Interview with Torin Douglas

This year the Chiswick Book Festival raised £2,600 on behalf on InterAct. Former BBC Radio correspondent Torin Douglas is the founder of the festival and we interviewed him recently.

How did the book festival come about?
We’d been running the Bedford Park Festival which has been going for 50 years.    The festival was started by the vicar of St Michaels to try and restore some community spirit after the old houses were knocked down, pay for a new roof but also tell everyone what a great place Bedford Park was.  We always use to have a book event within that.  We thought running a book festival couldn’t be that hard.  We’ve got this wonderful church and the hall next door.  Since it’s based at St Michaels we have people who like getting involved in the community.  We started nine years ago and we thought we would start small and build but our partners in this were two very well connected people in the book business, in the London Book Fair and Orion.  Their idea of starting slowly wasn't the same as mine, they thought Antonia Fraser, Anthony Horowitz, Jackie Wilson, Michael Frayn was starting small.  We had all these authors in our very first year.   I then thought, how on earth do you follow that?  What you realize is that there are lots of authors out there, always coming out with new books.  What we inherited from the Bedford Park Festival was that we would always raise money for charity, and we’d be non-profit making.   That’s why we came to you and two other charities because we thought it was very important that the charities we supported had a very strong link with reading. 
What has been your personal highlights of the festival over the years?
I think the first festival, on that very first day, when we had Antonia Frasier in this church.   It was absolutely packed and she gave a wonderful talk about Mary Queen of Scots and then we had the questions, and she said “These are the most intelligent questions I’ve ever been asked” and you felt this was a really buzzy exciting place. 
When you compare this to other book festivals how does it differentiate itself?
We have a lot of events in a very short time and one of the things we do is have a single day pass ticket which means people can go to most of the talks on one ticket. We have a poetry competition for children which has been going for six years so it’s not just about listening to authors, it’s about engaging in other ways.  We keep the same charities year after year quite deliberately, because we’re only there for a weekend and we think it takes time to build relationships, so that people are finding out about your charity, and it gives people time to engage with you and your wonderful readers to find out more about it.
What are the dates for the next festival?
It will be Sept 14th – 18th, we always try to have it in that middle weekend of September becauses chools have just gone back and the books are just beginning to come out for Christmas. One of the reasons we chose InterAct was because Richard Briers lived around the corner and he was a very great supporter and patron of InterAct.  It was the most obvious connection that we had, and we felt that people didn’t know enough about InterAct as they should and of course, the wonderful Joanna Brendon (member of InterAct's Development Committee)  is a friend as well so for those reasons, InterAct became one of our charities.  Then about 7 or 8 years we thought we need to at least, look at our charities and see which ones we want to keep so we asked each charity what they had got out of the Festival. You told us exactly what you’d done with the money.  You had used it to fund your work at Charing Cross hospital, and our support had raised your profile.   That is all part of the successful partnership between the fesitval and InterAct Stroke Support.