The Cheltenham Consensus
Written by: Chris B.
Publicist Chris B. joins Pascal Lamy former Director-General of the World Trade Organization, as he attends The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival to talk about his book The Geneva Consensus.
‘Pascal Lamy? We’ve been after him for ages’ was the spirited reply I got earlier this year from the organisers of the Times Cheltenham Literature Festival.
Clearly they’d had the outgoing Director-General of the World Trade Organization in their sights for some time.
Now in its 64th year, and the longest-running festival of its kind in the world, the 10-day Cheltenham Literature Festival attracts leading figures from the world of arts and culture, politics and sport. This year the event was led by guest directors A S Byatt, a Man Booker Prize winner, as well as the former home secretary Alan Johnson and the critic Agnès C Poirier. Other star names who appeared included Jennifer Saunders, Jack Whitehall, Ian Rankin, Ray Davies, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mary Berry, Jeremy Paxman, John Bishop and Brian May.
What better place, then, to unveil the publication of The Geneva Consensus, Pascal Lamy’s eagerly awaited memoir of his time at the helm of the WTO?
So far so good. But the schedule we organised for Pascal’s brief UK sojourn allowed no room for hold ups. After jetting in from Paris in the early afternoon he was due on stage in Cheltenham in two and a half hours and in that short time he’d to travel down from Birmingham International, check in to his hotel, arrive on the festival site, sound-check and meet the sponsors.
So after a couple of nervy phone calls with his driver, it was a relief to finally see a relaxed Monsieur Lamy stroll into the foyer of his hotel, on-time and eager to get started.
‘What kind of audience will it be?’ he asked.
‘Oh, mixed’ I replied, hopefully.
In truth we wouldn’t know until we got to the venue how many tickets had been sold and to whom. We were heavily reliant on the Cheltenham marketing and publicity machine to ensure the proverbial bums on seats.
But we needn’t have worried. On arriving at the bustling festival site we were shown backstage to the green room where authors, agents and publicists chatted over drinks. Scanning the room for star names I was a little disappointed. No Ray Davies of Kinks’ fame, or snooker ace Ronnie O’Sullivan. Instead, a couple of faces I vaguely recognised from TV and a crime novelist whose books I’ve never read.
Philip Collins, columnist and chief leader writer of The Times, Tony Blair’s former chief speech writer, and today’s on stage interviewer joined our table to run through the discussion with Pascal.
‘It’s all straightforward stuff’ he smiled ‘I won’t try to catch you out.’
‘What kind of audience will it be?’ Mr Lamy asked.
‘Oh, mixed,’ Collins replied. ‘Business people, retired people, kids skiving school, the usual’ He smiled again and was gone.
Moments later Pascal was on-stage and in the spotlight, explaining the Geneva consensus and the challenges of globalization to a sell-out audience. 45 minutes of wide-ranging discussion with Philip Collins was followed by 20 minutes of tough questions from a clearly clued-up crowd.
Walking away from the venue and back to the hotel afterwards I asked Pascal what he thought about his literary festival debut.
‘A good experience?’ I enquired nervously.
‘A good crowd,’ he nodded. ‘They know their stuff.’
And thankfully not a skiving school kid in sight.