Strictly winner Hamza Yassin to lead Christmas lights switch on

Broadcaster and winner of Strictly Come Dancing 2022 Hamza Yassin will join the soon to be announced Hay-on-Wye Citizen of the Year to switch on the town’s Christmas lights on Friday 24 November as part of his upcoming Hay Festival Winter Weekend appearance.

The free switch-on event, co-hosted by Hay Town Council, Hay Chamber of Commerce and Hay Markets, will take place 5–7pm in Memorial Square, accompanied by carol singing, food, mulled wine and entertainment to give a rousing start to the Festival weekend, which runs to Sunday 26 November.

Hamza is a Scottish wildlife cameraman and presenter, a skilled ornithologist and the winner of the 2022 season of Strictly Come Dancing. Born in Sudan, Hamza Yassin moved to Scotland when he was young. He has a degree in Zoology with Conservation after studying at Bangor University and a Masters in Biological Photography and Imaging from the University of Nottingham.

He made his first television appearance on the CBeebies show Let's Go for a Walk, in the role of Ranger Hamza, and featured in a book based on the series, which won the Sainsbury's Children's Book Prize for Best Activity Book 2021.

Since then, Hamza has appeared on The One Show, Countryfile and is a presenter on the long running BBC series Animal Park. Hamza has also presented his own Channel 4 documentaries, Scotland: My Life in the Wild and Scotland: Escape to the Wilderness, and was the podcast host of the second series of Get Birding. Hamza is currently presenting his own BBC series, Hamza’s Birds of Prey.

He is at the Festival to launch his new book, Be a Birder, in a sold-out event on Saturday 25 November following the lights switch-on.

Hamza Yassin said: “I’m honoured to bring some added sparkle to Hay Festival Winter Weekend, switching on the town’s Christmas lights as part of my upcoming visit. In times like these, community and connection feel more important than ever. It will be my first trip to the Town of Books and I’m looking forward to meeting readers and fellow wildlife lovers there, on stage and off, and marking the season’s change with hope and joy.”

Fiona Howard, Hay-on-Wye Town Council, said: “Hay-on-Wye is delighted to be hosting Hay Festival Winter Weekend again, bringing writers and readers together for a wonderful weekend. We are excited to welcome Hamza Yassin and Hay-on-Wye Citizen of the Year to switch on the lights and get us all into the festive spirit. See you there!”

Hay Festival Winter Weekend is back for a year-end wonderland of in-person events, 23–26 November, in multiple venues across Hay-on-Wye, Wales.

Explore the full programme and book tickets now here.

Over four days, more than 70 acclaimed writers and performers take part in over 60 events, launching the best new fiction and non-fiction, offering creative solutions to some of the biggest challenges of our time, and spreading festive joy in conversations, candle-lit storytelling, comedy, music, and workshops.

Now in its 24th year, events will take place in a new 350-seater marquee in the grounds of Hay Castle, tripling the event’s previous capacity. Additional events will also take place in the Castle’s Clore space, plus venues around town, including St Mary’s Church and The Poetry Bookshop.

For audiences unable to attend in person, the Festival’s commitment to digital accessibility will also continue with selected sessions available to live-stream remotely with an Online Festival Pass.

Hay Festival CEO Julie Finch said: “Ideas sparkle at Hay Festival Winter Weekend 2023 as we mark the season’s change with bold new visions for the future and a heady dose of entertainment and joy. With a new home in the centre of Hay-on-Wye in the grounds of Hay Castle, we have tripled the capacity of this year’s event, offering access to more Festivalgoers than ever, live and online. Join us!”

More intimate than the spring edition, Hay Festival Winter Weekend sees the Welsh booktown’s independent shops, cafés and attractions offer a warm welcome to Festivalgoers within the stunning surrounds of the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park.

This project is part-funded by the UK government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.


The best new fiction takes centre-stage in the programme with the Booker Prize 2023 shortlist sharing their work in an exclusive event, including Sarah Bernstein (Study for Obedience), Jonathan Escoffery (If I Survive You), Paul Harding (This Other Eden), Paul Lynch (Prophet Song), Chetna Maroo (Western Lane), and Paul Murray (The Bee Sting), chaired by Gaby Wood.

Hay Festival President Stephen Fry launches his new book Mythos: The Illustrated Story. Writers including Sebastian Faulks (The Seventh Son), Louis de Bernières (Light Over Liskeard), Kim Sherwood (Double or Nothing) and Ava Glass (The Traitor) launch new novels, while Miranda Aldhouse-Green joins Daniel Morden for an afternoon of Enchanted Wales: Myth and Magic in Welsh Storytelling and poet Nii Ayikwei Parkes performs from Azúcar.

Inspiring life stories mark the changing seasons with hope as actor Hugh Bonneville presents his memoir Playing Under the Piano, farmer Helen Rebanks talks The Farmer's Wife, journalist Louise Minchin offers Fearless, cyclist Lee Craigie shares Other Ways to Win, sailor Suzanne Heywood talks Wavewalker and Welsh former international rugby union referee Nigel Owens discusses The Final Whistle.

With the UK election on the horizon for 2024, Wales today and the role of Britain in the wider world comes into focus in conversations with politicians Chris Bryant (Code of Conduct), Rachel Reeves (The Women Who Made Modern Economics) and Lisa Nandy (All In); journalists James O'Brien (How They Broke Britain), Jennifer Nadel (How Compassion can Transform our Politics, Economy and Society), Gavin Esler (Britain Is Better Than This) and Afua Hirsch (Decolonising the Body); and geographers Tim Marshall (The Future of Geography) and Danny Dorling (Shattered Nation).

Hay Festival 2023 Thinkers in Residence – curator Will Gompertz, Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates and historian David Olusoga – take stock of the role of festivals today and share their bold visions for the future, while biologist Lewis Dartnell offers Being Human: How our Biology Shaped World History and historian James Holland launches The Savage Storm: The Battle for Italy 1943.

The natural world is explored and celebrated in conversations with gardener Naomi Slade (RHS The Winter Garden), wildlife cameraman Hamza Yassin (Be a Birder), and broadcaster Kate Humble (Where the Hearth Is), while classicist Adam Nicolson shares How to Be: Life Lessons From the Early Greeks.

There’s much seasonal joy and laughter to be enjoyed with lexicographers Susie Dent (Roots of Happiness) and Sarah Ogilvie (The Dictionary People), comedian Matt Lucas (The Boy Who Slept Through Christmas), food writer Grace Dent (Comfort Eating), chef Gelf Anderson (River Cottage Great Roasts), wine writer Oz Clarke (Oz Clarke's Story of Wine), a new set from comedian Reginald D Hunter, and music with Father Richard Williams offering an atmospheric performance of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

At Hay Castle, audiences can enjoy full-day writing and book-art workshops, drop-in crafting sessions for families, and a special panel discussion around their current Dark Skies exhibition.

Extra sparkle to live events comes from the town’s Market Square as a special guest turns on the Christmas lights, Friday 24 November, in what has become an annual Winter Weekend highlight.

After another transformative 12 months at Hay Festival HQ, CEO Julie Finch invites the public to share their visions for the Festival’s future in an open forum event to kick-off the weekend programme.

Once again, the Festival will draw on public nominations to crown the Hay Festival Book of the Year following past wins for Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons in Chemistry, Deborah Levy’s Real Estate, Dara McAnulty’s Diary of a Young Naturalist, Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s Inventing Ourselves,  and Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words.