Emirates LitFest at Cheltenham – Part 5
LitFest organisers Isobel Abulhoul and Yvette Judge flew into Birmingham, courtesy of Emirates Airline, to take in as much as possible at the oldest Literary Festival in UK, The Cheltenham Literature Festival. Over the next few days we will feature Isobel’s notes from Cheltenham as she checks out this well-established and world famous literary event.
After a somewhat too hearty breakfast I set off in the brilliant sunshine and freezing cold weather, bitterly regretting leaving my gloves in the hotel as I did not wish to be accused of being a wimp. Living in Dubai for such a long time has definitely thinned my blood and I walked at a super fast pace to warm up.
The first talk of the day (in a yet- to -warm up marquee) was with Professor AC Grayling. What a joy this was. I was so disappointed that when he came to our Festival in March I did not get to his session. Well, this was a treat. He took us on a tour through the great philosophers, and kept us spellbound and engaged and entertained – all at once. I managed to tag on to the end of his very long signing queue and say hello from all of us in Dubai.
Yvette and I met again with Ben Miller the comedian and physicist, who took my belief in crystal healing and other matters on the chin!
Then I literally sped back down the byways of this beautiful spa town to line up to see and listen to the great Ian McEwan. He did not disappoint in any way shape or form. I am so looking forward to reading his latest book Sweet Tooth, a tale of espionage set in Cambridge in the 1970s. The conversation he had with his excellent moderator really allowed us to see the humour and humanity behind arguably one of the greatest British writers.
Now comes the tricky part – I had an important meeting with Yvette and I also wanted to get a signed copy of Ian’s book.
So once Q & A was underway I crept out and hot-footed it to Waterstone’s Book Tent, purchased the book and lo and behold I was first in the queue.
Ten minutes later a sizeable line had formed from people who obviously had done exactly the same. Then a rather formidable lady marched into the tent clutching two copies of the book and demanded to know, in a very loud voice, where we had come from and that it was disgusting that we had been allowed to get there first.
In particular, as I was head of the queue, her steely eyes focused on me, as if I was to blame for the whole crowd behind me.
At that moment Ian McEwan appeared to save me, and I moved forward to get my copy signed and out of the line of fire as quickly as I could.
Yvette and I had an excellent meeting with Rachel Castell, one of the masterminds behind Digital Theatre, a cutting edge project that is gathering momentum globally. Rachel introduced us to her friend Amber Jane Butchart who is a Fashion Historian and Trend Forecaster who also lectures at the London College of Fashion. She was wearing the most amazing daffodil yellow outfit, a blend of retro and modern that was stunning and beautiful to behold. I had a lengthy conversation with her about the Abayas from our part of the world and the fashion and trend movements that are happening. I feel a session forming there!
In the afternoon, Vince Cable was being interviewed by Fiona Lindsay and Jeremy Bowen was in conversation with Julia Wheeler, so some great political and personal insights being shared in these sessions.
I then went to see David Mitchell and I have to admit when I first booked my ticket I thought it was the writer not the comedian. LitFest goers will remember there was similar confusion with Martin Kemp the renowned art historian being mixed up with Martin Kemp from Spandau Ballet. Well, David Mitchell is very funny and has written his memoirs Back Story. The venue was completely full and he did a grand job of entertaining us and allowing us to understand a little about what makes him tick.
The final session and a fitting one was Darcy Bussell, the famous and beautiful ballerina, talking about her life through a new book of stunning photographs at various stages of her career. She has tremendous stage presence, as you would expect, and talked to us about the various important milestones in her life. I was determined to get a signed copy of her book so once again crept out as soon as the Q&A started and was slightly disappointed to find there was already a long queue of budding ballerinas clutching their copies ahead of me. However it was well worth the wait, as I now have this beautiful book signed by Darcy that I will treasure.
Yvette and I popped into the Writers Room, and I stargazed at the famous people toing and froing, while Yvette, I am sure, had a serious conversation with the Head of Education from the Cheltenham Festival. I have found the whole experience exhilarating and such a treat, and hopefully have learnt much that will be of benefit to us in Dubai.
Over and out from Cheltenham Literary Festival.