This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Hay Festival" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (July 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Hay Festival of Literature & Arts
Hay Festival crowds reading between sessions
Location(s)Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales
Founded1988; 35 years ago (1988)
FounderNorman, Rhoda and Peter Florence

The Hay Festival of Literature & Arts, better known as the Hay Festival (Welsh: Gŵyl Y Gelli), is an annual literature festival held in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales, for 10 days from May to June. Devised by Norman, Rhoda and Peter Florence in 1988, the festival was described by Bill Clinton in 2001 as "The Woodstock of the mind".[1] Tony Benn said: "In my mind it's replaced Christmas".[2]

It has become a prominent festival in British culture, and sessions at the festival have been recorded for television and radio programmes such as The Readers' and Writers' Roadshow and The One Show. All the BBC's national radio channels apart from Radio One have been involved in broadcasting from the festival, and Sky Arts showed highlights of the festival from 2010 until 2013, handing over the main coverage to the BBC for the 2014 event.[3]


Sign at the entrance to the 2016 Hay Festival.
Sign at the entrance to the 2016 Hay Festival.

The festival was founded in 1988 by Peter Florence and his parents Rhoda and Norman.[4] Hay-on-Wye was already well known for its many bookshops before the festival was launched. Richard Booth opened his first shop there in 1962, and by the 1970s Hay had gained the nickname "The Town of Books".[5] From its inception, the festival was held at a variety of venues around Hay, including the local Primary School, until 2005 when it moved to a unified location just south of the town.[6]

The Guardian was the main sponsor of the festival from 2002 to 2010, succeeding The Sunday Times. The Daily Telegraph and its associated brands in Telegraph Media Group had two terms as three-year sponsors, starting with the 2011 festival.[7] From 2017, the Tata Group and Baillie Gifford are among the principal sponsors, along with the BBC and many non-media companies such as the Arts Council of Wales and the British Council.[8]

Cristina Fuentes La Roche has been the International Director at Hay Festival since 2005.[9]

The festival has expanded over the years to include musical performances and film previews. A children's festival, "Hay Fever", runs alongside the main festival. It has also expanded internationally and sister festivals take place in Aarhus, Arequipa, Nairobi, Dhaka, Zacatecas, the Maldives, Kerala at Thiruvananthapuram, Beirut, Belfast, Cartagena, the Alhambra Palace, Parc Prison in Bridgend and Segovia. In 2009 Hay Festival also took on the ailing Brecon Jazz Festival. It is run by a not-for-profit company, and entrance is free to everyone.[2]

The 2012 festival included writers Martin Amis, Jung Chang, Louis de Bernières, Mark Haddon, Mario Vargas Llosa, Hilary Mantel, Ian McEwan, Michael Morpurgo, Ben Okri, Ian Rankin, Salman Rushdie, Owen Sheers, Jeanette Winterson, comedians Bill Bailey, Rob Brydon, Julian Clary, Jack Dee, Tim Minchin, politicians Peter Hain and Boris Johnson, scientists John D. Barrow, Martin Rees, Simon Singh, and general speakers Harry Belafonte, William Dalrymple, Stephen Fry, A. C. Grayling, Germaine Greer, Michael Ignatieff, and David Starkey.

In 2020 the festival was held digitally online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[10]

In late July 2021, co-founder and director Peter Florence resigned following an independent investigation that upheld a complaint of bullying against him. Florence had been suspended in October 2020.[11][12] He commented: "I consider that my role had become untenable due to the conduct of the board and its insistence on holding a disciplinary hearing in my absence whilst I was off sick after a breakdown."[4]


The Hay Festival was one of 11 Welsh winners of The Queen's Awards for Enterprise for 2009.[13] The 2009 festival included writers Carol Ann Duffy, David Simon, Stephen Fry, David Nicholls, Jenny Valentine and Melvyn Bragg, scientists Martin Rees and Sabine Bahn, economists Anthony Giddens, Nicholas Stern, Howard Davies and Danny Quah, comedians Dylan Moran, Dara Ó Briain and Sandi Toksvig, and general speakers David Frost, Desmond Tutu, Rowan Williams and Rhodri Morgan.

Abu Dhabi controversies

Some of the biggest NGOs and bestselling authors signed a letter condemning abuse of free speech in Abu Dhabi as the 2020 Hay Festival[14] commenced in Abu Dhabi in February. Authors who signed the letter included the likes of Stephen Fry, Noam Chomsky, Jung Chang to Bernardine Evaristo and NGOs such as Amnesty International and PEN International, condemned the abuse of free speech in the United Arab Emirates, which led to the arrest and abuse of human rights advocate Ahmed Mansoor, who by the time of the festival was held in solitary confinement to serve a 10-year prison time.[15]

The festival's chair, Caroline Michel stated on 18 October 2020 that the event would not return to Abu Dhabi, in support of a curator Caitlin McNamara's allegation of sexual assault against the tolerance minister of UAE, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan.[16] McNamara claimed that she was assaulted by the minister when they met at a remote island villa in February 2019 concerning work. The Emirati Foreign Ministry declined to comment on personal matters. When reached out, Britain's Metropolitan Police confirmed receiving a report of alleged rape on July 3 by a woman.[17] In November 2020, Caitlin McNamara vowed to fight on following the CPS October 2020 decision to not prosecute the UAE minister because the alleged attack had occurred outside its jurisdiction. McNamara said the decision sent a message to Sheikh Nahyan and others who commit similar crimes "that as long as they're of economic value to the UK, they can do whatever they want".[18][19] In an interview with The Sunday Times McNamara said she felt "abandoned" by the Hay Festival,[16] and in an interview on Channel 4 stated that "mistakes" had been made in the way the festival handled her reporting the sexual assault to them which were "very distressing".[20]


Hay Festival 2016

See also


  1. ^ Hide, Will (20 January 2007). "The world this week: find 'the Woodstock of the mind'". The Times. London. Retrieved 26 January 2007.
  2. ^ a b "20 facts about Hay-on-Wye and its famous festival". BBC News. 27 May 2011. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  3. ^ "BBC to broadcast Hay Festival on radio, TV, and online". 1 May 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  4. ^ a b Thorpe, Vanessa (1 August 2021). "Hay festival in disarray as director quits after bullying claim upheld". The Observer. Retrieved 1 August 2021.
  5. ^ Thomas, Huw (29 May 2014). "Hay-on-Wye: A town of books or festivals?". BBC News. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  6. ^ Staff writer (27 May 2005). "Stars gathering for Hay Festival". BBC News Online. Retrieved 25 January 2007.
  7. ^ Singh, Anita (29 October 2010). "Telegraph signs deal to sponsor the Hay Festival of literature". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 1 November 2010.
  8. ^ "Global Partners". Hay Festival. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  9. ^ "Cristina Fuentes La Roche". Hay Festival.
  10. ^ Staff (6 May 2020). "Hay Festival reveals line-up for digital event". BBC News. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  11. ^ Flood, Alison (26 October 2020). "Hay festival founder suspended after bullying allegations". The Guardian.
  12. ^ "Hay Festival director and co-founder Peter Florence suspended". BBC News. 26 October 2020.
  13. ^ "Hay Festival wins business honour". BBC. 21 April 2009. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  14. ^ "Hay Festival Abu Dhabi". Hay Festival.
  15. ^ Flood, Alison (24 February 2020). "As Hay festival opens in the UAE, authors condemn free speech abuses". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  16. ^ a b Lamb, Christina; Dipesh Gadher (17 October 2020). "Gulf minister of tolerance in 'sex assault' on Hay books festival worker". The Sunday Times.
  17. ^ Huio, Sylvia (21 October 2020). "UK festival curator accuses UAE minister of sex assault". AP News. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  18. ^ Cain, Sian (30 October 2020). "CPS will not prosecute UAE minister accused of sexually assaulting Briton". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  19. ^ Flood, Alison. "British woman accusing senior UAE royal of sexual assault to fight on". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
  20. ^ Long, Jackie (21 October 2020). "Royal family sex assault claim – in United Arab Emirates". Channel 4.

Coordinates: 52°04′30″N 3°07′30″W / 52.075°N 3.125°W / 52.075; -3.125