ATTENDANCE records were smashed at this year’s Henley Literary Festival.
More than 14,500 tickets were sold for the 108 events which featured dozens of well-known authors and writers.
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Pubs and restaurants experienced a surge in bookings and hotels and bed and breakfasts were full on Saturday night.
Festival founder Sue Ryan said she even had to put up writer Oliver Balch and his family at her own home in Peppard because they couldn’t find anywhere to stay.
Her son Tom, the festival’s programme director, said the seventh annual festival was the best yet.
“We were about 2,000 tickets up on last year and we are really pleased with that,” he said.
Olympic champion rower Katherine Grainger was given a standing ovation after her talk at the Kenton Theatre on Saturday.
She spoke about her career, which climaxed with a gold medal in the women’s double sculls at London 2012.
Emma Freud compered a cook-off at the theatre on Saturday evening between Celebrity Masterchef winner Emma Kennedy and food blogger Cherry Menlove.
The contest was won by Kennedy with a watermelon, mint and halloumi salad. Menlove made prawns in an Asian-style sauce.
Members of the audience wore tiaras after a request by Freud on Twitter.
Freud brought with her two boxes of cronuts — a cross between a croissant and a doughnut — after discovering them in New York.
Mr Ryan said: “Emma came back and found a company in London that made them. She brought two boxes with her and kept them in the green room at the hotel.
“We all got very excited about them but she told us very clearly that they were not for us but for the audience.”
The Kenton was sold out for a talk by journalist Liz Jones about her career in Fleet Street writing about fashion as well as her failed marriage and love of animals. The Mail on Sunday columnist had been worried she might be put on the spot over the Daily Mail’s row with Labour leader Ed Milliband.
She was heard to ask an aide in the green room at Hotel du Vin before her talk: “With everything that has gone on with the Mail, I am a bit worried that the audience will throw things at me.”
The aide replied: “Oh no, this is Henley.”
A talk by festival stalwart Rachel Johnson about her new novel, Winter Games, was also sold out.
Former Labour spin doctor Damian McBride spoke about his new book, Power Trip, about his time working as a special adviser to Gordon Brown.
Katherine Preston, who grew up in Henley, spoke about her life battling a stutter and then forging a career as a public speaker. Singer-songwriter Graham Nash arrived in his tour coach and parked in the station car park.
Radio presenter Mike Read, who lives in Henley, went on board to see the musician and prepare for their interview at the Kenton.
Other events included talks by journalist Kate Adie, former Olympic rowing champion James Cracknell, former Conservative politician Ann Widdecombe and comedian and writer Miles Jupp.
Other venues included the town hall and Henley library while the River Readings took place on board the Hibernia. Children’s events were held at the d:two centre in Market Place and the River and Rowing Museum.
Organisers said many of the authors spent time visiting pubs and restaurants in Henley. Authors Irvine Welsh and Paolo Hewitt popped into the Old Bell in Bell Street after their performance.
Baroness Floella Benjamin gave a talk about her latest book, The Arms of Britannia/Coming to England, at the Quince Tree in Stonor and then she and her husband stayed overnight at the Falaise House bed and breakfast in Henley. Philippa Langley and Michael Jones, who talked about the discovery of the bones of Richard III in Leicester to an audience at the Kenton, ate at the Green Olive in Market Place.
Mrs Ryan said: “It was an excellent festival. I feel we have moved on to another level completely.
“An awful lot of authors said that this has become their favourite literary festival and those who had not been before said they wanted to come back. They loved the audiences as they ask good questions — and they buy books.”
She said the festival created a buzz around the town in the evenings.
“On Saturday night there was not a hotel or bed and breakfast free within a 10-mile radius of Henley,” she said. “It must be great for the town. I had an email from someone saying they drove through Henley at night and it was thronged with people, eating out and having fun.”
Broadcaster and author Melvyn Bragg, who had to pull out of the festival to attend a funeral, will now appear at the Kenton Theatre on October 29 at 7.45pm.
lThe winner of the Henley Standard’s David Gower competition was Dale Thomas, of Paradise Road, Henley. He received a voucher worth £50 and chose to see Private Eye: A Cartoon History at the town hall on Sunday.