Don’t let the idea that you have to be incredibly well read, put you off attending a literary festival. Because I promise, this is not a requirement.
Set in the beautiful, historic (and scandalous) grounds of Cliveden House – now famed for being Meghan Markle’s pre-wedding haunt – the annual literary festival will leave you feeling inspired to read, and read some more.
Cliveden House itself is rather breath taking. Driving up the gravel pathway you are greeted with a large gold fountain so grand you know you awaits will be a visual feast. Then come the wrought iron gates that unfold to present the majestical house, and for this year’s literary festival, complete with Nyetimber double-decker bus and wood-fire pizza van amongst other dazzling accoutrements.
The festival itself is over two days and this, its second year, played host to a bevy of accomplished speakers including, The Affair actress Ruth Wilson, HRH Princess Michael of Kent, Cherie Blair and Sunday Times Bestselling author, Andrew Roberts, amongst others.
The festival itself is a slick operation with talks being hosted in either the Great Hall of the House or in a pop- up (albeit incredibly luxurious) marquee that rests on the adjacent lawn. It’s a case really of what peaks your personal interest – modern feminism vs Corbyn was the toughest decision of the day – but there is a talk to satisfy almost even the fussiest of attendees.
As a literary festival novice, I really expected the crowd to be book buffs and to feel maybe a little out of place with my scrappy copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine tucked into my bag. But actually, the reality of the day was so different: it was a cultural melting pot of people who were eager to learn something new.
My first talk was all about queens. What it takes to be a queen and the impact that our reigning monarchs have had on modern society. The panel included real royalty by way of HRH Princess Michael of Kent as well as historian Kate Williams and Robert Hardman, author of bestseller, Our Queen and Monarchy: The Royal Family At Work. I didn’t really know what to expect but what unfolded over the next hour was rigorous competition as to which panellist could enlighten the audience best about their preferred Queen before we all voted via clap-o-metre. The resounding feeling? 1. Women rule. 2. So many dinner party facts I am ready to roll out to gain the intellectual upper-hand.
Next was a talk by the author behind the hit BBC drama, McMafia (the old school trick of watching the TV show instead of reading the book helped me here) discussed global crime and modern-day oligarchy. Safe to say there were some rather nail-biting moments as Misha Glenny retold some of his precarious stories of his research surrounding the Russian and Ukrainian mafia. Note: do not try this at home.
Post mafia (and mushroom truffle pizza fresh out the wood burn oven) it was a history lesson in Winston Churchill from his latest biographer, the aforementioned Andrew Roberts. In fact, on that Sunday The Times had published a review of his book that decreed it the best biography of Churchill ever written. Having read a total of zero Churchill biographies my insight into the former PM relied heavily on GSCE history. The talk was both hilarious and informative, so much so I bought the book and waited in line for my autograph.
The day ended on a fascinating talk about sexual freedom through the ages from renowned author and feminist, Naomi Wolf. Deciding I would rather the female gaze over the Brexit talk happening in the marquee, the audience were treated to provoking and emotive conversation that discussed what it means to be a woman in a post #MeToo world.
The real win of the Cliveden Literary Festival is that you get to enjoy and absorb all this knowledge in the most stunning setting. There are authors milling around waiting to sign copies of your newly acquired books, nooks and crannies of the illusive building to explore, stories of Cliveden’s scandalous past to be regaled by enthusiastic staff and expansive grounds to admire, and in truth, lose yourself in. And just outside the M25. Sign me up for next year.