Borders Book Festival has all the write stuff for Rory Bremner

Rory Bremner helped launch the festival in Melrose. Picture: Toby Williams
Rory Bremner helped launch the festival in Melrose. Picture: Toby Williams
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SALLY Magnusson will step into her late father’s shoes to host a literary version of Mastermind at this year’s Borders Book Festival, where the panellists will include Rory Bremner, John Sessions, Kathy Lette and Kirsty Wark.

That is just one of the highlights of the festival – of which The Scotsman is media partner. It will include events with Sir David Frost, Hilary Mantel, Prue Leith and William Boyd, who are all among the 34 guests at Melrose for the first time.

Festival director Alistair Moffat pointed out that the programme did not only feature some of the most talented writers in the country, but also “the best interviewing team imaginable – Kirsty Wark, Sally Magnusson, Rory Bremner and James Naughtie”. The doyen of them all is, of course, Sir David, whom Bremner himself will interview about his varied life, ranging from being offered a contract with Nottingham Forest to presiding over the Sixties satire boom, to his famed interview with President Richard Nixon.

Introducing the “extraordinarily rich and varied” programme at its launch in Melrose yesterday, Bremner mentioned the unspring-like weather. “That’s the thing about the Borders,” he said. “You get snow in April and Frost in June.”

Bremner features extensively in the programme – not only as a contestant in the “Melrose Mastermind”, but in a one-off event, Bremner, Ward and Naughtie, in which he will interview the two other guests about the key interviews in their own careers.

Among the writers, Hilary Mantel will making a double appearance – first to present the £25,000 Sir Walter Scott Award for historical fiction and then to talk about Bring up the Bodies, her eagerly anticipated sequel to Wolf Hall, her brilliant imagining of the life of Thomas Cromwell which won practically every award possible – including the inaugural Walter Scott Prize.

William Boyd, Ian Rankin, Iain Banks and Andrew Miller are all among the highlights of the fiction list, while Scots Makar Liz Lochhead will also be making her Melrose debut. Actors and writers Art Malik and Susan Wooldridge – who last appeared together in the television adaptation of Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown – will share the stage for the first time since then to talk about the process of turning a novel into an enduring classic of the small screen.

The non-fiction list includes Richard Holloway, whose memoir, Leaving Alexandria, movingly tracks his journey from faith to doubt, political veteran Tam Dalyell, Peter Higgs, the scientist behind the Higgs boson theory, and adventurer Mark Beaumont, who will talk about the transatlantic rowing voyage on which he nearly died.

American journalist Charles Glass, who first found evidence of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons programme, exposed Indonesia’s repression in East Timor, and who made the news himself early in his career when he escaped from his Hezbollah captors, will also be coming to the festival.

By contrast, an imaginative children’s programme features Francesca Simon reading the latest adventures of Horrid Henry and Philip Ardagh talking about his latest book of blunders.

Vivian French, a festival patron, will not only read her stories to children of different ages, but also tell adults how to write for children themselves.

Graham Garvie, the deputy leader of Scottish Borders Council, pointed out that the festival was not only an artistic success, but pumped £3.4 million into the Borders economy.

Praising organisers of the Knight Frank schools gala day, which attracts more than 1,500 children he concluded: “Book festivals are entertaining and enlightening. I have a theory that they are replacing something else in society – the Church. They are busy and packed; the churches not so much nowadays.”

• Read the Borders Book Festival programme in full

Frost in June: Sir David’s visit is a highlight


Pioneering television interviewer, right, famous for his meeting with Richard Nixon, is himself interviewed by Rory Bremner on his first visit to the festival.


UK’s largest annual fiction prize to be judged outside London – and all shortlisted writers have been invited.


Britain’s finest historical novelist on Bringing Up the Bodies, her sequel to the multi-award-winning Wolf Hall.


Abundantly talented actor (Ted Heath in The Iron Lady), comedian and improv star.


Superbly written memoir of a truly remarkable life.


Bremner interviews the interviewers, Kirsty Wark, right, and James Naughtie, above left, about their meetings with the movers and shakers.

• The Borders Book Festival is held in the gardens of Harmony House, Melrose, on 14-17 June. Tickets can be booked online at and by phone on 0844 357 1060.

The Scotsman is media partner for the event.