The Programme and Line-Up for the 50th Ilkley Literature Festival

Ilkley Announces 50th Anniversary Line-up

Jacqueline Wilson, Clare Balding, Simon Armitage, Gyles Brandreth and Monica Ali head to Ilkley.
August 21, 2023

lkley Literature Festival has announced 2023’s headline acts for its 50th anniversary year.

Launched in 1973 by the poet W.H Auden, the north’s oldest literary festival welcomes a host of poets, novelists, biographers, and journalists to the spa town this autumn.

The festival features around 100 events across 17 days, between 6-22 October.

Headline acts include the children’s author, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, who introduces her new book, The Best Sleepover in the World.

TV presenter Clare Balding will discuss her new book exploring the world of dogs, while Helen Skelton delves into her memoir covering the Strictly dance floor and life in the great outdoors.

Comedian Shaparak Khorsandi will talk of her self-discovery following her ADHD diagnosis, and presenter and broadcaster Melanie Sykes’ shares the challenges she has faced as a neurodiverse woman.

For history lovers, Gyles Brandreth offers a portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth and historian and BBC broadcaster Tom Holland looks at the Roman Empire, while Tracy Borman delves into Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I.

Ilkley Literature Festival At Kings Hall Ilkley
The Literature Festival At Kings Hall

Steve Richards explores moments that shaped Britain and philosopher AC Grayling addresses death, love, meaning and hope.

Current affairs are discussed with journalist Gavin Esler, who looks into our government’s recent crises, including Brexit and Partygate. Luke Harding brings reportage from the frontline of Ukraine. Tim Marshall takes off with the space race and global politics, and Polly Toynbee investigates her own family in a conversation about class.

Columnist Grace Dent invites us to her kitchen table, and adventurer Ray Mears tells us how to live in nature.

Bob Cryer will share stories of his dad, the beloved comedian Barry, with anecdotes from his famous friends to reveal a glimpse of the man behind the jokes.

For fiction lovers, broadcaster James Naughtie talks of his latest espionage thriller, Stef Penney brings to life a tale of love and loyalty in nineteenth century Paris, and Dan Jones discusses his trilogy following a band of British soldiers in the Hundred Years War.

Ilkley has been a dedicated champion of poetry since 1973 with appearances over the decades from luminaries including Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, and Carol Ann Duffy.

Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, will deliver a lyrical reading in an evening celebrating the music of language.

The festival’s Poet in Residence position has launched the careers of emerging poets in the north of England, this year it features two, the poet and theatre artist Chris Singleton from Leeds, and Sheffield’s award-winning poet, Freya Bantiff.

Erica Morris, Director of Ilkley Literature Festival, said: “Running Ilkley Literature Festival is a little like inheriting a great estate, passed down by previous generations. It’s a big responsibility, and we’ve had to navigate the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. So, we’re proud to mark half a century, and carry on the vision and ambition that has always characterised this arts charity; we hope 2023 is true to the spirit that has animated the festival since 1973.”

Michael Dawson And Ted Hughes At Kings Hall Ilkley
Michael Dawson And Ted Hughes At Kings Hall Ilkley

With themes encompassing the State of the Nation, Explore Moor (experiencing the natural world) and Food for Thought, the 2023 festival programme demonstrates eclectic breadth for which the event is renowned.

It will also recreate some of its inaugural events from 1973, including a Puffin Books Tea Party for children and their families, as well as a panel celebrating women’s writing featuring acclaimed novelist Monica Ali to mark the joint 50th anniversaries of Ilkley Literature Festival and feminist publisher Virago.

Erica added: “Our festival not only develops pathways for young creatives, it can enrich lives and enrich a place. It’s a chance to hear people who are eminent in their particular field share their knowledge and passion. It expands what your aspirations can be, or at least your understanding of the wider world. I think that curiosity and openness helps to create better communities as well.”

The spa town has featured in the Sunday Times’ Best Places to Live for some years, topping the list in 2022.

Tickets on sale 29 August (Friends priority booking from 23 August): CLICK HERE or call Box Office: 01943 816714.