Monday, 20 September 2021

Famous names attract record audiences at literary festival

TV PRESENTER Sue Perkins has revealed that she has not given up on her ambition to

TV PRESENTER Sue Perkins has revealed that she has not given up on her ambition to become a mother, despite being left infertile by a benign brain tumour.

The Great British Bake-Off co-host was speaking at the Henley Literary Festival, which ended on Sunday after a week of record attendances.

Perkins, 46, who is in a long-term relationship with TV presenter Anna Richardson, 45, said: “One day, maybe, I might be privileged enough to adopt a kid but I don’t know where you find a child. There aren’t just children wandering around and if there are you should probably go to a police station. You can’t take them into your house.

“Who knows, every door is open. It’s good.”

She was speaking to a capacity audience at the Kenton Theatre and talked about all aspects of her life, including her six-year relationship with a man and finding out that she can’t have children.

The tumour was discovered on her pituitary gland eight years ago, while she was filming the TV series Supersizers, but she refused treatment.

Perkins also read out extracts from her new book Spectacles and spoke about Bake-Off judge Mary Berry, whom she affectionately refers to as “Bezza”.

She was one of dozens of authors, journalists, broadcasters, politicians, actors, celebrities and others who spoke at the ninth annual festival.

They included Richard E Grant, Brian Blessed, Helen Lederer, Gyles Brandreth, Michael Parkinson, Charles Clarke and Vince Cable.

Sir Vince, a former coalition minister, told of his “bizarre” conversations with former prime minister Gordon Brown.

The veteran Liberal Democrat, who lost his Commons seat at the general election in May, told an audience at the Kenton that Mr Brown had become “extraordinarily depressed” by the end of his time in Downing Street and admitted to finding it hard to “get out of bed in the  morning”.

Sir Vince, who served as business secretary, said: “I would get these calls at five or six in the morning and he would have this bright idea for forming a government.

“The conversations were partly about ‘do you have the numbers to form the government?’ but then we would get on to discussions about the world economy. They were quite bizarre conversations.”

Asked if Mr Brown had felt betrayed by the Lib-Dems joining forces with the Conservatives, he replied: “Yes, I think so. He didn’t tell me but I read the body language.

“He was quite good at glowering. He did take things personally. I think he found it difficult to separate his personal emotions from politics.”

Sir Vince also revealed that since losing his Twickenham seat, he has entered the British National Dance Championships in Blackpool next month.

He has been brushing up on his dancing skills with ballroom classes at a school run by his former Strictly Come Dancing partner Erin Boag. “I have a weekly lesson,” he said, adding that his partner was a 21-year-old professional dancer.

Actor Brian Blessed spoke at the Kenton on Sunday but both he and the audience were having such a good time that he over-ran.

It required the diplomatic skills of Harriet Reed-Ryan, the festival events director, to go up on stage during a pause and thank him for coming and point out that another event was due on after his book signing.

Blessed reluctantly stopped but then entertained the queue of people buying his book with a ream of stories and anecdotes. His parting shot was to advise his fans in his usual booming voice: “Don’t let the b******* grind you down!”

For the final three days of the festival a marquee was installed in Falaise Square, where 17 free events for children took place.

Organisers said a total of 18,600 tickets were sold, about 2,000 up on the record set last year, and 70 events out of 170 were sold out.

Tom Ryan, programming director, said: “We are thrilled. We were incredibly lucky with the weather. The whole week was sunny and brought everyone out.

“Sue Perkins was lovely. She sold more than 200 books and people were queuing for ages as she was chatting to everyone and being really friendly.

“Brian Blessed was also really popular and we had to work a pincer movement on either side of the stage to get him to come off when his time had run out. Everyone was loving it and there was a bit of a sigh when we approached him.”

Mr Ryan said he was pleased that businesses had reported an increase in custom during the week.

He said: “When we saw the Mayor on Sunday she said her tea shop had its best weekend ever. Everywhere seemed to be full.”

• Last week, we published a photograph purporting to be Sex And The City creator Candace Bushnell when it was actually Mail on Sunday writer Sarah Oliver. We apologise for this error and any embarrassment caused.

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