People with Passion: Peter Florence, Founder of Hay Festival | Edward Bulmer Paint

People with Passion: Peter Florence, Founder of Hay Festival

We managed to get a few minutes with the festival’s founder, Peter Florence, which at this time of year is amazingly kind considering the festival starts on 25th May!


1) Congratulations Peter, Hay festival is celebrating its 30th year next month. You have been involved since its conception and seen it grow, develop and inspire – you must be so proud. There have no doubt been many highlights…could you name the first which spring to mind?

Thanks. The biggest thrill is always seeing friends meeting up at the festival, and the extraordinary buzz of people sharing ideas. The festival is – at some level – a great pretext for people getting together.  Tony Benn gave a great line about it. He said – “in my mind it’s replaced Christmas”..

2) Hay has become an institution and you have succeeded in putting on a mighty spread and attracting influential and amazingly interesting speakers and acts every year. Many such events often become stale but you have managed to attract new visitors each year at the same time as retaining your loyal festival goers who come every year. How do you start planning such a diverse and eclectic programme?

You start with what you find interesting and hope that others may have the same response.  Then – and this is a big thing we’ve learned – everything seems connected and leads to something else just as wonderful

3) You have travelled the world and visited many different cultures and countries, inspiring communities and setting up festivals.

Which and where has been the most challenging yet accomplishing festival to set up?

I love all our festivals, but I have a special fondness for Cartagena de Indias in Colombia.  The Colombians love books, love stories, and love to party. But that’s universal – whether it’s a picnic rug on a Welsh hillside or a Caribbean beach..

4) Aside from your own group of festivals, which would be your top bucket list festivals across the globe for our readers to go to at least once?

The sheer exuberant energy of SXSW in Texas is a blast. The Utrecht Early Music Festival is perfect if you like the music. And for sheer madness and joy the Carnival in Rio is hard to beat.

5) If you hadn’t invested all your worldly goods from that infamous poker game (is that true?!) what would you like to think you would be doing? And where? Would you be in Hay-on-Wye?

I hope in any life that I would be in Hay. It roots me. My alternative career would be as someone who teaches medics to talk to people.

6) Could you tell us someone or some people (dead or alive) who have inspired you and who you would love to have lunch with?

Shakespeare, Morgana le Fay, Cleopatra, Jane Austen…

7) And….where would you take them to lunch?

At our house. Big table. Venison. Long night.

8) What would be your top 3 desert island reads and why?

The Lorax by Dr Seuss – greatest kids book of all time; War Music by Christopher Logue – I don’t read Greek so this is the most thrilling Homer; Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, which has taught me to read all over again.

9) What would be your top 3 desert island discs and why?

Nina Simone Feeling Good – sexiest track of all time; apart from KD Lang’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah from the Juno Awards Live album. Andras Schioff playing the Goldberg Variations – music that is full of starlight.

10) What would be your ideal study room colour?


11) The programme for the festival is full and there is so much to see and do to entertain us, help us understand, question and learn…

What would be your Hay highlight for people coming to the festival this year? (aside from Edward’s talk on 1st June at 5.30pm Watching Paint dry of course…!)

PLEASE listen to the great Michael Sheen.  Saturday 3 June at 5.30pm.  He’s extraordinary.

Thank you

Dates 25th May to 4th June

Posted: May 2017