The blockbuster book festival returns: Hay announces first wave of 2024 guest speakers

Hay Festival 2024 has announced its first wave of guests, including notable figures from the world of literature, comedy and politics.

The annual event is one of the world’s biggest literary festivals, bringing together authors and public figures from all walks of life to discuss important topics in the picturesque setting of Hay-on-Wye.

The 2024 edition will include novelists Colm Tóibín and Jeanette Winterson, chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and political commentator Rory Stewart.

Others set to appear at the festival, which takes place from 23 May to 2 June, include actor Lenny Henry, comedians Julian Clary and Sara Pascoe as well as broadcasters Jay Blades, Adam Rutherford and Huw Stephens.

Tickets for these early events go on sale to the public this Friday (1 Dec), before the full programme of more than 700 events is announced in early spring next year.

Speaking about the lineup for the 2024 event, which also includes Reverend Richard Coles and The Rest is history podcast host Tom Holland, Hay Festival CEO Julie Finch told The Independent: “We have a structure where we’re exploring the global issues, so geopolitics, democracy, climate change – the key things that are affecting the world. The other part is culture, creativity and engagement and celebrating literature, writing and words. but also stories - ultimately, it’s all about storytelling.”

Highlighting certain names on the current bill, Finch said: “It moves from the populist to the really interesting – so Robin Wall Kimmerer, who’s looking at indigenous wisdom, at what we can learn from the planet and the past. It will be great to get Rory Stewart and [Labour MP] Wes Streeting on a panel together; they’re both coming in their own right, but it’s how we capture that political moment.

She noted that a general election is on the cards next year, “so there’s a lot to talk about in terms of politics”.

Robin Wall Kimmerer will appear at Hay Festival 2024 (Dale Kakkak)
Robin Wall Kimmerer will appear at Hay Festival 2024 (Dale Kakkak)

Finch, who said she’s excited to see scientist and author of the bestselling Spoon-Fed: Why Almost Everything We’ve Been Told About Food is Wrong Tim Spector, also namechecked returning speakers as ones for to look out for, including environmentalist George Monbiot, author Marlon James and broadcaster and pianist Jools Holland.

Speaking about the festival generally, Finch described Hay as “a democratic civic platform where we convene really great minds and fascinating people who’ve looked at the world from different viewpoints”.

Finch also credited Hay’s audiences as “powerful in themselves” as they are “part of the debate” and are “able to take action in the world”.

Rory Stewart will appear at Hay Festival 2024 (Hay Festival)
Rory Stewart will appear at Hay Festival 2024 (Hay Festival)

“There is a debate going on throughout the whole of the festival, and you find people talking to each other who have never met before because they’ve been so inspired by something or they so strongly disagree, which is also really good.”

Finch continued: “We’re not looking for harmony – what we’re doing is we’re creating an environment where you can have difficult conversations and you can share viewpoints and there’s respect. But also, you go away thinking about something in a new way.

“The conditions of that are this beautiful setting, the stages that we create and the way we curate really carefully who’s on stage. But we’re not telling people what to say – the debate flows inevitably and that’s what Hay is so brilliant at.”

Sir Lenny Henry will appear at Hay Festival 2024 (Jack Lawson)
Sir Lenny Henry will appear at Hay Festival 2024 (Jack Lawson)

Teasing what themes the 2024 festival will shine a light on, Finch said: “We really want to explore politics. There’s a lot going on with elections next year, not just in the UK. And then, unusually, we’re going to explore sport because, of course, it’s the Olympic year.

“So those are some of the threads that’ll be emerging – but there’s loads more to come, believe me.”

Early-bird event tickets are on sale now to Friends of Hay Festival at and go on general release at 12pm on Friday (1 December).