Charleston Festival celebrates 30 years with an exceptional line-up

Charleston Festival takes place annually in the gardens of Charleston, the rural Sussex home of the Bloomsbury group, and draws inspiration from the radical artistic and intellectual legacy of its past visitors including Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and Roger Fry.

Thursday, 7th February 2019, 1:41 pm
Updated Monday, 11th February 2019, 9:51 am
Gina Miller. Picture by Emma Freeman

This year the event celebrates its landmark 30th anniversary with a line-up of exceptional speakers.

It will also be the swansong of its founder and artistic director Diana Reich.

Running from May 17-27, the festival of books, ideas and creativity will explore themes from feminism and identity to international politics and Brexit, political art to scientific progress:

Kamal Ahmed

Charleston hightlights

Gina Miller on lessons learnt from standing up for justice and for herself.

The Challenge of Climate Justice, a lecture by Mary Robinson.

Caroline Criado Perez and Cathy Newman on gender gaps in data and in history.

Tina Brown. Picture by Brigitte Lacombe

Naomi Wolf discusses her new book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love.

Director of BBC News Kamal Ahmed on prejudice and growing up in ’70s Britain.

The Godfather of pop art Peter Blake.

And appearances by: Vanessa Redgrave, Eileen Atkins, Alan Bennett, Melvyn Bragg, Simon Callow, Lionel Shriver, Andrew Motion, Tina Brown, Michael Palin, Bonnie Greer, Jeanette Winterson, Bettany Hughes, Martin Rees and Costa Book of the Year award winner Bart van Es.

Nathaniel Hepburn, director and chief executive of Charleston said: “The original inhabitants of Charleston – painters, writers and thinkers – met around the dining room table to discuss and interrogate art, literature, ideas and contemporary society. These conversations, stimulated by 30 years of thought provoking festival events, have continued to resonate in Charleston’s packed events marquee and beautiful walled garden.”

Diana Reich said: “This 30th anniversary Festival is a culmination of the values that have threaded through the Charleston Festival programme since its inception: openness, originality and interrogation.”

Marking the 100th anniversary of the Paris Peace Conference and the 75th anniversary of the Bretton Woods conference, historian Margaret MacMillan, who gave the 2018 Reith Lectures, will deliver a specially commissioned talk: Learning from the Past?

The festival has sessions devoted to art, ranging from Leonardo da Vinci and the Pre-Raphaelites to graphic art and the Surrealists. Painter, sculptor, draughtsman and printmaker Peter Blake will whisk people back to the heady days of ’60s pop art, and Maria Balshaw, director of Tate, will lead a discussion with sculptor Hazel Reeves on popular culture and protest.

Feminist activist Caroline Criado Perez will discuss her new book, Invisible Women, a powerful analysis of the gender politics of knowledge, and Helena Kennedy will address discrimination in the legal system. Cathy Newman explores the pioneering woman left out of the history books, and Tina Brown one of journalism’s legendary figures will discuss The Vanity Fair Diaries. Author Naomi Wolf illuminates the consequences of the Obscene Publications Act 1857.

Editorial director of BBC News Kamal Ahmed will talk about his memoir, The Life and Times of a Very British Man, describing what it was like to grow up as part of the first generation of mixed-race children in 1970s Britain.

Newsnight’s Mark Urban, who interviewed Sergei Skripal at his home prior to a near-fatal poisoning, will recount the gripping story of the double agent’s career as a spy in Russian military intelligence, his recruitment by MI6, imprisonment in his homeland and eventual release to the UK.

Tickets are on general sale from Februuary 25 and the full programme can now be viewed on

There is a shuttle bus service throughout the festival to and from Lewes Railway Station.

Charleston Festival: Climate change activist wins Maynard Keynes’ Prize. Click here to read more.