From the Backstage of Hay Festival

Hay Days – the diary of a hotelier during the Hay Festival.

Life from the Swan Hotel Hay.

The Swan Hotel in Hay-on-Wye

Thursday 26th May 2011.

I couldn’t sleep last night. I was excited as a young child at Christmas. It’s T -1. The Hay Festival starts tomorrow and I can’t wait. 10 days of fun, frolics, madness and mayhem. The festival transforms Hay-on-Wye from a quiet, sleepy, utterly charming Welsh town into a buzzing, intellectually-heightened mini-London. The hotel absolutely buzzes for those ten days, with authors, artists, journalists, film crews, lovely guests who are happy to be at the festival, people who are excited to be having breakfast next to one of their heroes, it’s a really wonderful time to be in Hay and I absolutely love it.

Breakfast is a great time at The Swan as you never know whose company you’ll be in. A few years ago Bob Geldof’s band stayed with us after having performed at the festival. For weeks beforehand the manager had been on the phone every couple of days asking me to stock up on whisky and red wine. I was really worried as I thought that it would be carnage so, fearing the worst, I made sure that we had plenty of staff on, just in case. When Sir Bob and the band came back at about 10:30pm the first one asked for a cup of tea. The second person wanted half a lager. And so it went on: cups of tea and halves of lager. I was so relieved. When I asked one of them what was going on, he said, ‘We’re all getting on a bit now, love. We’ve been on stage for hours so we’re cold and need to warm up’. I could have kissed him. They were all so normal and lovely I went home and left everyone to it. When I came in the next morning, it turns out that they’d had a great sing-song round the piano until 4am, right under room 3. I went up to the guests who were in that room to apologise about the noise, but she turned to me with the biggest smile on her face and said, ‘Amy, I’ve just had breakfast next to Doris Lessing. I’m in heaven. Please don’t worry about a thing.’
Two years ago these same guests sat next to Tony Curtis, which they absolutely loved. I wonder who they’ll be next to at breakfast this year.

I think everything is just about ready. We’ve polished, primped, preened, washed and plumped everything in the hotel and everything outside the hotel as well. Windows and shutters have been washed, garden furniture has been hosed down, the garden itself has been manicured to within an inch of its life and is looking wonderful. Harry and Paul (The Swan’s Chef and the Hotel Manager) have even had haircuts.

Paul has decided to turn the small conference room at the front of the hotel into a pop-up restaurant. Three guesses what he’s decided to call it… (Yes, it’s Paul’s Pop-Up Restaurant). Harry’s not too impressed, as he doesn’t want it to detract from the good food that we’ll be serving in the main restaurant and bistro, but it’s festival time and we think it will be fun.

Well, it’s 11:30pm and I’m off for an early night (got to build up my sleep as there won’t be much over the next ten days) and am looking forward to my supper which will probably be half a bar of Dairy Milk, a cup of tea and a bowl of cereals. Bring it on!

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