The founder of the festival answers 11 of Prospect's questionsby / May 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
First news event you can recall?
The first thing I remember is the Sgt Pepper album playing all day. Then The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And my father having a heart attack, from which he recovered. Those were my first “news stories.” I have a vague memory of seeing a politician talking about Vietnam and thinking he was lying. The world turns…
The book you are most embarrassed you never yet read?
In for a penny… I’ve read nothing from China written before this century. This is a little like confessing to the same regarding German music or Italian painting. I’ve got a reading list!
One bit of advice you’d give to your younger self?
The joy of being young is living intensely in the present. The joy of being older is understanding the present within the context of the past and the potential for the future. Keep going!
Which historical figure would you most like to have invited to Hay?
Scheherazade and Shakespeare. And Nell Gwyn—storyteller, local gal, and a festival superstar, surely.
What was your most uncomfortable moment on-stage at Hay?
I once had to interview John Bolton, Trump’s new National Security Advisor. I asked him what justification I would have, if I didn’t believe his answers, for cable-tying him, tipping his chair back and throwing a wet towel over his face. It’s on YouTube. It was during that interview that I realised that he wasn’t just extreme and aggressive, but that he was both of those things because he was cowardly and slow.
The talent you wish you had?
I’m not sure I believe in talent. Everyone I’ve ever met who excelled at anything did so because of hard work, and a dose of luck. So I wish I had time to learn new skills.
The best presents you’ve ever received
I live in an affluent, Anglophone internationalist democracy. I’ve seen Rattle conduct Mahler 2, Brian Lara hit 500, Peter Brook’s Mahabharata, Bill Hicks live at the Palladium and I’ve interviewed Toni Morrison and Christopher Hitchens. I work with brilliant and inspiring colleagues and live in the mountains. My whole life’s one outrageously jammy gift.
What do you most regret?
I can get paralysed by a toxic combination of stupidity, laziness, gluttony, and self-pity. Every second is wasted. Then I hear my children and it comes good.
What is the biggest problem of all?
Certainty. Any kind of certainty, really, but particularly the kind driven by faith. And the fact that we forget that the planet has managed well without mankind for 99.9 per cent of its life.
Are things getting better or worse?
Both, obviously. As always. What are we going to do about it?
The last piece of music/play/novel/film that brought you to tears?
Tears are easy. I cried at the giffgaff advert at the end of The Voice. Laughter’s the thing, the joyful response to wonder. Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita’s new album SOAR and the elegance of Rose Tremain’s memoir Rosie both make me laugh out loud.
This year Prospect is continuing its relationship with the Hay Festival in Wales. As well as having a stand on the festival site, Prospect staff are taking part in eight events