30,000-plus turnout sets new record for Borders Book Festival

Judy Murray toasts her hosts at the Borders Book Festival.
Judy Murray toasts her hosts at the Borders Book Festival.

Fine summer weather for the most part, an A-list line-up of authors and celebrities and more than 100 events drew more than 30,000 visitors to Melrose for this year’s Borders Book Festival.

From humble beginnings in 2004, the four-day extravaganza has become a central feature of the region’s cultural calendar, setting a new attendance record of 25,000-plus last year and now smashing that again.

John Cleese in Melrose for the festival.

John Cleese in Melrose for the festival.

The significance of the festival, held in the grounds of historic Harmony House, was summed up by David Parker, convener of Scottish Borders Council, one of the sponsors of the annual literary bash.

“The festival has become a major event for this region, attracting a great many visitors,” said the Leaderdale and Melrose councillor.

“The economic impact is now very important, and it’s fantastic that it has now become one of the UK’s most respected book festivals.”

Festival director Paula Ogilvie said: “To say that the 2017 Borders Book Festival was our most successful yet is an understatement.

“We welcomed more than 30,000 people into our twin sites of Harmony Garden and the orchard – a whopping increase of 21% on last year.

“We had a record number of sellout shows including John Cleese, Judy Murray, Michael Parkinson and Carol Klein, and basking in the tropical Melrose heat, our mobile artisan vendors sold record numbers of ice-creams, coffee and delicious street food.”

Festival director Alistair Moffat added: “We’re delighted that this has been a record-breaking festival, but the most important thing is that, with two days of wonderful weather, people were able to enjoy being outside in the sunshine, congregating, eating and drinking, and talking to each other, as well as being entertained and enthralled by our stellar line-up of speakers.

“And what a line-up it was – Judy Murray got a standing ovation, Allan Little delivered a superb inaugural Brewin Dolphin Lecture, and commentators, experts and novelists at the top of their game gave us a view of the world completely unique to our festival. It will be a difficult one to top.”

Few of the those who descended on Melrose at the weekend could argue with those upbeat reflections, with sellout shows being the norm rather than the exception over the four days.

Tapping in with relish to the relaxed zeitgeist on Friday evening was national treasure Judy Murray who, earlier that day, was announced as the recipient of an Order of the British Empire for services to tennis, women in sport and charity.

The 57-year- old mother of world champions Andy and Jamie told an audience of 500 that she had been partly inspired to write her autobiography, Knowing the Score: My Family and Our Tennis Story, because she wanted everyone to know she was not a “pushy parent”.

“As the boys climbed the ladder of success, I was often portrayed as being aggressive and stern-faced, with TV cameras picking up every grimace,” said Mrs Murray candidly.

“Most sports journalists and editors are men, and here you had this competitive woman who was a little bit crazy. I thought some of the comments were really unfair.”

Another highlight of many at the festival was Sunday night’s session with chatshow host Michael Parkinson.

In conversation with his son Mike, the broadcaster waxed lyrical about his friend Billy Connolly being knighted in Friday’s Queen’s birthday honours list. “It’s about bloody time,” said Parky, 82. “Billy is a genius, there is no doubt about that.”

Over the weekend, audiences packed in to hear from the likes of actress Anne Reid, comedian John Cleese, satirist Rory Bremner, bestselling novelist Joana Trollope and wildlife adventurer Steve Backshall, to name but a few.

The £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction was won for the second time by Irish author Sebastian Barry for his epic American novel Days Without End.