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You are in: Gloucestershire > People > Your Stories > Cheltenham Literature Festival 2007

Richard Hammond

Cheltenham Literature Festival 2007

It's one of the biggest events in the Literature world - the annual Cheltenham Literature Festival. Until Sunday 14th October, some of the most famous writers on the planet have gathered for a feast of literary fun.

Throughout the Cheltenham Literature Festival (5 - 14 October 2007), BBC Radio Gloucestershire is bringing the best in celebrity interviews. Tune in throughout the week, and keep checking this page which is updated daily.

Organisers hope up to 80 thousand tickets will be sold over the course of the event, making it one of the biggest events of its kind.

You can listen to some of the best interviews again by clicking on the links below.

You'll find many more interviews to listen to by scolling to the bottom of this page.

Festival Diary

BBC Radio Gloucestershire's Trish Campbell is behind-the-scenes at this year's Cheltenham Literature Festival to bring you the celebrity gloss and gossip. Read her diary here:

Entry 1

My stint covering the Festival began with an appointment to meet a literary giant. The creator of Inspector Morse, Colin Dexter, was in town for a promotional event although he wasn't appearing at the festival itself. However, I couldn't refuse the invitation to interview such a charming and erudite gentleman. He told me that he's recently been fighting the flab and has lost almost three stones in weight. Not bad for a 77 year old.

Author Ben MacIntyre revealed that he'd just bumped in to a previously unknown daughter of Eddie Chapman; the wartime double-agent who is the subject of his book 'Agent ZigZag'. Ben didn't even know of her existence. Maybe this will lead to ZigZag The Sequel.    

Then I found myself in the shadow of Dragon's Den tycoon Peter Jones - literally. As I'm 5' 1" and he's 6' 7" it was a case of little meets large. My verdict on Peter? Taller and better looking than he appears on TV and not nearly as scary.

Day One of the Festival brought with it one of the highlights of my broadcasting career; an interview with the acclaimed American actor and M*A*S*H* star Alan Alda. As a child, I used to creep downstairs after lights-out in order to watch him as Hawkeye on TV. After meeting him I'm even more of a fan - but this time I was properly dressed and not slumped on a sofa wearing pyjamas. 

Entry 2

Dame Helen Mirren might appear to be the strong, resilient-type, but during her appearance at The Centaur she revealed what made her cry. It was the less-than-glittering costume for her hit-film, 'The Queen'. Apparently the staid tweed skirt, scruffy wax-jacket and dowdy headscarf made Helen howl. I suppose it's safe to say something like that after you've received your DBE.

Tory leader David Cameron's autocue-free conference speech might have impressed the political sketch-writers last week, but someone else is the real master-of-the-art. Step forward William Hague. The Shadow Foreign Secretary gave a brilliant lecture based on his biography of the abolitionist William Wilberforce - without so much as a glance at any notes and barely an 'umm' to be heard. I understand Mrs Hague is writing a book soon. No pressure then, Ffion. 

Entry 3

It's official - some politicians do have a sense of humour. The former Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, now Lord Baker, likes a laugh. I discovered this when we chatted about his love of cartoons and caricatures (he's vice-chairman of the Cartoon Museum - I bet that's a big draw). I was brave enough to mention the 'Spitting Image' puppet which depicted him as a slug. He didn't mind at all; "Once you've been caricatured, you've arrived". I may not be a teacher but I have had my very own Baker Day.

If you want books to challenge, surprise and move you, reach for the work of Michael Blastland ('Joe - The Only Boy in the Word') and Marti Leimbach ('Daniel Isn't Talking). They write and talk powerfully about their own experiences of bringing up children with autism. They're frank, funny, thought-provoking and totally lacking in self-pity.

As the world's worst sailor, I thought I'd better get some tips from the best. When he was 29, Robin Knox-Johnston became the first man to solo circumnavigate the globe non-stop. Then he did it again when he was 68. So what was his advice to help me overcome sea-sickness? Drink a pint of sea water - apparently it makes you sick, but it's the last time you're sick. Mmm, I think I quite like being a landlubber.     

There was a moment of mild panic at the Town Hall when a certain regal personage arrived unexpectedly. There was no red carpet ready when the chauffeur-driven Jaguar swept majestically into the car park. A well-attired aide opened the rear passenger-door and out stepped a very special visitor, dressed immaculately in a magenta-coloured dress, purple coat and silver low-heeled shoes. A very grand arrival indeed for the most important member of the "family". 86 year-old actress Liz Smith (Nana in TV's 'Royle Family') certainly knows how to make an entrance. Who did you think I meant?

Entry 4

This week is the peak time for spotting famous names and celebrities in Cheltenham. With more than 200 events on the festival programme, it's an autograph-hunters delight. But which V.I.P. is proving to be the most popular at the obligatory book-signing tables?

Well, I can confirm that the longest queues so far have been for the globe-trotting ex-python Michael Palin, Dragon's Den tycoon Peter Jones and the TV historian Michael Wood. So it's nothing to do with good looks then?

I was distinctly nervous about interviewing the rottweiler of restaurant reviewers, A.A. Gill. The gourmet critic of the Sunday Times was once thrown out of Gordon Ramsey's eatery and caused uproar in Stow-on-the-Wold when he described the town as "catastrophically ghastly" and "the worst place in the world". But when we met he was the perfect gentleman; charming, well-mannered and amusing. However, don't think for a moment that I was totally smitten. He's still wrong about Stow.

It seems that famous faces aren't only to be found on the festival stage. One or two crop up in the stalls as well. When he appeared at the Everyman Theatre, the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes could boast an audience which included the 1991 Gulf War Commander, General Sir Peter de la Billiere and the veteran Falklands War journalist Max Hastings. What a shame Kate Adie wasn't in town - then we'd have had the full set.

Entry 5

The Sheriff of Nottingham rode into town….and took his front tooth out. Actor Keith Allen (father of pop star Lily Allen) is currently starring as the baddie in TV's "Robin Hood". He told me all about his new life in the Five Valleys, his fascination with the free-roaming cows on Minchinhampton Common and even the fact that he's thinking of setting up a stall at Stroud Farmers' Market. But the big shock came when we had our photograph taken and he promptly whipped out his fake front fang and gave me a gappy grin.     

I can reveal that the camp comedian Julian Clary is much more handsome in person than he appears on TV. I grabbed a quick word with him before his sell-out appearance at the Town Hall and I was mesmerised by his new hair-do. It's a bit odd; part Mohican, part astro-turf. I suspect it's something to do with his new role in the West End production of 'Cabaret'. Julian was accompanied by two very special ladies; his mum, Brenda and his pet dog Valerie ("mother a whippety affair - father unknown").
    
While the local media has done a great job reporting on the Festival, national television has barely covered events here in Cheltenham. But it's just been confirmed that BBC One's "Question Time" will be coming from Cheltenham College on Thursday night (11th October). It will be David Dimbleby's second visit in six days; the presenter of "A Picture of Britain" gave a brilliant talk about the follow-up series "How We Built Britain" at The Centaur last Friday. So far no one from the "Question Time" team has been able to tell me if he'll arrive in his trademark Land Rover wearing a shirt in a rather familiar fetching shade of pink, not forgetting the stripey socks.

Entry 6

The great thing about the Literature Festival is that Gloucestershire book-lovers get to rub shoulders with Lords, Earls, Duchesses and Knights of the Realm. In a break between his Town Hall talks, I got the chance to talk to Charles, Earl Spencer. The brother of Princess Diana told me about his fascination with one of the legendary figures in the Civil War Siege of Gloucester, Prince Rupert. In fact, he's written the first proper biography of the expert horseman and General. I also discovered that the 9th Earl has opened up the family home, Althorp, for weddings and it has even hosted its first civil partnership ceremony. Apparently the groom-and-groom replaced the normal honeymoon car with a pink tank. I forgot to ask if it still had tins cans and old boots tied to the rear bumper.

My natural curiosity got the better of me and I insisted on meeting the people in charge of an event called "Undressing Mr Darcy". Actor Ian Stapleton and his wife Gillian tour the country with their presentation revealing the secrets of a regency gentleman's wardrobe. I don't think I've ever interviewed a man who was wearing a corset and pantaloons while holding a walking cane to fend off over-friendly female fans. Sadly Mr Darcy didn't wade through any water while I was around. But I loved the public warning which accompanied the event; "We take no responsibilty for audience members swooning or sighing in excess".

I've decided that politicians are like buses. You wait for ages and then three come along at once. What's more it was a trio of Liberal Democrat Peers. Former party leaders David Steel and Paddy Ashdown are now both Lords and made separate appearances at the Everyman Theatre within hours of each other. Cheltenham's former Lib-Dem MP, Lord Nigel Jones, was on hand to introduce his former boss, Lord Ashdown, to the stage. The former Yeovil MP was elevated to the peerage in 2001 but he insisted that I call him Paddy. Though I did notice that his attire was distinctly off-message. Forget clothes in the party colours, he opted for a striking pink sweater. Do you think Ming will mind? Someone described the trio of Steel, Ashdown and Jones as "Three Lords-a-Liberal". Sounds like a line from the Twelve Days of Christmas to me.

Entry 7

Some people save stamps, others collect stickers, badges and bus tickets. I've become a celeb-collector. In the last week I've met and interviewed more famous authors and TV stars than most people see in a lifetime. Alan Alda, Liz Smith, Robin Knox Johnston, Earl Spencer, AA Gill, Julian Clary, Keith Allen…the list goes on. It's a great privilege and I'm extremely grateful to everyone who has taken the time to be interviewed on BBC Radio Gloucestershire. I think the highlight must be the surreal moment when, instead of queuing-up to meet my favourite celebrity, I had 'Kumars' star Sanjeev Bhaskar and 'Top Gear' dish Richard Hammond queuing up to talk into my microphone.

I take my hat off to all the people working behind-the-scenes at the Town Hall, the Everyman Theatre and The Centaur this week. About 10,000 book-lovers a day are visiting Cheltenham for the Literature Festival and everything's been going like clockwork as the hoardes come and go. But this well-oiled machine would all descend in to choas and confusion if it wasn't for the various helpers, heroes and hired-hands. I've been particularly impressed by the team in the Festival Book tent. Caroline Morris and the staff from Waterstone's have remained calm, efficient and friendly as they stock and re-stock the shelves, change the displays several times each day and deal with long queues of eager autograph-hunters. With nearly 300 people pouring in to the tent to meet Richard Hammond and similar numbers for Peter Jones, Bruce Parry and Michael Wood it's been nicknamed Piccadilly Circus.

Meanwhile it's farewell to the festival stage-manager, Rob Wimperis, who's retiring from the role after 20 years. He's the man who makes sure people are in the right place at the right time and that events start and finish when they should. Next year he's hoping to actually see some of the Festival talks but first he's working on getting a free pass.
 
By the way, I think I may have made Richard Hammond's day, he said he didn't mind having his photo taken with me, as it made a nice change to be standing next to someone shorter than him! As I had 3 inch heels on at the time, he didn't realise he positively towers over me, maybe I should ask for a re-take?

last updated: 14/08/2008 at 14:21
created: 05/10/2007

You are in: Gloucestershire > People > Your Stories > Cheltenham Literature Festival 2007



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