A HOST of big names have been vying to join the growing list on the bill for the hottest ticket in town, when the Swindon Festival of Literature returns this spring.

The former head of MI5, the ex-chairman of Sainsbury’s and a Booker Prize winner are the latest to throw their weight behind the festival as it celebrates its 20th year.

Award-winning broadcaster and writer Clare Balding is set to appear, alongside founder of ChildLine Esther Rantzen and former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

Television impressionist and comedian Alistair McGowan and best-selling crime writer PD James have also been booked in. But now more names have been confirmed, including Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross – on how to solve crime; the former head of MI5 Stella Rimington – on counter-espionage; Booker Prize winner Ben Okri; and former Chairman and Chief Executive of Sainsbury’s, Lord Sainsbury of Turville – on how to achieve liberty and justice through progressive capitalism.

Last year, festival director Matt Holland tried to embrace the discussion of ideas and it is a pattern he has continued, even if the names will be well-known to many.

“It’s going crazy – they all want to come,” he said.

“What I’m most pleased about is the variety of guests we’ve got – sorry to use an overused phrase, but ‘there is something for everyone’.

“There’s politics, childcare, farming, yoga, people speaking for Humanism, people speaking for God, crime writers – the list goes on.

“We never do themes and this year again there is a wealth of ideas.

“Last year was just a shift away from fiction writing and poetry and getting more into science and politics.

“We want to make it a festival of ideas – that is something we will be doing as long as the festival keeps going.”

The festival, made possible by funding from Arts Council England South West, has become the signature event of Swindon’s cultural calendar and this year will run from Monday, May 6, to Sunday, May 18.

It will include staple events, which include the Dawn Chorus, Swindon Poetry Slam, the schools’ Youth Slam and the fourth Think Slam. Tickets for all talks will only go on sale after noon on Thursday, March 21.

For more information visit swindonfestivalofliterature.co.uk and to go on the festival mailing list, call 01793 771080 or email swindonlitfest@lowershawfarm.co.uk.