James Holland, the Festival’s Programme Director and Co-Chair, lists the talks he’s most looking forward to seeing.
Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand
Anita Anand is a really well-respected BBC journalist but on the back of terrific reviews I read this book and found it utterly fascinating. Sophia’s story is an extraordinary one that blends human drama and social history in a very compelling way. I’m always looking to get brilliant speakers – people who perform rather than read out a written speech, and Anita is going to be excellent, I know.
The English & Their History by Robert Tombs
I was really fortunate to persuade Robert Tombs to come. He’s a hugely eminent professor and academic and a very busy and much-in-demand man. His book received amazing plaudits when it came out and this is bound to be both fascinating and thought-provoking at a time when we as a nation are asking many questions about our identity – and thus also our past.
Home Fires by Julie Summers
I’m rather hooked by the ITV drama, Home Fires, which was based on Julie Summers’ book about the WI in the Second World War. I’m also really interested in the totality of Britain’s commitment during the war, so I’m really looking forward to hearing Julie speak.
Hobbes, Ideas and the English Revolution by Hannah Dawson
If I had anything to do with it, studying the Civil War would be compulsory at schools before GCSE choices are made. The country we are today really stems from that traumatic period in the middle of the 17th Century and so this is just the kind of meaty, thought-provoking subject we should be doing at the festival. Hannah is an amazing historian and academic – charismatic, passionate and a brilliant speaker. This will be a treat.
Ancient Egypt: New Stories by Joann Fletcher
I think Jo Fletcher is brilliant. Although an academic, she has made herself the BBC’s No.1 Egyptologist and her series are just brilliant. Her enthusiasm is infectious, she’s loads of passion and energy, and ancient Egypt is just so interesting. I’ve been out there, but even if one hasn’t, how can one not be seduced by the sheer scale and grandeur of Karnak, the Pyramids and the Temple of Queen Hapshepsut?
The World’s War by David Olusoga
David is not only one of the nicest people on the planet, he is a brilliant historian and television presenter. I thought this BBC series was the best history I’ve seen on telly for a while, and he’s another who has charisma, charm and a gift for storytelling in bucket loads. This wider view of the First World War is just so interesting and I know David will be giving us an incredible talk. I wouldn’t miss this one for anything.
Sensation and Pleasure in 18th Century France by Andrew Spira
I was once on holiday with Andrew and he had us all eating out of his hand – his knowledge is immense and all of us, young and old, were rapt by both his stories and his intellect. This might seem an unusual choice for a talk, but trust me, it will be utterly and completely fascinating and will get you thinking and talking about it for a long time after. I can’t wait.
Rock Stars Stole My Life by Mark Ellen
In London, Mark’s talks sell out every time. I’m also keen to inject a bit of more recent cultural history into the programme, and this will be a hilarious, gossipy, anecdotal romp through the seventies and eighties music scene, when Mark was at the very heart of music journalism. Come along, sit back, and enjoy!