Festival’s A-listers are the write stuff

Rory Bremner and children's author Vivian French laaunch the 2011 Borders Book Festival as eleven year old Honor Brett gets in on the act.
Rory Bremner and children's author Vivian French laaunch the 2011 Borders Book Festival as eleven year old Honor Brett gets in on the act.

MICHAEL Parkinson will head an A-list cast at this year’s Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival, the programme for which was officially launched by satirist, event patron and local resident Rory Bremner yesterday.

From relatively small beginnings in 2004, the festival has become one of the top five literary extravaganzas in the country and is certainly one of the region’s most prestigious cultural events.

This year, it will take place over four days, from Thursday, June 16 to Sunday, June 19, in the grounds of Harmony House in Melrose.

It is a success story fuelled by the drive and enthusiasm of festival founder and director: the Selkirk-based historian, author and broadcaster Alistair Moffat, who has managed to attract an array of celebrity writers, actors, broadcasters and comedians.

And few could deny that this year’s line-up is the most glittering yet assembled.

Joining Parkinson, whose anthology Parky’s People looks at 100 people he has interviewed – from Burton to Beckham, Bacall to Blair – will be Sarah Brown, wife of the former prime minister; Fife-born singer Barbara Dickson; and actors Larry Lamb, Tom Conti, Maureen Lipman and Robert Powell, the last-named being considered a hero in the office of TheSouthern for his double act with Jasper Carrott in the cult comedy classic The Detectives.

Also on the bill are the comedian and actor Rory McGrath and Rory Bremner.

From the best-seller lists come Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Frayn, Val McDermid, Bella Bathurst and David Mitchell.

From the world of broadcasting, the festival will host sessions from Edward Stourton, James Naughtie, Kirsty Wark and Sally Magnusson.

The programme includes appearances by Peter Snow and James Douglas Hamilton on their latest works of political history. There will be cookery from Jocelyn Dimbleby and archaeology with Time Team expert Francis Pryor.

Robert Powell will talk about John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, while Scots actors David Rintoul and Vivien Heilbron will combine at two events to read from Dr Finlay’s Casebook and Sunset Song.

These stars are paid a nominal fee for coming to Melrose so that ticket revenue can support a Schools Gala Day on June 17 and the Family Book Festival (on Saturday and Sunday) which is designed to stimulate interest in the magic of books among young Borderers.

This includes some of our finest children’s authors, including Kristina Stevenson, Vivian French, Debi Glori and Theresa Flavin. The popular family day pass will again feature this year and be valid throughout the four days.

“The diversity, verve and sheer quality of this year’s programme makes it the best Borders Book Festival yet,” said Mr Moffat yesterday.

“Book festivals are bucking the trend of the economic downturn proving, no matter what, there will always be a place in our lives for good literature and live debate”, he said.

For the fifth year, the festival marquees will be in the National Trust for Scotland’s splendid Harmony Gardens, close to the town centre.

The main festival marquee seats 470 people, the Harmony marquee can accommodate 250 and the Lochcarron marquee has room for 70. There is also a cafe bar and there are facilities for parties and drinks receptions.

Extensive research into last year’s festival revealed it had a massive positive impact on the Scottish Borders economy, bringing in over £2.7million.

It attracted record ticket sales of 10,288, an increase of 22 per cent on the previous year. There were 5,635 unique visitors to the festival, including 31 per cent from outwith the Borders. They spent three times more than the average visitor.

The event has a range of sponsors, including Scottish Borders Council, whose executive member for culture, Graham Garvie, told us: “The figures for last year were amazing and we are confident that this year’s festival will be even more popular.

“In this tough economic climate, it’s heartening to see the festival go from strength to strength both in calibre of performers and increasing attendances.

“The council regards its support for the even as a sound investment on many levels and I am particularly pleased so many our our schools, supported by our library service, will again take part.”