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Memories of the Hay Festival

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Nicola Heywood Thomas Nicola Heywood Thomas | 14:49 UK time, Friday, 28 May 2010

I can hardly believe that it's Hay Festival time again. The annual bash is now in its 23rd year and I'm proud to say that I haven't missed one so far! The Arts Show will come live from the festival site on Thursday 3 June, and on Sunday 6 June I'll be talking to Radio Wales' very own national treasure, Roy Noble, in a festival session about his autobiography.

I'd be able to tick off my 23rd year of attendance by simply working but there are so many festival events that I want to go to anyway this year that it would have been hard to keep me away.

I was thinking back over the years of Hay festivals and remembering that it actually began as a bank holiday weekend event - three days of talks with writers held in various buildings in the town itself. Over more than two decades, it's grown to be a 10 day marathon on its own site just on the outskirts of Hay.

This year's programme is as eclectic as ever and this is the real joy of the festival. It sounds like a cliche to say it offers something for everyone, but, in this case, it's true. I'm especially looking forward to hearing Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel talking about her brilliant historical novel Wolf Hall, and would love to see the comedian Tim Minchin if I can get a ticket, but there will be other sessions that will be just as entertaining and fascinating.

It's a rare privilege to be so close to writers and performers and it's not just the headline grabbers that stick in my mind from past years. Of course there's something special about seeing Bill Clinton or Goldie Hawn or Desmond Tutu speaking in a large tent in a field. But I've been equally impressed by crime writers such as Patricia Cornwell and Ian Rankin, great wits and raconteurs such as John Mortimer and Tony Benn.

If I wanted to list my top ten of Hay festival favourites it would be hard to know where to start, and harder still to stop. It would definitely include Salman Rushdie's first public appearance (unheralded till he walked onto the stage) after the fatwa declared as a result of his novel The Satanic Verses.

There'd be a cracking performance by Macy Gray in a very sweaty tent, a fascinating insight into Tudor history from Dr David Starkey, ex-Pythons Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and the awesome Maya Angelou.

Now I've just remembered the chance I had to interview Hollywood legend Lauren Bacall at Hay; and holding Tanni Grey Thompson's Olympic gold medals and her handing them round the audience - yes, really - and they were all returned!

Oh, I could go on but let's just look forward to this week's festival and hope that the weather is kind to us all!


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