SEVENTIES pop star David Essex was transported back to his heyday when he came to Henley this week.
The singer and actor was among dozens of stars names appearing at the 10th annual Henley Literary Festival, which began on Monday.
Others included author Robert Harris, Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, former England cricketer Jonathan Trott, actor Derek Fowlds and Ben Miller adventurer Ben Fogle, TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh and comedian Julian Clary.
Thousands of people packed into venues including the Kenton Theatre, the town hall, Christ Church Centre and Stonor Park and many shows were sold out.
Essex, 69, was appearing at the Kenton for the first time since 1967, when he was a teenager starting out in show-business, to promote his new novel Faded Glory.
Dozens of women from across Britain queued along New Street to see the musician in scenes reminiscent of when he was idolised by teenage girl fans of hits like Gonna Make You A Star, a No 1 in 1974.
For his return visit, Essex was interviewed on stage by radio presenter Mike Read and recalled his last visit. He told the Henley Standard: “I was 18 and it was my first acting job. I was in a show called Fantasticks. This is the first time I have been back to the theatre. It’s a beautiful place — I don’t remember it being this pretty.”
Among the audience at the Kenton was Dave Beck, former landlord of the Rose and Crown in New Street, who can recall putting up the young singer in the pub store room.
Mr Beck, 96, said the singer was a hit with the regulars as he would play the piano the bar.
Unfortunately for him, Essex said he couldn’t remember this, although he was sure it was true.
Among the other popular events was a discussion about the royal family between Dickie Arbiter, the Queen’s former press secretary, and Henley-based royal biographer Ingrid Seward at the town hall.
Miss Seward claimed that Prince Charles had feared he would be assassinated at Princess Diana’s funeral while walking through crowds of mourners. He was said to have been “extremely nervous” about the funeral procession on September 6, 1997 due to the criticism of him following the breakdown of the couple’s marriage.
Prince Charles and his two sons Princes William, then 15, and Harry, then 12, walking behind the gun carrier which carried the Princess’s body to Westminster Abbey.
Miss Seward said: “Prince Charles was extremely nervous because he thought he was public enemy number one. He was very fatalist. He thought, if someone takes a gun out and shoots me, that’s it. The streets of London were very quiet. You could hear a pin drop. You could hear everything the crowd was saying. They were saying, ‘look at him, look at him’. They were being quite nasty. The whole way round he could hear this abuse and he didn’t think he would make it.”
Mr Arbiter said the Queen was also anxious when greeting mourners outside Buckingham Palace after Princess Diana’s death.
He said: “There had been a lot of criticism against the Queen by the media and the fact she remained at Balmoral. She wasn’t nervous but she was a little bit anxious as to what sort of reception she would receive.”
He criticised Earl Spencer, the princess’s brother, calling him a “hypocrite” over his speech at the funeral.
Mr Arbiter said: “She had a very bad relationship with her brother. When things were getting on top of her she pleaded with her brother for one of the cottages on his estate and he said ‘no’ on the basis that there would be too many media hanging around.
“So relationship between brother and sister at the time of her death was so far apart that you could have driven a fleet of buses through the gap. And yet we had this young man stand up at Westminster Abbey talking about blood relatives and his adoring sister and it was a bit hypocritical.”
The pair also discussed the pressure on the younger members of the royal family.
Miss Seward said: “With Twitter and social media I think it’s such a pressure to keep on form for William and Kate. You think she needs a little more personality but I think she’s terrified. You don’t think she’s terrified because she’s been around for nine years but I think she is scared of saying anything that can be contrived as being remotely controversial.”
Humanitarian Terry Waite appeared in front of a capacity audience of 300 people at the Christ Church Centre.
He was held captive in Beirut for 1,763 days after going to Lebanon to negotiate the release of Western hostages and later wrote a book about the experience, called Taken on Trust, which is being re-released as a classic with a new chapter.
Mr Waite praised the festival, saying: “This gives me an opportunity to meet members of the public, who are not only book lovers but are also interested in meeting authors and asking questions.
“To be able to get 300 people out at 4.30pm on a Monday says a lot about the town — not many places would be able to do it.
“The festival helps put Henley on the map. It’s bringing people into the town and it’s good for local businesses and traders. The organisers manage the event really well and look after you really well so I always enjoy coming back.”
Oscar-nominated film director Paul Greengrass, who lives near Henley, discussed Harris’s new novel Conclave with the author, also at the Christ Church Centre.