Tuesday, 21 September 2021

No 'blue-rinse brigade' at Literary Festival

WHO said that Henley was boring?

WHO said that Henley was boring?

There were no signs of the ?blue-rinse brigade? in the swarms of residents and visitors to the town?s ninth annual literary festival, which started this week.

And just hours into the seven-day event speakers were courting controversy with what they told audiences.

Princess Michael of Kent said animals didn?t have rights because they didn?t pay taxes while celebrity cook Prue Leith claimed having an affair with a married man boosted her career.

The festival comprises more than 130 events and features big-name authors, broadcasters, politicians and entertainers, including Virginia McKenna, Louis de Bernieres, Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell, Max Mosley, the Archbishop of York, Dean Friedman and Sue Perkins.

Lucy Cavendish, who was criticised for branding Henley dull in a column in a national newspaper last month, is appearing as a guest interviewer for Leith, Santa Montefiore, Deborah Moggach and Anita Anan.

The freelance journalist, who lives locally, described Henley as ?blue-rinsed and genteelly well-heeled? and claimed ?so little happens in this sleepy town I sometimes wonder if its ageing population has already died and gone to heaven?.

But festival founder Sue Ryan brushed off any suggestion of discontent among festival-goers, saying: ?Lucy loves Henley and the festival audiences love Lucy. It was an article that most people took with a sense of humour.

?There has not been a single comment of any sort, apart from about her excellence as an interviewer.?

On Monday, Jane Hawking, the first wife of Prof Stephen Hawking, suggested that motor neurone disease could have helped him be a better physicist.

Speaking at the Christ Church Centre about her memoir Travelling To Infinity, she said that he never had to worry about trivial everyday duties. Mrs Hawking said: ?Once upon a time, Stephen actually said that he felt motor neurone disease had given him all the advantages he had, apart from the horrible disease, and that actually it enabled him to concentrate very hard on physics and probably accelerated his discoveries.

?He wasn?t distracted. He never had to do the washing up, he never had to bathe the children, he never had to do the shopping, he never had to drive the car.?

max Moseley
Max Mosley, the former president of FIA, motorsport?s governing body, was interviewed at the Kenton Theatre.

One member of the audience asked about the infamous News of the World story in 2008 about his involvement in a sex act with five consenting women.

He recalled how he received a call from his press team informing him of the story and asking whether he had bought the paper to which he replied: ?Not today, or ever.?

Moseley said that in fact he did buy three copies and when he showed the story to his wife she thought that it was a prank. Candace Bushnell, whose columns and books charted her social life in New York and spawned TV and film phenomenon Sex and the City, made a sold-out appearance at the Kenton on Monday night.

At one stage she asked the audience, which was almost exclusively female, whether they had ever been hurt by a man. Almost all raised a hand.

Bushnell said: ?I want to see women who are able to be the primary person in their lives as opposed to a person who is defined by their relationship to other people.?

Princess Michael of Kent
On Tuesday, Princess Michael discussed her new novel Agnes Sorrell: Mistress of Beauty. She said: ?Today we?re always hearing about animal rights. Well, I?m a great animal lover and involved in a lot of conservation but animals don?t have rights.?

Her comments provoked outrage on Twitter from animal lovers, including comedian Ricky Gervais and singer Carol Decker, who lives in Henley.

Later that day, Leith spoke at the town hall about how being a mistress inadvertently helped her career.

The chef, who is a judge for the BBC?s Great British Menu, told how a long-term affair as a young woman gave her the freedom to work after her lover went home to his family each night.

Leith, 75, said: ?I?m not saying I?m proud of the fact I had a long affair with a married man but it did help my business. By the time I married and had children I had the business under my belt.?

Elsewhere, people queued for more than an hour for a signed copy of Ranulph Fiennes?s latest book Heat.

John Sentamu
The queue was still there as people were coming into the Christ Church Centre for the next speaker, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, but luckily his train had been delayed.

Mrs Ryan said: ?The thing that has struck me most of all is the appetite in Henley for serious thought and debate.

?The more intellectual the speaker, the fuller the auditorium and the more rapt and engaged the audience. They care passionately about the political and social life of the country.

?So many of our speakers remarked on the intelligence of the audience and how thrilled they were with the book sales.

?When we started the festival nine years ago I had no idea whether it was sustainable. Because of the audiences we get I now know it is.?


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