THE programme for the sixth annual Borders Book Festival is "without doubt the strongest and most sparkling so far".
That was the understated view of event founder and director Alistair Moffat after the celebrity-laden literary extravaganza was launched by top television impressionist Rory Bremner in Melrose yesterday.
The festival will take place from Thursday to Sunday, June 18-21, in the spacious grounds of the town's Harmony House and boasts a stellar line-up which reflects the prestige in which the BBF is now held.
There will be appearances by household names from the world of entertainment, including Michael Palin, Bill Paterson, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Diana Quick and Bremner's long-standing sparring partner John Fortune.
Indeed, the last named satirical duo will perform together in what promises to be a sell-out Friday night show.
Broadcasting and journalism is represented by, among others, David Aaraonovitch and Dame Joan Bakewell, whose session in the main 500-seater venue – known in deference to investment banking sponsors as the Brewin Dolphin Marquee – will kick off the festival on the Thursday.
From politics, Lib Dem depute leader and his party's Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable MP will be a huge Saturday draw as he discusses his ultra-topical new book The Storm; The World Economic Crisis and What it Means.
And BBC news presenter James Naughtie will give a lecture on US president Barack Obama. Naughtie covered the Democratic primaries, the presidential election and the inauguration.
Literary heavyweights will abound at the festival which, for the second successive year, will host the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Awards.
Shortlisted for the 30,000 top prize – the most lucrative in Scottish literature – and already assured of 5,000 category awards are Tom Pow for poetry (Dear Alice), James Kelman for fiction (Kieron Smith, Boy), Janice Galloway for non-fiction (This Is Not About Me) and Andrea McNicoll for her first book (Moonshine in the Morning). The ceremony at 5.30pm on the Friday will be compered by Rory Bremner.
Kelman, who shot to fame when his book How Late It Was, How Late won the 1994 Booker Prize, will be reading from his new novel on Saturday evening, while Pow will mark the publication of his Selected Poems on Friday afternoon.
The eclectic programme includes Britain's greatest living mountaineer Chris Bonington in conversation with James Naughtie as well as singer/actress Clare Grogan, star of Gregory's Girl, who has published a successful children's book Tallulah And The Teen Stars.
What was formerly the children's festival has been re-named the Family Book Festival and will take place on Saturday and Sunday.
And the event has a new venue to supplement the main marquee and the 250-seater Harmony Marquee. A smaller marquee, sponsored by Lochcarron of Scotland, will be the scene of parties, poetry and activities.
Organisers have also landed a major coup in getting Scotland's legendary accordion and fiddle duo Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain to perform at Sunday's closing concert. Earlier the same evening, the pair will be in conversation.
"The festival promises to be one big party," said Mr Moffat yesterday. "What awaits party-goers this year is without doubt the strongest and most sparkling programme the festival has seen so far. The literary world will come to Melrose ... and everyone will celebrate in style."
Festival chairman Francis Hamilton added: "For four summer days, we will revel in a bubble of ideas and a flow of words."
To view the range of attractions at the Borders Book Festival and to book online, visit www.borders bookfestival.org or call 0844 357 1060.