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Borders Book Festival attracts RECORD-BREAKING numbers

  23 Jun '23   |  Posted by: Birlinn

One of our favourite book festivals of the year has just enjoyed one of its sunniest and busiest weekends ever. What a cracker it was! (We’re already looking forward to next year.)

A packed programme of stars from the worlds of stage and screen, current affairs, politics, literature, and sport, as well as four sun-drenched days, brought the crowds flocking at the weekend to the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, in the Scottish Borders.

A record-breaking footfall of almost 40,000 came through the gates of Harmony Garden, a huge 23% increase on last year, whilst ticket and book sales were up by 13%.  Events over the four days were well attended, with almost a third sold-out, demonstrating audience confidence and an appetite for live events has, at long last, returned following the years of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The crowds enjoyed laughter with comedians Nina Conti, Rory Bremner and Jon Culshaw; insightful and entertaining sessions with the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham; ex Labour Leader and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown; BBC TV’s Strictly ex-judge and dance sensation Dame Arlene Phillips; civil rights campaigner and distinguished lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy KC; leading political analyst Prof. John Curtice; tennis champion and coach turned novelist Judy Murray; peeress and socialite Lady Anne Glenconner and The McInroy & Wood lecture with Kate Bingham, on her compelling account of her role as Chair of the UK’s Covid-19 vaccine taskforce and the race to get Britain vaccinated and out of lockdown.

Booklovers were treated to prize-winning novelists Douglas Stuart, Robert Harris and Sebastian Barry, and crime-writing royalty Val McDermid, Christopher Brookmyre, Mark Billingham and Doug Johnstone, who went on to perform with their band, The Fun Lovin Crime Writers, as the final event of this year’s Book Festival.

As National Media Partner, The Financial Times hosted a series of events including: former Celtic and Ireland manager Martin O’Neill on his football career spanning five decades; The FT’s chief economics commentator Martin Wolf on the crisis of democratic capitalism and how to fix it; as well as tips on navigating the cost of living crisis with practical money-saving advice and habit-changing tips from The FT’s consumer editor Claer Barrett and The Batch Lady Suzanne Mulholland.

The Children’s Programme, sponsored by Baillie Gifford, ran throughout the day on the Saturday and Sunday (17th & 18th June) and included award-winning author and illustrator Lauren Child; Martin Brown celebrating 30 years of Horrible Histories; and star of the TV hit show The Great British Bake Off, Peter Sawkins.

People came too in their droves simply to hang out in the Orchard’s tented Food Village and enjoy live music and a plethora of free, fun activities for all the family.

Festival Director Alistair Moffat said of this year’s Book Festival:

“It was glorious! Right from the giving of the Walter Scott Prize, the first event on the opening day, to the closing events with Gordon Brown and Jim Naughtie, there was an atmosphere of celebration.

“The Baillie Gifford Children’s Programme was hugely popular, and I have never seen so many babies at the Book Festival! As families sunned themselves in the Orchard Food Village, parents took turns to go to sessions while their other halves ate ice cream. As ever, there was a mix of serious and not-so-serious. We celebrated the tercentenary of Adam Smith, spoke to Andy Burnham about a new politics, listened to Robert Harris talk brilliantly about historical fiction, and rocked with laughter as Nina Conti played the Dating Show with members of the audience.

“Even thunder and lightning during the last sessions couldn’t stop us. Following all the protocols, we shut down electricity and my last session with the wonderful Dame Arlene Phillips went ahead, and we called it ‘Dancing in the Dark’. The audience lit Arlene with their phone torches and the show went on!

“It was the 20th Festival – and the best so far. Can’t wait for next year!”

The Borders Book Festival returns next year to Harmony Garden in Melrose, running from Thursday 13th to Sunday 16th June 2024.

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