(From top) Huffington Post website’s editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington signs copies of her book at the Tata tent; Indian high commissioner Ranjan Mathai at the Tata reception in Hay; BBC journalist Kate Adie, also at the reception
Hay-on-Wye (South Wales), June 2: This year’s Hay Festival, which is to Britain what the Jaipur Literature Festival is to India, has attracted a major new sponsor — Tata Ltd.
The centre of activity has been the “Tata Tent”, a 1,700-seat venue that is invariably full because of the big-name authors, actors, academics and television personalities it features.
Yesterday, for example, the annual festival, which began in 1988 and is now held in a number of tents pitched in idyllic green fields not far from the town of Hay-on-Wye in south Wales, was heaving with book lovers.
At 11.30am in the Tata Tent, the historian Niall Ferguson spoke of his book The Pity of War and offered “a provocative analysis that going to war in 1914 was the biggest mistake in British history”.
At 5.30am, in the same tent, the former Daily Telegraph editor, Sir Max Hastings, roundly disparaged Ferguson and argued Britain had fought a “necessary” war, referring to his new book, Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914.
There is always a large choice of speakers but at 2.30pm many opted for The Telegraph Stage and BBC journalist Kate Adie’s book, Fighting on the Home Front: The Legacy of Women in World War One.
She said that a woman who lost her fiancÚ and was never able to find another man was called “an unclaimed treasure”.
There was a change of mood in the Tata Tent at 7pm with Arianna Huffington and her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.
The president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post news website revealed she had suffered a mental and physical breakdown seven years ago. She suggested that in the pursuit of well-being, everyone should sleep more and enjoy a “technology-free day” when their mobile phones would remain switched off for 24 hours.
As part of the healing process, “I studied comparative religion in India”, she told her audience.
The main reception last night was hosted by David Landsman, executive director of Tata Ltd, in one of the oldest second-hand bookshops in Hay-on-Wye.
Arianna, one of the guests, explained the Indian reference to The Telegraph. “I stayed in Santiniketan,” she said.
She also disclosed that now that the Huffington Post UK was firmly established, she was planning to launch its equivalent in India.
Among Tata’s guests yesterday were the Indian high commissioner and former foreign secretary, Ranjan Mathai, and Dr Alice Prochaska, principal of Somerville College, Oxford, where Indira Gandhi (for a year) and Margaret Thatcher had been undergraduates.
Moon Moon Sen, the actress and new Trinamul MP for Bankura, had also graduated from Somerville (according to her CV). The college principal said she would find out whether the college had any photographs of Moon Moon in a gown.
Until 2006, few in Britain had even heard of Tata. Now the group owns 19 companies in Europe, employs 55,000 people in Britain and has earned high marks for the way it has managed to turn around the fortunes of Jaguar Land Rover.
Investing in Hay was something of an experiment, Landsman said in an interview. “I don’t take credit for thinking of anything creative,” he said with typical English self-deprecation.
But he had to admit he was at home in Hay: “My first degree was in classics — ancient Greek and Latin — at Oriel College, Oxford, and my MPhil and PhD were in linguistics from Clare College, Cambridge.”
The idea of Tata’s involvement was suggested to him by the BBC journalist Nic Gowing, a director of the Hay Festival and someone who had chaired a couple of sessions at a literary meet in Mumbai.
“When the idea was suggested to me I thought it was a wonderful idea,” Landsman said. “I thought this was a really nice thing for Tata to be involved in.”
As for the next year, “we will consider very carefully whether this is something we can become involved in on a long-term basis. It’s the first time we have done anything like this and I am quite impressed with Hay. I think it has lived up to that promise and expectation and it is a great bunch of people here.”