Meet the Haymaker – Billie Charity

Our monthly 'Meet the Haymaker' series shares stories of the change-makers at the heart of Hay Festival and the impact it has had on their lives. This month, get to know photographer Billie Charity.

What does Hay Festival mean to you?  

I grew up with the festival on my doorstep, and even when I moved away I would always come back for festival week, so it has always been an important part of my life.  I have watched it grow from a relatively small event held at Hay Primary School, to the huge deal it is today. When you live in a small town like Hay and it feels like the whole world comes to you each year, it really makes the place feel special, it transforms the energy of the whole town. I've always felt incredibly lucky to live here.

What’s your favourite Festival memory?  

I have so many great memories of the festival,  as a punter, as a photographer working with the lovely festival team in more recent years, and even as a speaker. The festival has enabled me to photograph some of my heroes; Jarvis Cocker, Rankin, Helena Bonham-Carter, Richard E Grant, Caitlin Moran plus many many more. And also, I was a speaker at the festival in 2022 where I did a talk with photographer John Bulmer. I was very nervous/excited and the place was packed. It went so well - that was also very memorable.

Have you ever changed your mind on something having been to a Hay Festival event? 

I've probably changed my mind about how I think about certain very well-known people, having photographed them, rather than based on what they say during their events. For example, people who have spent years on TV or in the public eye, can still get very nervous before going out on stage in front of a live audience. It is actually quite reassuring to see that!

Who was the best speaker or performer you saw on a Hay Festival stage? 

Over the years I have seen hundreds of incredible events at the festival  - writers, comedians, musicians, photographers, but I would have to say Pulp. My all time favourite memory is of Pulp opening the festival back in 2001 - my favourite band playing in the middle of Hay, with the familiar mountains behind - it was incredible.

What advice do you have for a first-timer at the Festival?  

Sometimes book events of speakers you’ve never heard of, or subjects you thought you had no interest in. You will always find those events enriching and interesting, and it opens your eyes to new things. Definitely make time to visit the town and just hang around and absorb the energy.

Sum up Hay Festival in five words or less… 

Highlight of the year.