Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Extended festival draws in the crowds

Extended festival draws in the crowds

THE director of the Henley Literary Festival says this year’s event was the strongest and most diverse yet.

Sue Ryan praised the number of women and ethnic minority speakers at the extended nine-day festival, which finished on Sunday.

Mrs Ryan, who founded the festival in 2007, said: “It was probably the strongest we have ever had.

“We’ve had good feedback and the artists all said they loved it and sold a lot of books. The extra weekend made a big difference.

“Fifty per cent of our speakers were women, which should be the case but isn’t at most festivals. None of the speakers was token, they were all there in their own right.

“It was the same for black and ethnic minorities. We had big, strong audiences and the appetite is there.”

Mrs Ryan said businesses must have benefited from the thousands of visitors each day.

She said: “It was absolutely throbbing. We went to four restaurants on the first day and they were all full, which isn’t like a normal Saturday.

“The restaurants, cafés and hotels do really well and having the festival hub in the town centre makes a big difference.

“The town council has been incredibly supportive over the past few years. It wants to support the festival and realises what it does for the town.”

The festival had an unwanted first this year as a speaker failed to turn up for one of the talks.

Robin Renwick, the former British ambassador to South Africa, had been due to discuss his book How to Steal a Country at Phyllis Court Club on Friday.

Instead, Daily Telegraph journalist Stephen Robinson spoke about the book and answered questions.

Such was his popularity that the audience decided not to ask for a refund offered by the organisers.

Mrs Ryan said: “It was a lovely affirmation of support and shows what lovely audiences we have.”

More than 21,000 tickets were sold this year.

Mrs Ryan said: “We’ve moved from being a very amateurish operation to being in the top five or six festivals in the country. We are very well regarded.”

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