The first ever Hay Festival Digital came to a triumphant close last night, earning close to half a million event streams over two weeks of events.

Book lovers tuned in from around the world to engage and converse with writers, and with each other, in interactive events. People from more than 69 countries joined free sessions featuring over 100 award-winning writers, global policy makers, historians, Nobel Prize-winning economists, pioneers and innovators, under the theme #ImagineTheWorld.

Highlights over the fortnight included an exclusive preview of Stephen Fry’s next book, Troy, and David Mithell’s upcoming Utopia Avenue; an all-star Wordsworth 250 anniversary gala; a one-off film screening by Ali Smith; a Shakespeare megamix performed by Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West; conversations with novelists Maggie O’Farrell and Anne Enright, artist Grayson Perry, former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, writer Lisa Taddeo, historians William Dalrymple and Hallie Rubenhold, lawyer Philippe Sands, statistician David Spiegelhalter and global health expert Devi Sridhar; an hour of live painting with Jackie Morris; a performance by classicist Natalie Haynes, accompanied by illustrator Chris Riddell; original lectures from Welsh poet Mererid Hopwood, journalist Afua Hirsch, former CMO Professor Sally Davies, novelist Elif Shafak, historian Simon Schama, economist Paul Krugman; and conversations about the future of Europe with the Hay Festival Europa28 selection: novelists Leïla Slimani and Zsofia Ban, actress Lisa Dwan, social activist Hilary Cottam, and writers Kapka Kassabova and Caroline Muscat.

A free digital Programme for Schools ran 18-22 May for KS 2, 3 and 4 pupils, mixing storytelling and live performances to inspire a love of reading for pleasure. Speakers included Waterstones Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell; broadcaster Konnie Huq; award-winning writers Patrice Lawrence, Mohammad Khan and Lucy Worsley; rising stars Onjali Q Rauf, Sue Cheung and Dean Atta; illustrator Liz Pichon; and activists Laura Bates and Laura Coryton. 
Events, originally streamed via the Festival’s Crowdcast channel, are now available to view over on Hay Player (hayfestival.org/hayplayer), which is home to the Festival’s full audio and video archive.

Hay Festival Medals were awarded to writer and dramatist Inua Ellams for Poetry, journalist and writer Lydia Cacho for Journalism, and two-time Booker Prize-winning novelist Hilary Mantel for prose. Meanwhile, following a public call-out for submissions, organisers at the close of the Festival released an #ImagineTheWorld reading list of 20 titles to offer inspiration and vision for the months ahead.

Hay Festival Digital was supported by principal sponsor Baillie Gifford and principal global partner the Welsh Government, while the Programme for Schools is also sponsored by the Welsh Government.

Peter Florence, director of Hay Festival, said: “The combination of intimate conversations and the global audience able to participate online has reinvented the festival. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of viewers who’ve never been to Hay before. We’ve seen writers and actors and scientists respond to the technology with imagination and daring. And my brilliant colleagues have aced the innovation and the delivery. We’re going to absorb the wonders of all this and think carefully and quickly about how to move forward. It seems like a moment of adventure and opportunity.”

Michelle McLeod, sponsorship manager at Baillie Gifford, said: “It has been an incredible journey for the Hay team to deliver the digital festival in such a short space of time, and an extraordinary achievement. Although we greatly missed the usual event in Hay-on-Wye, it was remarkable to hear so many inspiring and entertaining conversations, all beamed to thousands of people across the globe. Well done to the team at Hay Festival and to all the authors who took part.”

Broadcaster Sandi Toksvig, closing out the final Festival session, said: “This has been an extraordinary experiment. Going to Hay is one of the great glories of my life. I love it. But this has been watched by over half a million people, all around the world, many for the first time. These are dark times but Hay Festival represents the obverse. It’s the place of stimulating conversation, of soothing words, and reminding ourselves of the glory of the human imagination. And we really, really need this now.”

Hay Festival’s global series of digital initiatives under the #ImagineTheWorld banner will continue to connect, inspire and entertain book lovers and home educators throughout the summer. These include a newly launched Hay Festival Podcast, a monthly book club, and ongoing availability of the free Programme for Schools archive, while Hay Player continues to offer full digital access to the full Hay Festival archive of video and audio.

The digital Festival followed the cancellation of this year’s event in Hay-on-Wye due to the Coronavirus / Covid-19 outbreak, which was followed by the launch of an ongoing fundraising campaign to secure the Festival’s future at hayfestival.org/wales/support-us

Watch highlights from the programme over on Hay Player now.