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Cheltenham’s however, is long-established – founded in 1949. The first festival of its kind in the world, roping in Elizabeth Jane Howard, possibly the 20th century’s most glamorous author, as artistic director in 1962. Then, attracting authors like Patricia Highsmith, Toni Morrison, J. K. Rowling – just after publishing the first Harry Potter – and Hillary Clinton, then a US Presidential candidate, to speak through the years. Indeed, it’s a masterclass in interviewing – the subjects sparkle, beguile, infuriate and intrigue – in a large part thanks to the questions thoughtfully beamed at them.

The Cotswolds Regency town, with its very own answer to the White House – but two hours from London – has been alight with authors, comedians and celebrities of the literary landscape since Friday. Look left, you’ll see Jeremy Paxman; look right, you’ll encounter Bernadine Evaristo, Dame Joan Collins, Dame Mary Beard or Dame Joan Bakewell. Over the two days I was there, I was lucky enough to witness author supreme Frances Wilson in conversation with Alison MacLeod on their specialist subject – defending D.H. Lawrence. A Tigger-ish Jeanette Wintersen tackling the mammoth topic of Artificial Intelligence. Giles Coren with his long-suffering – and extremely pleasant – wife talking through their podcast. And, journalists at the Times yomping through the Sunday papers.

Elizabeth Jane Howard, Cheltenham’s first ever artistic director, at an awards event in London, 1962

Evening Standard / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

What luck to encounter these moments – especially as a 2014 audio recording of the late Helen McCrory and husband, Damian Lewis, has just been unearthed performing a selection of non-twee love poems on the Cheltenham stage. A moment that all who witnessed thought was forever gone.

Don’t miss this next week of Cheltenham talks – nor Cliveden’s great literary festival return on 23 and 24 October. With a panel of political diarists (‘the great diary enquiry’), an interview with Emerald Fennell and a discussion with A Gentleman in Moscow author Amor Towles. Hurrah for the great literary festival – and look forward to seeing you there.

Cheltenham Literature Festival runs 8-17th October 2021; Cliveden Literary Festival runs 23-24 October 2021.

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