Diary of a Hay Festival Steward – Days 1 and 2

hay festival flagsThere’s something unique about the Hay Festival, apart from its size and global reputation; it is such a mish-mash of culture, politics, literature, comedy and even some music – all concentrated down into something quite intense. I stewarded last year and found the experience addictive – the thrill of waiting for the next event to start, wondering how full it will be, discovering new authors you’ve never heard of… So here I am again, stewarding, camping and breathing in the literary air of Hay.   

So far we’ve had scorching hot sun, a thunderstorm (which woke me in the tent at 4.30am) and now strong winds and a sudden downpour after a fairly dry morning. I’m currently taking shelter in an upstairs corner of Booths bookshop – a haven of warmth and peace (I did try the café, and several others – all full – that’s one of the downsides of Hay).

Richard Booths Bookshop

Richard Booths Bookshop

This year there are armed police and bag searches due to the high terrorism alert, but the festival site hasn’t changed much. I’m beginning to get the hang of where things are, and have confidently directed several people to various locations, with only a marginal fear that I’m pointing them the wrong way.

I was exhausted after pitching the tent yesterday, so didn’t have the energy to do much stewarding. I was told to go along to whichever tent I liked, to see if they needed people, so I ended up at the Baillie Gifford stage, and decided to stay. The next event was Helen Fielding talking about her book (and the film) – Bridget Jones’ baby, which I thought might be worth seeing. She was certainly entertaining, but more nervous than I would have expected, and a little bit Bridget Jones-ish in her manner. Apparently the first Bridget Jones event she ever did (a book signing in Newcastle) only two people turned up, and ever since then she’s been wary of expecting a big audience.

hay festival sunshineThen we had Nick Clegg’s wife, Miriam Gonsález Durántez – a very interesting speaker, talking about a future for the EU. I had hoped to avoid politics if possible this year, but she was so positive and genuine, I was pleased to hear it.

Then I caught the bus back to Hay and a campsite full of overexcited children (and overexcited adults). The night was balmy, until the thunderstorm, which was rather loud and dramatic, and there was a lot of noise from the surrounding tents, but I did manage to get a few hours sleep. Unfortunately I’d forgotten what it’s like when you camp, how everything takes longer than you expect, and how easy it is to lose things in a tent, which made me late for the first event today.

campsite at hay festival

The campsite looking crowded but beautiful this morning after the rain

It didn’t matter though, as we had plenty of stewards this morning. Today we’ve had a lot of literature – including Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif and author Horatio Clare, but the American writer Elizabeth Strout was the most entertaining. She spoke a lot about how people think there’s no such thing as class in the US, but she insisted that class difference does exist there, it’s just not something that gets talked about. It was fascinating to hear how she gets inside the minds of all her characters, and how her writing process is so messy, working on bits that then get fitted together (or occasionally lost!).

I’m heading back for a taste of Lucy Worsley on Jane Austen this afternoon. Hoping the wind will die down too!

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