Hay Festival Digital earned more than 210,000 event streams in its opening weekend as book lovers from more than 63 countries tuned in to hear from writers and performers in intimate events beamed from living rooms, kitchen tables, studies, and sheds.
Highlights from the opening, available to view on Hay Player:  hayfestival.org/hayplayer
  • Key-note lectures from novelist Elif Shafak, Welsh poet Mererid Hopwood, journalist Afua Hirsch, and former CMO Sally Davies;
  • An exclusive preview of Stephen Fry’s upcoming Troy, an exclusive film presentation from Ali Smith, a conversation with Maggie O’Farrell, and a star-studded Wordsworth250 gala;
  • #GreenHay climate conversations with campaigner and diplomat Christiana Figueres, teen activist Dara McAnulty, and a trio of Trans.MISSION II events;
  • Conversations around social justice and activism with Gloria Steinem, Adam Rutherford and Nobel Prize-winning economist Esther Duflo, and a fresh look at history from Rutger Bregman, Greg Jenner, Yan Lan and Philippe Sands;
  • An evening performance from dancer Fernando Montaño, a live drawing of Troy with classicist Natalie Haynes and illustrator Chris Riddell, and An Evening with an Immigrant with Inua Ellams, who was awarded this year’s Hay Festival Medal for Poetry.
Running with a full programme until Sunday 31 May, Hay Festival Digital sees more than 100 award-winning writers, global policy makers, historians, pioneers and innovators take part under the theme of #ImagineTheWorld.
Conversations still to come include events with novelists Hilary Mantel, Anne Enright, Roddy Doyle, Ingrid Persaud, David Mitchell, Polly Samson and Jessie Burton; science and health experts Devi Sridhar, Daniel Davis and James Peebles; activist Lydia Cacho; Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman; historians Simon Schama, and Hallie Rubenhold and Greg Jenner; US diplomat Samantha Power and congresswoman Ilhan Omar; philosophers Roman Krznaric, Paul Dolan and AC Grayling; comedian Sandi Toksvig; an evening of Shakespeare with Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West; and more.
Live sessions are being streamed via Crowdcast, offering registered users the opportunity to interactive with fellow audience members and pose their questions to speakers, with an overflow option now running on YouTube due to the overwhelming opening demand.
Festivalgoers can explore the remainder of the programme and register to take part at hayfestival.org
Hay Festival Digital is 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: “It’s been an astonishing and exhilarating weekend. The writers and artists have created extraordinarily rich and thrilling new work. We couldn’t ever have imagined how audiences in 63 countries would respond with such warmth to the intimacy of being in writer’s houses, nor how powerfully the stories would land in this strangest of times. This new, global Hay crowd is reinventing the festival, and offering tantalising opportunities for the future. I am amazed by the sheer brilliance and ingenuity of my colleagues who are making this play. It’s a joyful adventure.”
Finest fiction
Award-winning novelists and poets present new work and discuss the power of literature in times of crisis. Hilary Mantel discusses the final chapter in her award-winning Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light; Anne Enright talks Actress; Ali Smith talks to Peter Florence; and novelist Elif Shafak joins lawyer and writer Philippe Sands to deliver the English PEN Platform. Polly Samson joins musician David Gilmour to talk A Theatre for Dreamers; Roddy Doyle previews his upcoming book, Love; Hannah Rothschild launches her new novel, The Trelawneys; David Mitchell previews his new book, Utopia Avenue; Ingrid Persaud presents Love After Love; and Jessie Burton talks The Confession. Mererid Hopwood delivers the Anthea Bell Lecture; Margaret Atwood shares a daily Festival poem; and John Simpson, Bettany Hughes, Paul Boateng and Mehiyar Kathem team up for a BookAid International panel on what it means when libraries are lost to conflict.
Health and wellbeing
Global health and the Covid-19 pandemic take centre stage in conversations with Professor of Immunology Daniel Davis and Devi Sridhar, the global health expert who delivered a prescient Festival event two years ago predicting the pandemic; and former chief medical officer Sally Davies delivers the 2020 John Maddox Lecture, The Drugs Don’t Work. Behavioural scientist and “happiness expert” Paul Dolan discusses F**k the Narrative; while author and broadcaster Claudia Hammond talks The Art of Rest: How to Find Respite in the Modern Age.
Science and the human body
Scientific historian Naomi Oreskes asks Why Trust Science?; Nobel Prize–winning physicist James Peebles talks Cosmology’s Century, while Carlo Rovelli talks The Order of Time; science writer Ainissa Ramirez presents The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another; theoretical physicist Jim al Khalili presents The World According to Physics; and John Troyer talks Technologies of the Human Corpse.
#ImagineTheWorld after Covid-19 
Internationally acclaimed writers and thinkers will share their thoughts on a post Covid-19 world in a new Hay Festival film series run in partnership with SURA featuring international trade lawyer Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, economist Nick Stern, Spanish writer Javier Cercas, philosopher Fernando Savater, Mexican activist Lydia Cacho, and Turkish novelist Elif Shafak.
Climate campaigner and diplomat Christiana Figueres presents The Futures We Choose; teen activist Dara McAnulty talks to American writer Steve Silberman about his new book Diary of a Young Naturalist; Mark Lynas talks Our Final Warning; botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger delivers the inaugural Black Mountains College Lecture, interviewed by Welsh poet Owen Sheers; and journalist Frank Gardner joins Kew Gardens’ Alex Antonelli to talk about environmental protection. Meanwhile, Trans.MISSION – Hay Festival’s global collaboration with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) pairing scientists and storytellers – culminates with the release of new films and animations based on cutting-edge climate science.
Literary greats
Marking 250 years since the birth of William Wordsworth, Jonathan Bate talks The Poet Who Changed the World: William Wordsworth and the Romantic Revolution and a showstopping cast including Simon Armitage, Margaret Atwood, Benedict Cumberbatch, Monty Don, Stephen Fry, Tom Hollander, Toby Jones, Helen McCrory, Jonathan Pryce and Vanessa Redgrave celebrate his life. Allie Esiri is joined by Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West for a journey through her Shakespeare collection, A Year of Shakespeare (Or What You Will); and James Shapiro talks Shakespeare in a Divided America.
Activism and social justice
Gloria Steinem talks to Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates about her latest book The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off: Thoughts on Life, Love and Rebellion; Tori Amos talks Resistance; Simon Schama discusses The Age of Tribal Nationalism; Annie Zaidi presents her memoir Bread, Cement, Cactus: A Memoir of Belonging and Dislocation; Welsh writer Eric Ngalle Charles talks about his journey from Cameroon to Europe; journalist Afua Hirsch delivers the 2020 Christopher Hitchens Lecture on the future of journalism; while science broadcaster Adam Rutherford discusses How to Argue with a Racist and Rhidian Brook presents Godbothering: A spiritual commentary on our lives and times.
World affairs
Pulitzer prize-winning author and former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power presents We Need To Talk About America; US congresswoman Ilhan Omar launches This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey from Refugee to Congresswoman; Director of the Wales Institute for Sustainability Jane Davidson hosts a series of #FutureGen discussions around Wales in the world; philosopher Roman Krznaric talks The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long-Term in a Short-Term World; and philosopher AC Grayling presents The Good State: On the Principles of Democracy. Writers Kapka Kassabova, Caroline Muscat, Zsofia Ban, Lisa Dwan, Hilary Cottam,  and Sophie Hughes present their visions for the future of Europe as part of the Hay Festival #Europa28 project; meanwhile, recent winners of the Hay Festival and Eccles Centre Writer’s Award – Chloe Aridjis and Daniel Saldana – talk about their connections to Latin America.
Global economics and the future of work
Economist Esther Duflo talks Good Economics for Hard Times: Better Answers to Our Biggest Problems; Daniel Susskind presents A World Without Work; Tim Harford talks The Next Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy; Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott discuss The New Long Life: A Framework for Flourishing in a Changing World; while Accenture MD Peter Lacy talks The Circular Economy.
Classicist Daisy Dunn offers up her deeply researched collection of stories reflecting the eclectic richness and depth of the classical literary canon, Of Gods and Men: 100 Stories from Ancient Greece and Rome and myths are brought to life by classicist Natalie Haynes alongside illustrator Chris Riddell in an evening of live reading and drawing.
Past reimagined
Historian Rutger Bregman makes the case for a new view of human nature with Humankind; broadcaster Greg Jenner talks Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen; entrepreneur Yan Lan looks at the foundations of modern China through the lens of her family history, talking House of Lan: A Family at the Heart of a Century in Chinese History; William Dalrymple talks The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire; Gavin Schaffer looks at the social history of the Birmingham Pub Bombings; Michael Wood talks about his latest study, China; while Philippe Sands talks to Stephen Fry about his new book The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive, revisiting the aftermath of WWII following his bestseller East West Street.
Wordplay, comedy, food and entertainment
Hay Festival President Stephen Fry talks Troy; Sandi Toksvig presents her long-awaited memoir, Between the Stops; Colombian ballet dancer Fernando Montaño offers a late night performance from his New York loft; poet, playwright and performer Inua Ellams invites audience to an evening of spoken word; presenter of the BBC One’s Escape to the Country Jules Hudson presents his new book; Festival favourite David Crystal presents Let’s Talk; and the trio behind the latest Ottolenghi cookbook, Falastin – Sami Tamimi, Tara Wigley and Yotam Ottolenghi – discuss cooking in the time of covid-19.
Programme for Schools
A series of broadcasts for KS 2, 3 and 4 pupils aired 18-22 May, mixing storytelling and live performances to inspire a love of reading for pleasure, co-funded by the Welsh Government. 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.
The new Festival is part of a global series of digital initiatives under the #ImagineTheWorld banner to connect, inspire and entertain book lovers and home educators throughout the year. These include a newly launched Hay Festival Podcast, a monthly book club, and release 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 follows 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