THE sixth annual Henley Literary Festival smashed its previous attendance records.
Watch our round up video, including interviews with Clare Balding, Penny Junor, and Jilly Cooper by clicking here.
More than 12,500 tickets were sold for the 95 events over seven days featuring well-known authors and writers.
More than a quarter of the shows sold out in advance, including Sunday’s closing night talks by sports broadcaster Clare Balding and actor Rupert Everett.
Venues included the Kenton Theatre, Bix Manor and Henley town hall.
Festival director Sue Ryan said: “The festival was very successful — the only problems we had were based on our popularity, which is a nice problem to have.
“Attendances were up on last year, although there were slightly fewer events this time as we structured it differently to make it less hectic.”
Balding appeared at Phyllis Court Club to discuss her autobiography My Animals And Other Family.
Afterwards, she signed copies and chatted with fans for more than 20 minutes.
With hundreds vying to meet her, organisers had to introduce a queuing system.
Balding said: “There were some lovely people, a really nice big crowd, and people were very polite until there was one slight fracas about the direction of the queue, which made me laugh.”
The Olympics and Paralympics TV presenter also praised the Leander Club athletes’ achievements at London 2012, saying: “I hope that when the rowers are training here and they go into the supermarket in their Lycra suits, that everybody gives them a round of applause.”
There were similarly hectic scenes at Everett’s talk at the Kenton when about 40 people without tickets turned up hoping for a last-minute seat.
Mrs Ryan said: “There are always about 10 to 15 ‘no-shows’ for every event, so people turn up hoping to get in but with Rupert Everett there were more people than we had seats.
“However, everything went off on time and finished on time.” The actor talked about his latest memoirs, Vanishing Years, and shared his outlook on life with the audience.
He said: “For me, everything is funny and everything is tragic. Life moves from the lyrical to the tragic, sometimes in a matter of seconds.
“My comfortable zone is just keeping going — there is no possibility of retirement.”
The festival team faced another hurdle when Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler, who was due to speak at the Kenton on Sunday morning, pulled out at the last minute due to a throat infection.
By noon, all ticket holders had been refunded and many were given free tickets to Hannah Rothschild’s talk at Phyllis Court Club instead. Mrs Ryan said: “We received a message at about 8.30am saying he was ill and couldn’t come but we emailed or phoned everyone immediately.
“We had many messages from people saying Hannah Rothschild was brilliant and they hadn’t been expecting refunds, so I think the team did brilliantly.”
Other famous faces to appear at the end of last week were comedian David Baddiel, TV adventurer Charley Boorman, newspaper columnist Richard Littlejohn and royal biographer Penny Junor.
Baddiel spoke about his latest novel, The Death of Eli Gold, which focuses on the last days of the world’s greatest living writer in New York’s Mount Sinai hospital. He said: “My first two books were thought of as ‘lad lit’ whereas my third novel was self-consciously saying, ‘I am writing a proper literary novel’.
“I have to accept that because of my celebrity status the Booker Prize is not going to happen but individuals saying they like the book is pleasurable.”
Thriller writer Simon Kernick, from Shiplake, appeared at the festival for the fourth time, sharing a stage with fellow crime novelist Sophie Hannah.
He said: “The organisers pulled in some huge catches with the people who appeared and everyone I spoke to had positive things to say about the festival. There seems to be a huge buzz around it.” War hero Captain David Blakeley, who introduced his new book Undercover Army on Friday morning, stayed overnight and visited several other shows, including a talk by Rachel Johnson, editor-in-chief of The Lady.
After their show, authors Emma Kennedy and JoJo Moyes shared an evening meal at the Spice Merchant restaurant in Thames Side with their interviewer Emma Freud, who has a home in Henley.
Many ticket holders visited multiple shows but the festival organisers believe at least 4,000 people attended throughout the week and just over half were from the Henley area. The remainder came from as far as Sussex, Bournemouth and Birmingham. Most hotels in the area were fully booked over the weekend.
Mrs Ryan said she and her team, which consists mostly of volunteers, would soon be planning next year’s festival.
She said: “We don’t start inviting authors until February but there’s a lot of admin to do between now and then. The workload is just unbelievable and we’ve got to somehow reduce it.”