Hay Festival boss suspended after staff bullying complaint

Telegraph reporters
·2 min read
Peter Florence speaking at the Hay Festival in 2014 - Rex
Peter Florence speaking at the Hay Festival in 2014 - Rex

The co-founder and head of the Hay Festival has been suspended after an investigation into allegations of bullying from staff.

Peter Florence, who founded the literary festival with his parents three decades ago, has been off sick since a complaint was upheld against him on October 1.

The news comes just a week after another Hay employee publicly alleged she was sexually assaulted by a senior member of the Emirati royal family while trying to organise a satellite festival in Abu Dhabi.

Caitlin McNamara claims she was assaulted by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the country’s culture minister, when she visited him at a private island villa to discuss preparations for the event.

Sheikh Nahyan has denied the allegation, saying he was “surprised and saddened” by it.

The Telegraph understands the complaint against Mr Florence, who has previously been dubbed the ‘king of Hay’, is not linked to Ms McNamara.

The fate of Mr Florence, 56, at the organisation will not be decided until he returns from his illness.

Following the suspension, Caroline Michel, the chair of Hay Festival, said: "Peter Florence was suspended on 1 October pending the outcome of a grievance procedure initiated by one of our staff. He has since been signed off sick, which has delayed the conclusion of that process. 

"We are not at liberty to offer any further comment on personnel issues until this matter is resolved" 

Mr Florence, who was awarded a CBE in 2018 for his services to arts and culture, has seen the festival grow into an international phenomenon with spin-offs in over thirty countries since it was first held in the town of Hay-on-Wye in Wales in 1988.

The festival has attracted some of the world's most prominent speakers from literature, academia and politics, with former US President Bill Clinton describing it in 2002 as the "Woodstock for the mind". 

Last week, the festival announced it is severing its ties to the United Arab Emirates following the allegation by Ms McNamara, who has been interviewed by Scotland Yard about the incident.

Hay had begun to expand into the UAE at the invitation of the Emirati government and has held a festival there.

However, Ms Michel said the Hay Festival will not run any events in the UAE while Sheikh Nahyan remains in post as a government minister.

She described the alleged incident, if true, as "an appalling violation and a hideous abuse of trust and position".