Hay Festival 2016 programme announced

Caitlin Moran, Sam Mendes, Maxine Peake, Michael Palin, Simon Schama, Germaine Greer, Salman Rushdie, Gordon Brown, Yanis Varoufakis, Mervyn King, Monty Don, Tom Holland and Jeanette Winterson headline; plus comedy from Sarah Millican, Marcus Brigstocke, Dara Ó Briain, and Sara Pascoe; and music from Suzanne Vega, Billy Bragg, Laura Marling, K T Tunstall, Turin Brakes, and Baaba Maal.

In a year of literary landmarks (Shakespeare, Cervantes, Brontë and Dahl), and on the eve of the EU referendum and US election, Hay Festival 2016 (26 May–5 June) brings Nobel Prize winners, novelists, scientists, global leaders, historians, musicians and comedians together in discussions and celebrations across more than 600 events in Hay-on-Wye, Wales.

The programme, announced today and available in full at www.hayfestival.com, is diverse, pertinent and illuminating, featuring global leaders, thinkers, established talent and rising stars from across disciplines.

These are the writers and thinkers and entertainers who thrill us this year. These are the women and men who inform the debate about Europe, who are adventuring in new technologies, and who are broadening our minds; and here are the lovers of language who cheer the celebrations of William Shakespeare, the greatest writer who ever lived – the playwright who understood most about the human heart.
— Peter Florence, Director of Hay Festival

From stage and screen, Oscar winner Sam Mendes will discuss his film-making; Russell T Davies talks about his latest project alongside actress Maxine Peake, legendary screenwriter Andrew Davies talks about his adaptation of War and Peace; Jojo Moyes previews the new film adaptation of Me Before You; and actor Brian Blessed, travel legend Michael Palin, and Hollywood superstar Tippi Hedren discuss their careers. Plus Letters Live returns with a surprise all-star performance.

William Shakespeare is celebrated across the festival site with events starring leading figures from books, stage and screen. Simon Schama, James Shapiro, Germaine Greer, Gillian Clarke and others discuss his impact, while Howard Jacobson, Jeanette Winterson, and Tracy Chevalier discuss their recent retellings. See #TalkingaboutShakespeare for details of more than 80 events.

The festival’s own commemoration, a special project linked to the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, will be unveiled in a special event strand – Lunatics, Lovers and Poets – led by Salman Rushdie, Kamila Shamsie, Valeria Luiselli and Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Outside the festival site, Hay Festival: Talking About Shakespeare is a digital platform sharing ideas on Shakespeare in this anniversary year, with a wider audience.

Three weeks before the 23 June EU referendum, the festival places a magnifying glass on the main issues, with discussions led by former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown; former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis; former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King; and former advisor to David Cameron, Steve Hilton. As ever, the festival also incorporates a wider global affairs strand, with the US election, Russian resurgence, and the Middle East looming large, led by panellists including: Nobel Literature Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, former deputy head of NATO Richard Shirreff, former head of the CIA and NSA Michael V Hayden, and Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi.

Stars from book and screen celebrate the great outdoors, including Kate Humble, Monty Don and Chris Packham, while the past is revisited in talks from Tom Holland, Max Hastings, Jonathan Dimbleby, Philippe Sands and many more. Meanwhile, business leaders including BP CEO John Browne and household name Emma Bridgewater appear alongside a host of big thinkers including philosopher AC Grayling, mental health campaigner Ruby Wax, journalist Caitlin Moran and Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates.

To balance the serious discussions, a rich strand of comedy and music will once again fill festival tents, with internationally acclaimed comedians taking the stage, including Sarah Millican, Marcus Brigstocke, Dara Ó Briain, Sara Pascoe, Isy Suttie, and the Olivier Award-winning improvised musical Showstoppers, plus music headlined by American singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega; English singer-songwriters Billy Bragg and Laura Marling; Scottish superstar K T Tunstall; Indie rockers Turin Brakes; and Sengalese sensation Baaba Maal.

Hay Festival 2015 - boy with ice cream.jpg

A newly named children’s programme – HAYDAYS – offers a range of activities and events for families and young adults led by some of the biggest names in children’s writing including Julia Donaldson, Jacqueline Wilson, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, Michael Morpurgo, Cressida Cowell, and CBBC’s Sam and Mark, plus YA superstars Frances Hardinge, Holly Smale, Juno Dawson, Patrick Ness, and vlogging sensation Caspar Lee, who will discuss the power of social media and his unexpected life at the heart of it.

Meanwhile, beyond the main stages is a whole host of activities for all ages to discover and enjoy, from the best local food and drink, creative workshops and artists’ exhibitions, to a blockbuster programme of free BBC events and the opportunity to explore the stunning countryside surrounding the festival site.

For the full programme of over 600 events, visit www.hayfestival.com.

Hay Festival 2016 – programme highlights


Four hundred years on from the death of William Shakespeare, the Bard is celebrated across the festival site with events in the adult and family programmes, starring leading figures from books, stage and screen.

On stage and screen, former Dr Who show-runner, Russell T Davies, talks about his passion project – a film adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – with the actress who plays Titania, Maxine Peake; the Deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Erica Whyman, discusses her current production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran discusses Shakespeare’s legacy.

Leading academics give their take on Shakespeare’s influence: Simon Schama examines his myths of England; James Shapiro directs a spotlight on 1606; Germaine Greer talks about the playwright’s poetry, and Gillian Clarke discusses Lear.

Renowned writers offer their commemorations, including the novelists behind the recent Hogarth retellings of Shakespeare, Howard Jacobson (Shylock Is My Name), Jeanette Winterson (The Gap of Time) and Tracy Chevalier talking about his influence on them; Stanley Wells introduces his anthology of Shakespeare essays alongside Margaret Drabble, while Don Paterson reads Shakespeare’s sonnets.

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the deaths of both Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, the festival has commissioned six English language and six Hispanic writers to create stories to celebrate both writers and to offer new and intriguing perspectives on them. A special stream of events – Talking about Shakespeare: Lunatics, Lovers and Poets – will showcase their work, including appearances by Salman Rushdie, Kamila Shamsie, Valeria Luiselli, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Nell Leyshon, Vicente Molina Foix, Yuri Herrera, Marcos Giralt Torrente and Ben Okri.

Outside the festival site, Hay Festival: Talking About Shakespeare is a digital platform sharing ideas on Shakespeare in this anniversary year, with a wider audience.


The backbone of the festival remains a rich picking of discussions around the best new fiction from established names and rising stars, including Salman Rushdie (Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights), Edna O’Brien (The Little Red Chairs), Fay Weldon (Before the War), James Runcie (Sidney Chambers and The Dangers of Temptation), Joanne Harris (Different Class), Rose Tremain (The Gustav Sonata), Graham Swift (Mothering Sunday), Harry Parker (Anatomy of a Soldier), Melvyn Bragg (Now is the Time), Thomas Keneally (Napolean’s Last Island), Valeria Luiselli (The Story of My Teeth), Peter Carey (Amnesia: A Novel), Tahmima Anam (The Bones of Grace), Mark Haddon (The Pier Falls), Jonathan Coe (Number 11), Marina Lewycka (The Lubetkin Legacy), James Runcie (The Grantchester Mysteries), S J Parris (Conspiracies) plus BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner, who launches his debut novel Blood and Sand; and Alain de Botton offers his first novel in 20 years (The Course of Love).

A series of unique pairings will also draw crowds, including Irvine Welsh (The Blade Artist) in conversation with 2015 Man Booker winner Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings), and David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks) in conversation with Sjon (Moonstone, The Boy Who Never Was).

The resurgence of poetry is felt across the programme as Simon Armitage offers his latest work of poetry in translation, Pearl; T S Eliot Prize-winner Sarah Howe discusses her debut Loop of Jade, while spoken word artist and poetry slam champion Hollie McNish, and Roger McGough and LiTTLe MACHiNe perform.

Leading graphic novelists also feature significantly with Simon Grennan discussing his Anthony Trollope adaptation, Dispossession; and Si Spencer and Dix Grim on their award-winning work, Klaxon.

A bicentenary celebration of the birth of Charlotte Brontë is led by Tracy Chevalier, Lionel Shriver, Kirsty Gunn and Joanna Briscoe; while John Crace and John Sutherland re-read her best works; and award-winning biographer Claire Harman looks at her influence today.

Stage and screen

The vast influence of books on screen comes under the spotlight as legendary screenwriter Andrew Davies discusses his recent adaptation of War and Peace; novelist Jojo Moyes previews the new film based on her best-selling novel, Me Before You, alongside the film’s director Thea Sharrock; and the makers of BBC crime drama Shetland appear with the author of the novels it is based on, Ann Cleeves.

World-renowned directors will join the festival to showcase their latest work, with Director Stephen Frears discussing his new film, Florence, starring Meryl Streep as the tone-deaf singer Florence Foster Jenkins; and Sam Mendes in conversation on his award-winning film-making.

Stars of the stage and screen also attract attention, with Brian Blessed talking about his life in front of and behind the camera; Michael Palin discusses his memoir Travelling to Work; Hollywood actress Tippi Hedren talks about her long acting career and work for endangered Big Cats; plus a surprise al-star cast will return for Letters Live, led in previous years by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jude Law.

UK today

UK politics and life today comes into focus in a series of events. Former Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti discusses whether we could scrap the Human Rights Act. In politics, investigative journalist Tom Bower takes another look at Labour’s longest serving premier, Tony Blair, ahead of the Chilcot report in June, while our place in the wider world is discussed as Oxford Professor of Globalisation Ian Goldin talks to Bronwen Maddox about how we can navigate the new age of discovery we find ourselves in.

Geographers Danny Dorling and Bethan Thomas offer findings from their analysis of UK social change over the past 15 years, while Dame Esther Rantzen reflects on the core work of children’s services and the challenges facing young people today.

Around the world

Three weeks before the 23 June EU referendum, the festival looks at our relationships with our Continental neighbours. Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown sets out his case for Britain in Europe; former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis looks at the dramatic narrative of Europe’s economic rise and fall; and a panel of politicians, business leaders and journalists, including Roger Bootle, Liam Fox, Nick Herbert, Allison Pearson and Roland Rudd weigh up the pros and cons of membership. Minister of State for Trade and Investment Mark Price discusses Britain’s economic and business relationships with the EU. Nik Gowing, Simon Schama, Gillian Tett and special guests close the festival with a special EU debate in which the Hay audience will make their final decision: In or Out.

Russia comes under the microscope as 2015 Nobel Literature Laureate, Svetlana Alexievich, talks about its past and present, while foreign correspondent at the Guardian Luke Harding attempts to reach the truth behind the assassination of Alexander Litvenyenko. Former Deputy Head of NATO Richard Shirreff argues that we are sleepwalking our way into war with Russia, while former BBC Diplomatic Correspondent Bridget Kendall talks about the re-emergence of Russia as a superpower.

In a landmark election year, the US dominates a series of discussions. US intelligence expert and the only person to helm both the CIA and NSA, Michael V Hayden, offers an unprecedented high-level narrative of America’s intelligence wars; President Bill Clinton’s former Defence Secretary, William Perry, discusses his long career, including the creation of the Nuclear Security Project; BBC News anchor Norma Percy looks inside the Obama White House while discussing her latest BBC 2 series, whichwas eight years in the making; and the race for the White House is spotlighted in a special debate featuring Bronwen Maddox, Jane Mayer, Jim Naughtie and Mark Thompson.

The Middle East is also drawn into discussion, with Iranian human rights lawyer and activist, Shirin Ebadi, talking to Helena Kennedy about her fight for reform inside Iran; frontline investigative journalist James Harkin discusses the Islamic State.

In global economics, former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King analyses the causes of the global financial crisis, and economist, global strategist and presidential adviser Philippa Malmgren, offers a way to navigate the world’s turbulent economy.

Plus, following the signing of the COP21 Agreement at last year’s climate convention in Paris, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, explains how it can become a reality.


As ever, the festival’s historical interest strand offers rich pickings across the ages. Tom Holland looks at the making of England; AC Grayling pinpoints the C17th as the birth of the modern mind in The Age of Genius; Simon Sebag Montefiore and Jung Chang chart the crimes of Stalin and Mao; and Niall Ferguson traces the rise, fall and revival of Henry Kissinger.

On war, journalist and war historian Max Hastings talks about the machinations of the Second World War; Jonathan Dimbleby tackles on the Battle of the Atlantic; Sinclair McKay and Thomas Briggs reveal unknown secrets of Bletchley’s wartime operation and the Enigma; Russian historian Robert Service looks at the end of the Cold War; John France gives an account of the 1187 Battle of Hattin;

James Holland takes us to Burma in 1944; and Hugh Sebag-Montefiore takes us to the Battle of the Somme.

On Germany, two of the world’s greatest historians, former director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, and Regius Professor of History at Cambridge University, Richard Evans, discuss Germany and memory. Director and writer David Evans introduces a special screening of his new documentary with Philippe Sands, What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy, while Sands gives this year’s Eric Hobsbawm Lecture, drawing on his latest novel that offers the untold story at the heart of the Nuremberg Trial.


The effect of technology on our working lives is debated with Hillary Clinton’s innovations advisor, Alec Ross, who discusses the industries of the future; father-son duo Richard and Daniel Susskind look at the future of professionals in our digital society; and Cambridge Lecturer in Mechatronics, Fumiya Iida, asks if it’s a good idea that robots can steal our jobs.

The importance of algorithms is debated with Oxford Computer Science Professor, Leslie Goldberg, discussing their limits, while Victorian computing visionary and architect of the world’s first algorithm, Ada Lovelace, is celebrated by Oxford Professor of Computer Science, Ursula Martin.

Plus, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, Helen Margetts, looks at how social media shape collective action; while Research Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex, Margaret A Boden, looks at the practical applications of artificial intelligence.

Science and health

From radiation to ribosomes, a range of prize-winning scientists offers a look at the frontiers of our discovery. Nobel Prize-winning chemist, Venki Ramakrishnan, gives the Royal Society Lecture, on unravelling the ribosome; science writer Kat Arney talks about the language of genes; Hannah Crichtlow explores the depths of the human brain; and Professor Timothy J Jorgensen gives the story of radiation.

The first female winner of The Royal Society’s book prize, Gaia Vince, charts our new geological age: the Athropocene; and Marcus du Sautoy discusses the limits of what we can know, in the John Maddox Lecture.

In Outer Space, Commercial Director of Virgin Galactic Stephen Attenborough talks about the next step in human space exploration; astronomer Martin Rees shares his excitement around recent cosmic discoveries; UCL solar physicist and Kohn Award winner Lucie Green takes us to the centre of the sun; while comedian and science writer Ben Miller searches for life in the wider universe.

In health, Director of the Wellcome Trust Jeremy Farrar debates the future of global health, while, closer to home, philosopher, poet and novelist Raymond Tallis leads a discussion around the NHS. Samuel Johnson Prize-winner Steve Silberman gives the Baillie Gifford Lecture on his study of autism, NeuroTribes; while comedien and mental health campaigner, Ruby Wax, talks about mindfulness as a scientific solution to stress; clinical psychologist Oliver James explores the childhood causes of individualityand Joan Bakewell delivers the Wellcome Book Prize Lecture.

Business and big ideas

As ever, big thinking dominates the Hay programme. Former BP CEO John Browne explores the rift between big business and society; renowned behavioural economist Richard Thaler looks at the discipline’s growing influence; Financial Times columnist Gillian Tett discusses the catastrophic effect of specialising too deeply (The Silo Effect); American psychologist and MacArthur Fellowship winner Angela Duckworth explains how talent can only take you so far; Steve Hilton returns to discuss his ideas around a world that’s more human; while acclaimed columnist Caitlin Moran offers a manifesto all of her own.


Debates around sexism today and pioneering women of the past form a core strand of programming once more, with the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project Laura Bates in discussion with columnist Bryony Gordon around the new wave of feminism, plus Mabel van Oranje, the initiator of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage and member of the Dutch Royal Family, reflects on lessons learned from two decades of fighting for human rights.

Personal stories

Showcasing the latest works of memoir and biography, the festival focuses on a range of personal stories that will resonate. Scottish comedien Susan Calman offers her autobiography Cheer Up, Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate; Cathy Rentzenbrink talks about a fate worse than death (The Last Act of Love); Erwin James discusses redemption after incarceration (Redeemable); Amy Liptrot gives an account of her escape from alcoholism (The Outrun); and David Aaronovitch gives the annual Christopher Hitchens Lecture, linked to his new memoir, Party Animals: My Family and Other Communists.

Specialist passions come through strongly, too, with Edmund de Waal taking us on a journey from east to west in his history of porcelain, The White Road; while Lars Mytting meditates on the human instinct for survival in discussing his latest work Norwegian Wood.

Art and design

The worlds of art and design are reflected across the schedule, with Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin talking about the human impulse to document; Emma Bridgewater talking about Pattern & The Secrets of Lasting Design; Red or Dead co-founder Wayne Hemingway taking us on a journey through fashion; and graphic designer Peter Chadwick discussing brutalist architecture.

Great outdoors

Hay’s proximity to, and innate love of, the great British outdoors is reflected across programming with a range of events starring familiar faces from book and screen. Monty Don looks at C18th gardens; Kate Humble talks about the extraordinary partnership between humans and dogs; Chris Packham talks about his coming of age memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar; Horatio Clare discusses the near extinction of the curlew; historian Thomas Pakenham shares his profound love of trees; environmentalist Tony Juniper looks at the state of the planet; and local farmer and award-winning nature writer, John Lewis-Stempel returns to Hay with The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland.

The festival opens on Thursday 26 May with its annual sustainability platform: the Hay on Earth Forum. Programmed by Andy Fryers, this year’s programme covers a swathe of sustainability topics from Fair Tax to Re-wilding, Permaculture to the importance of artisan crafts, with representatives Minette Batters, NFU Deputy President; Julia Aglionby, Executive Director of the Foundation for Common Land; and Sophie Wynne-Jones, trustee of the Wales Wild Land Foundation.

Music and comedy

To balance the serious discussions, a rich strand of comedy will once again fill festival tents with internationally acclaimed comedians. These include Dara Ó Briain, Sarah Millican, Marcus Brigstocke, Sara Pascoe, Isy Suttie, Jess Robinson, Shazia Mirza, Mark Steel, and the Olivier Award-winning improvised musical Showstoppers.

The spoken word, applause and laughter are not the only sounds to be found on site as the festival’s music events showcases a diverse array of performances. Global talent headlines the wider programming, with American singer songwriter Suzanne Vega; English singer-songwriters Billy Bragg and Laura Marling; Scottish superstar K T Tunstall; Indie rockers Turin Brakes; Sengalese sensation Baaba Maal; Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho and Wales-India collaboration Ghazalaw.

Music takes place throughout the day with BBC Radio 3 lunchtime recitals returning, featuring performances from the Sitkovetsky Duo – Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin) and Wu Quian (piano); pianist Pavel Kolesnikov; trombonist and pianist Peter Moore and James Baillieu; The Cremona Quartet and guitarist Morgan Szymanski; before the Welsh legends Bryn Terfel and Rebecca Evans give the closing concert.


Notes to editors

For further information, please contact Christopher Bone or Emily Banyard at FMcM Associates: Hay@fmcm.co.uk /0207 4057422.

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About Hay Festival


Hay Festival brings writers and readers together to inspire, examine and entertain at its festivals around the world. Nobel Prize-winners and novelists, scientists and politicians, historians and musicians talk with audiences in a dynamic exchange of ideas. Hay Festival’s global conversation shares the latest thinking in the arts and sciences with curious audiences live, in print and digitally.  Hay Festival also runs wide programmes of education work supporting coming generations of writers and culturally hungry audiences of all ages. Join us to imagine the world. 

Acclaimed author, actor and writer Stephen Fry is President of the organisation; Peter Florence is Director; and Caroline Michel, CEO of leading literary and talent agency Peters Fraser and Dunlop, is Chair of the festival board.

Established around a kitchen table in 1987, the organisation now reaches a global audience of thousands every year and continues to grow and innovate, building partnerships and initiatives alongside some of the leading bodies in arts and the media, including global partners the BBC, ACW, TATA, British Council and LSE; friends of Hay Festival the Daily Telegraph, Visit Wales, Baillie Gifford, Oxfam, and Good Energy; and international partners Wales Arts International, AC/E, Embassy of Chile, Embassy of Colombia, and the Embassy of Mexico.

Hay Festival Wales takes place from 26 May–5 June 2016 in the beautiful setting of the Wye Valley. In May 2017, Hay Festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Hay Festival global calendar:

  • Hay Festival Wales, UK: 26 May-5 June 2016
  • Hay Festival Kells, Ireland: 23-26 June 2016
  • Hay Festival Queretaro, Mexico: 1-4 September 2016
  • Hay Festival Segovia, Spain: 22-25 September 2016
  • Hay Festival Winter Weekend in Wales, UK: 26-27 November 2016
  • Hay Festival Arequipa, Peru: 8-11 December 2016
  • Hay Festival Cartagena, Colombia: 26-29 January 2017

For more information, contact Christopher Bone or Emily Banyard at hay@fmcm.co.uk.