday 1 June, 4pm

Miriam Margolyes

You can always expect rude anecdotes and accidental swearing when it comes to Miriam Margolyes, so hopefully she won’t let Hay audiences down when she appears at this year’s festival. Following the publication of her second memoir, Oh Miriam!, she will be sharing another set of raucous stories with East West Street author Philippe Sands. Sunday 2 June, 4pm

Gary Lineker

The Premier League is currently fizzing with one of the tightest title races for years. By the time football fans have decompressed from it all, there will be the chance for a post-mortem with Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, who is the crown jewel of Hay’s “sports day”. Not only will he be able to analyse another season of VAR shockers, point deductions and tricky FFP rules, but he’ll be discussing his mega successful podcasting company, which includes The Rest Is History, The Rest Is Politics, The Rest Is Entertainment and his very own The Rest Is Football in its stable. He’ll be in conversation with historian (and Gazza’s former schoolmate) David Olusoga. Wednesday 29 May, 1pm

Dame Judi Dench

Judi Dench appears at the 2024 Hay Festival
Judi Dench appears at the 2024 Hay Festival (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty)

Dame Judi Dench’s recent memoir The Man Who Pays the Rent, reflecting on her memories of performing Shakespeare, was a tongue-in-cheek title for a book from one of our most celebrated actors. But it’s true that the Bard has been a throughline in a truly wonderful career, from Dame Judi’s days at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Old Vic in the Fifties and Sixties, to starring in The Winter’s Tale in her last stage appearance in 2015. Audiences can see her in conversation with Shakespeare’s Globe associate artist Brendan O’Hea – and might even get to hear her speak some magical verse. Wednesday 29 May, 2.30pm

A deep dive into our 2023 book of the year

Last year, we named Roger Lewis’s 656-page doorstopper Erotic Vagrancy, an in-depth history of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, as our book of the year. “It’s a shocking, twisted and funny story, told with panache. It’s also pure entertainment,” wrote chief books critic Martin Chilton. What a pleasure it will be for readers to see the author talking about his acclaimed biography, and in discussion with the brilliant Stephen Fry no less. Wednesday 29 May, 8.30pm

Marian Keyes

Bestselling novelist Keyes has sold over 35 million books
Bestselling novelist Keyes has sold over 35 million books (Dean Chalkley/PA)

Try to find someone who doesn’t love Marian Keyes. Her 16th novel, My Favourite Mistake, went straight into The Sunday Times bestsellers list at number one this month, her books have sold over 35 million copies, and she knows how to tell funny stories about real people with the lightest of touches. She recently told The Independent about being around long enough to have become “respectable”, and you can hear her speak more at Hay about one of the most extraordinary careers in publishing. She’ll also be doing a live recording of her gentle, funny podcast, Now You’re Asking, with Irish comedian Tara Flynn. Sunday 26 May, 4pm, Now You’re Asking live recording on Saturday 25 May, 5.30pm

The News Review

Start your day by digesting the day’s headlines with journalists from The Independent and a host of brilliant writers from a vast set of fields. From 25 to 28 May, we’ll be partnering with Hay Festival on this morning event tackling the day’s big talking points. Our editor-in-chief Geordie Greig and chief books critic Martin Chilton will be speaking to an eclectic range of panellists, from Labour MP Wes Streeting to Everyday Sexism author Laura Bates, We Need to Talk About Kevin author Lionel Shriver to former president of the UK Supreme Court Baroness Hale – the perfect way to get a day of debate and discussion started. Saturday 25 to Tuesday 28 May, 10am

James Baldwin at 100

This year marks a century since the birth of James Baldwin
This year marks a century since the birth of James Baldwin (Getty)

The kind of special literary conversation that can only happen at Hay: Colm Toibin, Paul Mendez, Irenosen Okojie and David Olusoga will come together to celebrate the great James Baldwin, with 2024 marking a century since his birth. From Giovanni’s Room to Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin’s work, exploring growing up Black, gay and in poverty, still wields a mighty influence; duly, a mighty panel has been assembled to celebrate his continued relevance. Tuesday 28 May, 4pm

David Nicholls

We’ve all got questions for David Nicholls. Such as: why did you do it (viewers of One Day will know what I mean)? And are you really the nicest man in literature? Hear him discuss his new novel You Are Here, a slightly-later-in-life love story set on a rainy walk in the Lake District in a conversation with BBC Front Row host Samira Ahmed. Saturday 25 May, 4pm

Helen Garner

Reading Helen Garner’s novella The Children’s Bach prompted Leave the World Behind author Rumaan Alam to say “I was so stunned that I wanted to run round the block.” He’s not even exaggerating. It’s a miniature masterpiece, as is her non-fiction true crime book This House of Grief – both of which were republished in chic new editions earlier this year. Although feted in her native Australia, and possibly a Nobel Prize in Literature winner in waiting, 81-year-old Garner still feels like something of a juicy secret over here, so the opportunity to hear her discuss her work is not to be missed. Thursday 30 May, 7pm

Cloud Atlas at 20

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is a formidable, complex novel about a set of interconnected worlds, one that left some stunned and some scratching their heads. To mark two decades since its publication, Mitchell will be at Hay to discuss his 2004 book, which was shortlisted for the Booker and later made into a film starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant, and talk about how the rich tale is still rewarding readers all these years later. Sunday 26 May, 11.30am

The Christopher Hitchens Lecture

The breadth of Hay’s programme is vast, with electric discussions about politics and science happening among talks with debut novelists and literary legends. This year’s annual Christopher Hitchens lecture promises to be a fascinating provocation in a huge election year, with the UK and US both going to the polls, and Donald Trump rearing his orange head once again. Channel 4 News presenter Matt Frei asks the question: can American still be saved? Tuesday 28 May, 7pm

Hay Festival 2024 takes place from 23 May to 2 June
Hay Festival 2024 takes place from 23 May to 2 June (Sam Hardwick)

Memories of Benjamin Zephaniah

The death of Benjamin Zephaniah – poet, life force, and frequent speaker at Hay – came as a shock in December last year. A set of writers and thinkers, including Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho, will come together to share memories of the Birmingham-born poet and revisit his work. Thursday 30 May, 2.30pm

Metamorphosis in Motherhood

How does becoming a mother change us, physically, mentally and emotionally? Absolutely massively, in fact – but it’s something that’s rarely discussed. This fascinating talk will bring together the work of cutting-edge science and ideas, with authors Lucy Jones, Clover Stroud and Dr Pragya Agarwal talking to Candice Brathwaite. Saturday 1 June, 10am

Stand-up and performance

Among the discussions are a sophisticated selection of stand-up sets, which include Sara Pascoe, Nish Kumar and Garth Marenghi. An excellent way to end a day of thinking and talking is, we believe, more thinking and talking, with extra laughing added in. There will also be a host of musical performances, including from the cast of folksy West End show Hadestown, where stomping and singing accompanies a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Yoga and wild swimming

There’s a lot happening at Hay – but don’t forget that you are also in one of the most beautiful spots in the UK, with the bucolic Brecon Beacons less than an hour away. In that spirit, you can get in touch with nature and commune with your spiritual self with a bit of early morning yoga, or a group wild swim in the River Wye. Look after the body as well as the mind.

Kids and family events

The festival’s programme features a range of events for children and young people
The festival’s programme features a range of events for children and young people (Hay Festival `)

If you’re going to make your kids tolerate you crying about the ending of One Day again, or listening to Miriam Margoyles swearing, you might want to pay them back by taking them to one of Hay’s excellent events for kids and younger people. There are interactive activities, from craft classes to pizza-making workshops, as well as an array of children’s authors who will be appearing to speak about their work, from Michael Morpurgo and Katherine Rundell, to YA favourite Holly Jackson and Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney.

Hay Festival runs from 23 May to 2 June in Hay-on-Wye;

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