JILLY COOPER kicks off the sixth Henley Literary Festival on Monday with a rare appearance.
The best-selling author hardly ever attends literary festivals these days as she is loathe to leave her husband Leo, 77, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease.
Festival director Sue Ryan said she was delighted and honoured that Mrs Cooper accepted the invitation to appear at the Kenton Theatre, where she will talk about her love and admiration of horses with her friend, former jockey and racing broadcaster Brough Scott.
Mrs Ryan said: “We have asked Jilly in the past but she doesn’t like to leave her husband Leo very much and always declined in the most charming manner.
“The fact that she said ‘yes’ this time is a testament to her passion for the subject and, in particular, this moving story involving Brough’s grandfather.”
Mrs Cooper, 75, has been married to former publisher Leo, 77, for more than 50 years.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 12 years ago, and was last seen in public in 2005, at the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.
Mrs Cooper’s book Animals In War led to the building of the memorial which stands on Park Lane as a tribute to the horses which have died in conflict. On Monday she will be discussing Scott’s book Warrior — The Amazing Story Of A Real War Horse.
The event is the first in a packed week of celebrity appearances in the town.
In a first for the festival, former BBC Radio One breakfast DJ Mike Read, who lives in Henley, will be broadcasting live on BBC Berkshire on Monday afternoon from the Hotel du Vin courtyard. Other speakers on the first day include Booker prize-winner Howard Jacobson, Olympian Ben Hunt-Davis and comedian and broadcaster Michael Palin. Mrs Ryan added: “This year has proved our most popular yet with more than 11,000 tickets sold.
“Clare Balding and John Major became our quickest ever selling events but there are still tickets for the majority of events, including David Baddiel, Tony Parsons, JoJo Moyes, Hugh Johnson, Anne de Courcy and Brian Moore.”
The Quince Tree at Stonor makes its debut as a festival venue this year, joining the Kenton Theatre, Bix Manor, the Christ Church centre and the town hall chamber.
The events cover a wide range of subjects including parenting, politics, gardening and cookery, as well as hosting authors such as Rachel Billington, Kate Summerscale, Xanthe Clay and Frances Osborne.
For the first time the main room in the town hall is not being used.
“It’s a shame because its such a beautiful room and signifies the beating heart of the town, but the acoustics have beaten us,” Mrs Ryan said.
“We have tried so hard and spent a lot of money, trying to make it work. But we simply can’t get the quality of sound that we are happy with.”
Festival goers can keep up-to-date with news and offers on Twitter at @HenleyLitFest while the box office will be based in the town hall from Monday to Thursday and, weather permitting, in Falaise Square next weekend.