Festival review: Borders Book Festival, Melrose

This year’s Borders Book Festival was hit by a tidal wave of national treasures, writes David Robinson

Crime writer Val McDermid PIC: KT Bruce
Crime writer Val McDermid PIC: KT Bruce

Somehow I never imagined I’d find myself singing the praises of Ed Balls, but anyone whose daughter asks him, as her 18th birthday present, to put together a book of all the recipes for the family meals he’d cooked, is clearly a good egg.

Even when he won a TV home cooking competition, he kept quiet about that. Why? “Because that’s her thing.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Add the way he talked about what a morally principled home secretary his wife Yvette Cooper would make without even mentioning the person doing the job right now, and that’s triply classy.

Ed Balls

In that regard, he fitted right into the Harmony House schedule. Melrose has welcomed a stream of national treasures before, but on Saturday it turned into a flood.

It started with Alexander McCall Smith wondering, along with his fictional alter ego Isobel Dalhousie, whether it is possible to be too good, but before you knew it Val McDermid was talking about why she gave up journalism for books, Andrew Marr was explaining why he hadn’t, Julian Clary was talking about living in Noel Coward’s moneypit house and the dogs and sex in his life, and Joanna Lumley was calling us “my darlings” and “my sweet people” and telling us about how “heavenly” the Queen is.

Then, to cap it all, speaking in a tent Jack Dee that claimed was “the one Borders police use to cover their crime scenes .... the first time it’s been outside Galashiels”, there was a truly legendary version of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Buccleuch, with Rory Bremner, Miles Jupp, Tony Hawks and Pippa Evans in a perfect mirror of the Radio 4 panel game, complete with swanee whistles, massed kazoos and Colin Sell at the piano in an hour-long taste of comedy heaven. Bliss.

Julian Clary