Sunday, September 04, 2016

An Interview with Jackie Herring, Jane Austen Festival director

Welcome Jackie! Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview with me today, to find out a little more about what's involved with organising such an event as The Jane Austen Festival.

I was very excited to receive this year's programme - the 16th annual festival! - and the schedule is as packed and brilliant as ever. I am very much looking forward to attending my 3rd festival.

1.      First things first, how did you first come to love Jane Austen? I was introduced to Pride and Prejudice at school. Do you have a firm favourite among her works?

My first festival in 2014
I was given the book Pride and Prejudice by my best friend when I was about 16, she said “you will like this it is better than Jilly Cooper” we were reading all the girl books by Jilly Cooper at the time. She was right too!
Probably P&P as I have read it more times than any of the others but I love them all really for slightly different reasons. Northanger Abbey is hilarious and great if you know Bath.

2.      Aside from a love of Jane, of course, what inspired you to begin the festival? How did you go about starting such an event? When you had the first festival I was only 4 years old, but I believe it was just a few days to begin with?
Meeting Wickham, Adrian Lukis, a festival patron, in 2014

I didn’t begin the festival – David Baldock the owner of the Jane Austen Centre started the Festival and was its first Director. I was involved from the beginning but behind the scenes and acting as a steward in the early days when the numbers were less. His inspiration was that at the time there was not much going on in Bath in September, the weather was usually ok and he wanted to celebrate our favourite author with special events and do something different not just the Jane Austen Centre exhibition.

Now I feel old! Only 4 when we started! The first Festival was 2001 and was held over a weekend and the majority of events were at the Jane Austen Centre. The following year 2002 it changed to 10 days and 2004 was the first year of the Promenade.

3.      Now the festival spreads across a wonderful 10 days! I remember in a conversation we had last festival about the vast number of tickets you have to handle with the number of events through the week there are to attend. So, what exactly are the numbers? Just how many tickets do go up for sale for the festival?
84.5% of the tickets on sale were sold in 2015. There were 466 Prom tickets sold (some join in without paying and some are comps so the estimate is that there were over 600 taking part in the Prom). With Prom tickets added to the Box Office total the stewards during the ten days deal with just over 4,000 tickets and people!

(This photo shows the gathering before the promenade in 2014 with about 550 people!)

4. The festival has an international attendance. I meet people from all over the world during the events. Outside of the UK, where do most attendees come from? Does the number of countries keep rising every year? Where are the most obscure countries you have had visitors from?

In 2015 the figures were:
                        That's me! ^

UK – outside of Bath = 44%

USA = 24%

Europe = 19%

Australia = 6%

Canada = 4%

Locals/Bath = 3%

Europe covers Netherlands, Italy, France, Spain, Eire, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Israel, Austria, Norway and Germany. We have also had visitors from Russia and this year have some coming from Japan and China. The Russians are very into JA and we had a Russian TV crew filming aspects of the Festival in 2014. Jane Austen enthusiasts are worldwide.

The number of different countries does keep increasing. Japan is probably the most unusual.

5.      What is your favourite thing about the festival? I always love the feeling of community and the happy atmosphere around Bath during the festival!
Promenade 2015

This is a really difficult question to answer – I work all year round to prepare for the ten days (and the Summer Ball) and to make it go well I am on tenterhooks the entire time but I love it when the plan comes together! My favourite event however has to be the Promenade as I get to walk at the very front and I love seeing the visitor’s faces on the streets as we pass by.

I also get a big kick out of people enjoying themselves and hate it if anything goes wrong. The best thing is when someone comes up to me and says how much they liked an event or how they are coming back next year because they have had such a good time. That really is why I keep doing the job and next year will be my 10th as Festival Director.

6.      I have to say, you have a wonderful wardrobe! Where do you get your gorgeous outfits from? Do you sew them yourself?

They are a mix of made by my Mum who was a professional dressmaker, bought online and made by a local dressmaker. Unfortunately I simply don’t have the time to make them myself and after making my Ball gown and evening pelisse Mum has refused to make anything else. But then she is 86 so I think she can retire don’t you.

7.      As I mentioned, I was thrilled, yet again, with this year's programme. I was particularly pleased to see the return of John White and John Mullan. I am also looking forward to Austen Undone which I missed last year, and I am very excited by the prospect of Pride and Prejudice the Musical! Of course, the promenade is always one of the highlights for me. The number seems to rise every year; how many took part last year? The weather wasn't wonderful but it still seemed to be a very good turn out!
John White's crime and punishment talk last year

466 bought tickets, another 50 at least were comps and then there were the gatecrashers who just join on without paying. All in all just under 600 I should think. I

8.      Was there a reason where the promenade route has been changed this year? It will, of course, be lovely to have the fayre in the Assembly Rooms. I will miss having everyone in their finery strolling around the Parade Gardens at the end though!

My silhouette I had cut at the
fayre in the guild hall

Yes and not my choice either – though actually the Assembly Rooms will be lovely to use. Unfortunately the Guildhall was booked out for a charity dinner in the evening. Apparently a long standing booking so as I couldn’t use that venue I had to rethink. We could have used the Pavilion but that isn’t an 18th Century building so I went for the Assembly Rooms. I have booked the Guildhall for 2017 though.

9.      As we all know, next year is a big year for Jane Austen, being the bicentenary of her death, and of the publication of Northanger and Persuasion. Are plans already underway for 2017? Do we have much to look forward to for such a monumental year? I am also pleased to see Jane Austen coming onto the ten pound note in 2017 too.

2017 is the bicentenary of Austen’s death which is a sad time really, so anything will be low key as far as marking that anniversary goes. I have lots of things in mind for 2017 and one thing booked but not for public consumption yet. It is also my 10th anniversary as Director so I might think of something really special!

John White's 'So, you think you're sick' talk

Thank you very much for visiting Laughing With Lizzie and for giving us a further insight into everything that goes into The Jane Austen Festival!

Thanks Lizzie/Sophie, see you at the Summer Ball and from 9th to 18th September 2016 at the Festival. Full details of the festival are on our website

Best wishes

Jackie Herring – Festival Director

The Jane Austen Festival


Your affectionate friend,

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