Page last updated at 06:01 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 07:01 UK

Hay audiences' recession interest

Hay Festival site
The Hay Festival begins with the prospect of bank holiday weekend sunshine

Organisers of this year's Hay Festival say the recession is set to help it to bumper success in 2009.

The event starts in the Powys town on Friday, with a sell-out for star attraction, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

But alongside Alan Bennett and Stephen Fry, hottest tickets include a series of seminars by some of the world's leading economists.

"People want to see what others have got to say about the recession," said festival director, Peter Florence.

According to Mr Florence, the festival in Hay-on-Wye has expanded by around 20% this year.

"And for the first time in about 15 years, we are being promised a bit of sunshine," he enthused.

He is an extraordinary individual, probably one the world's most admired Christians
Peter Florence on Archbishop Tutu

"There has been a real influx of people into the town already, it is very, very exciting.

"What we are seeing is the evening entertainment tickets are selling very, very well.

"On one hand, people want to get away from the recession and enjoy themselves, then on the other hand, we are selling out of tickets to the economic events."

For many, it is the opportunity to hear the inspirational South African Noble Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu next Thursday.

"He is an extraordinary individual, probably one the world's most admired Christians," said the festival's director.


"He affected the transfer of power in South Africa in a way that nobody thought could be done without bloodshed.

"He is one of the most inspirational people you could ever meet."

But Mr Florence's own personal highlight of the coming week is the opportunity for him to interview David Frost in front of an audience.

He said it was a chance to explore how Frost "re-wrote the rules of British comedy" with his satirical television shows, That Was The Week That Was and The Frost Report, and still maintained an incredible career as one Britain's most respected journalists.

"Without Frost, there wouldn't be the comics at the festival we have now, like Dylan Moran and Marcus Brigstocke," insisted Florence.


Another emerging theme for the week is faith and religion, with guests including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks.

"Rowan Williams has always been a great supporter of the festival, certainly for the last 15 years, so it is wonderful to have him here again," added Florence.

The Hay director said the festival had so often been a rallying point in the past for prominent atheists such as the scholar Richard Dawkins, and he felt good at seeing the event this year looking more closely at traditional religious faith.

Of course, that does not mean the festival is shunning more scientific debates this year, with 2009 marking the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth, his contribution is being discussed throughout the week, including by his great-great granddaughter, the poet Ruth Padel.


But in a town dominated by its bookshops, literature still has a large part to play in the festival, with a sold-out appearance from playwright Alan Bennett, the new Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy in conversation with Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales, and Stephen Fry on Britain's love affair with America.

And, insisted Florence, it is also about Welsh literature.

"We have got four or five really great Welsh authors at the moment," said the director.

"Fflur Dafydd has to be one of the most exciting. Her book 'Twenty Thousand Saints' is one of the best novels I have read in the last ten years."

The Guardian Hay Festival runs until Sunday, 31 May.

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