More than 15,000 people attended over 100 events for the Henley Literary Festival this year with 25,000 people watching streamed events online.
From politicians, to comedians, a Duchess to musicians, Oscar winner to vaccine-makers, the events took place at four venues in Henley; Phyliss Court Club, Town Hall, River & Rowing Museum and the Christ Church Centre.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert and Dr Catherine Green, the scientists whose work at Oxford University led to the development of the Astra Zeneca Covid-19 vaccine told how they overcame challenges to develop the first vaccine in record time. They were introduced by Festival Director Harriet Reed-Ryan who said: “Without these two, we wouldn’t have a festival.” The audience gave a standing ovation to welcome the scientists on to the stage. Dame Sarah said, “We took a calculated risk and did this at every stage.” Dr Cath added, “We had to drop everything we had started to manufacture so we were ready to go.”
Many of the interviewees talked about Henley or coming to Henley. Tom Allen was most intrigued by the Monday evening bellringing from St Mary’s Church that coincided with his event, asking the audience “What time is it, 500 o’clock?!”
Tickets were sold out for many events including Ruth Jones, author and TV comedian and best well-known for Nessa in Gavin & Stacey. She told the audience that she got easily distracted whilst writing her second book Us Three. She said, “I made the massive mistake of having a magnifying mirror and tweezers in the desk drawer and I sometimes would just check my eyebrows and then spending ages just plucking away. I’ll go into a whole world of eyebrows!” She was asked the obvious question – will there will be another Gavin & Stacey special, Ruth replied, “Trying to get that Christmas special together was not straight forward because everyone was doing their own great things in their careers and finding the time to film was difficult. James was on another continent.” Creatively would it really be a good thing to have another Gavin and Stacey?” Audience said “yes”. Ruth added, “Isn’t it just nice to wonder what happened to ….” Audience replied, “No!” “I’m not going to get away with that. I’m really genuinely very very touched.” She was asked which character would she see being the Welsh Rugby Captain, she replied, “Obviously its going to be Nessa as she’s had a few training sessions and she’s friends with Warren Gatland. Can you imagine Nessa doing the Welsh Hakka. She’d be shouting “What’s occurring!”
There were a few festival firsts, audience members had a World Premiere of Rob Beckett’s books as they got their hands on his book A Class Act a week before it was published. The Rapping Princess author Hannah Lee had children and their grown-ups on their feet to create what must be one of first raps performed at Henley Town Hall. Oscar winner Hayley Mills was served her first-ever ‘Hayley Mills’ mocktail (ginger ale, a twist of lemon, a cherry and just a dash of raspberry) live on stage.
Lots of audience members got their books signed and had selfies with the authors. Emma Lerche-Thomsen met Jo Wicks with her daughter’s dog Bailey. Emma said, “I went along to his reading of Burpee bears on Saturday afternoon and then waited in line with the dog to meet Joe who took a shine to Bailey. Joe then posted a pic of Bailey on his Instagram (4.3 million followers!)”
After Festival Director, Harriet said, “What a week. Delighted with how well it went. Overall are numbers are up pro rata to the reduced festival we ran. And the online festival went really well – with over 24,000 children watching the schools programme which has blown our minds and made us so happy. We are all quite tired but very happy and looking forward to 2022!”