David Walliams and Mark Watson End Record Breaking Literary Festival on a High

The Henley Literary Festival in its 17th year had another record breaking event with attendees in person up by over 1,000 (over 20,000).

Nearly 11,000 children watched for free online  thanks to donors and the Shanly Foundation and over 2,400 children came to the schools events in person including free tickets given to schools that ordinarily wouldn’t be able to come to participate.

Shops and restaurants in town benefited from the extra footfall with many people commented how busy the town was and what a buzz the festival brings.

Festival Director, Harriet Reed-Ryan said, “We were delighted with the way it went. Lots of full houses, happy authors,  happy audiences and the sun shone. Overall the numbers were up despite having fewer events than last year. The green room in the Phyllis Court Pavilion was voted by both speakers and publicists as the best on the circuit. They could stand on the balcony watching the river at its most glorious. Every author had their own chaperone looking after them from the minute that they arrived until they left, cementing our reputation for making it a stress free experience. The Relais was our new hotel partner where we put the authors up who needed to stay. They could not have been in a more lovely place.”

“The range of this year’s speakers was probably the best we have ever had.  The 500 seater marquee was full or nearly full a lot of the time including for Clive Myrie, Theresa May, Sebastian Faulks, Timothy West, Simon Schama, Robert Peston, General David Petraeus and Andrew Roberts. We had brilliant performances in the Kenton from Simon Williams and Lucy Fleming as well as poetry readings from Sir Tony Robinson, Olivia Williams, Olivia Harrison and Nikita Gill. Julia Bradbury got the whole audience doing squats and arm exercises and Michael Ball in the final event came on stage singing Love Changes Everything.”

We had a bigger team working for us than ever before which helped it go seamlessly and lots of wonderful volunteers who I would like to thank.”

Two top comedians ended the 10-day festival; David Walliams and Mark Watson.

“Let’s get this party started!”

These were David Walliam’s opening words when he came on to a big cheer from the packed out Baillie Gifford marquee at Phyllis Court Club on Saturday. Dancing in and hand clapping the front row, David’s head microphone then fell off with David commenting, “That’ll teach me for showing off!”

David started his talk looking back at writing his first children’s book The Boy in the Dress based on himself with him showing a photo of himself with his sister dressed up in a dress.  Many of his characters are based on people in real life including his Granny for Gangsta Granny and Burt from Ratburger who was based on a contestant from BGT who ate cockroaches.  He then read an extract from Gangsta Granny.

After talking about his World’s Worst series of books he asked the audience why their sister or brother should be in the World’s Worst Children.  The worst one was a sister who told David that her brother licked his own sweat and ate his ear wax!

David was at the Literary Festival to promote his new book The Blunders which wasn’t out officially on sale for another 6 days. The book is about a posh eccentric family who have a Butler called Butler and a pet ostrich called Cedric.

Afterwards, David read out some funny letters he had received included one from a little girl who had asked him to come and open a fete and said that he could have a sleepover at their teacher’s house.

The children in the audience then got the chance to ask questions including what was his favourite character, favourite book, what character he would play in a movie, how long does it take him to write books and where does he write them.  David then told a funny story about where he wrote some of his new book which is based in outer space and involves animals.  He said, “Recently I went to Venice for a little weekend, and I have two passports. One that is out of date, and one that isn’t. By accident, I picked up the out-of-date one. This wasn’t spotted at Heathrow. It wasn’t until I arrived at Venice that it was spotted. I was taken away by the Italian police, and I was locked in the cell for seven hours. Luckily, my laptop was fully charged and I sat there, and I typed for seven hours straight, and the time passed very well. So the best place to write, for me, is an Italian prison cell.”

Each of the children who asked a question were given a free copy of The Blunders and although David didn’t really answer the question he awarded the six-year old boy in the audience The Blunders book standee for his question Why did you get kicked out of BGT?  with David replying, “Ask me again when you’re 18.”

Mark’s Mortification Near Death Experiences

Mark Watson’s new biography, Mortification looks back on his life when he’s died on stage in the early stages of stand-up career, the death of a childhood dream, and a near death experience riding a motor bike for a TV show.

Sitting on a sofa at the Kenton Theatre being interviewed, you could sense that Mark wasn’t really comfortable (no pun intended) to be there promoting his book, saying his publishers wanted him to do it, commenting “Most of the books in the world are unread because people don’t have time to read.  Most of you won’t read the book!” With interviewer Daniel Hahn, replying, “That’s a masterclass in reverse psychology.”

Mark recounted his first book event where he travelled all the way to Ayr after publishing his first book when he was 24.  He said, “4 people turned up and 2 of those came accidentally. Now my default position with any event is now when I come on stage I don’t know how many people will be there because even if it is sold out, there are so much other things people can do, like stay a home and watch…”

His worst stage-up gig was in 2005 in Maidstone,  Mark said, “They didn’t like the opening joke and then someone said you need to kill this man.  Another chucked a coin at me and it wasn’t even a high denomination! They then all started to chat amongst themselves.  I had 20 minutes to fill and I knew I had to finish so that I had the money to the pay the rent.  I performed the second night which went better but I only took the pay for the second night.”

Mark like many celebrities are offered all sorts of opportunities including doing TV shows.  Mark commented, “It’s very difficult to turn things down when you’re starting out as you don’t know when or if you’ll be asked again.”  He deeply regrets appearing in the TV show Celebrity Storage Hunters where he bid for parts of a motorbike and then built the motorbike.  He made £5,000 for charity.  He said, “They made me ride the bike and I didn’t have a driver’s licence and I wasn’t wearing a helmet which is illegal.  I didn’t know how to control it and fell off and concussed myself and ended up in hospital.  They made me sign a disclaimer form to get out of any responsibility and mysteriously I wasn’t shown on the programme after the accident.”

Mark is looking forward to return to the Kenton on 18 January 2024 with his new tour Search.  He said, “I relish the challenge of being in front of all audiences.”



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