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First names announced for 2023 Henley Literary Festival

Major government figures from both sides of the Atlantic will feature alongside local authors, leading historians, much-loved comedians and a children’s books icon at this year’s Henley Literary Festival, as the first few speakers are announced.

The 17th annual Festival – once again supported by headline sponsor Baillie Gifford, the independent investment partnership – will offer over 100 events for adults and children, in-person and online from September 30 to October 8.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May will open the Festival on Saturday September 30. The MP for Maidenhead and long-serving Home Secretary’s previous appearance in 2019 was the Festival’s fastest-selling ever; this time she will be discussing her first book The Abuse of Power. Retired United States Army General David Petreaus, who served under President Obama as CIA Director and commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, will join award-winning historian Andrew Roberts to look at how warfare has changed over the last 80 years. Henley-based writer Michael Smith will look at how UK and US politicians and secret services work together, in The Real Special Relationship, alongside Sir John Scarlett, former MI6 Chief, while longstanding Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee examines the true state of class in Britain, via the prism of her own extraordinary family. 

Events for younger readers and their grown-ups will include Dame Jacqueline Wilson, creator of characters such as Tracy Beaker and Hetty Feather, making her first Henley appearance and a special all-ages Black History for Every Day of the Year talk by historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, recently part of BBC One’s Coronation coverage, and his sister Dr Yinka Olusoga.

Comedians Shaparak Khorsandi and Viv Groskop come together for a unique event with their upcoming, eye-opening and very funny books on ADHD, confidence and making sense of your life. And on the fiction front speakers will include Sunday Times bestseller Beth O’Leary, author of The Flatshare and The Wake Up Call, and broadcaster and barrister Rob Rinder with his debut thriller The Trial

Festival director Harriet Reed Ryan said: “After our most popular Festival yet in 2022 we are thrilled to be back this autumn and these first 13 speakers, with over 100 more to be revealed in the coming months, give a real taste of the variety and quality of events we always strive for.”

Venues include the Baillie Gifford Marquee at Phyllis Court, the Laithwaites Stage at the Kenton Theatre and the Gower Cottage Brownies Stage at Henley Town Hall, with the majority of events also to be livestreamed online. 

Tickets for Henley Literary Festival 2023 will be available via and on 01491 575948 from 17th July for general sale, with Friends of the Festival enjoying early booking from 10th July. Visit the website for information on becoming a Friend of the Festival for priority booking and other benefits.

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