Hillary Clinton at the Cheltenham Literature Festival Review


How on earth do you review a talk by a politician? Especially one of the most well known politicians of the day. I’ve got to give an opinion on somebody who everybody in the world has an opinion on, wish me luck! Please bear in mind this piece will be purely based on her performance at the event and will not include any political views.

Hillary Rodham Clinton graced the Cheltenham Literature Festival with her presence and the tickets were like gold dust, selling out in just 48 minutes, and that was before they had even gone on general sale. The lucky 2,250 congregated at the Racecourse to await her slightly late arrival. I am grateful to the University of Gloucestershire, who were sponsoring the event, that I was one of them.

After an hour’s delay, she entered the stage where her interviewer Mariella Frostrup and two luxurious looking arm chairs were waiting for her. This broke the strange tension and voluntary silence that had formed a blanket of hushed murmurs across the hall, and the crowd erupted. After giving a shout out to the students from the University and local schools and thanking the world’s oldest literature festival for having her, she read her 15 minute opening speech from an autocue. She spoke of the four lessons she had learnt, how she coped with losing the election and argued that women always have it harder, “The only way to get sexism out of politics is to get more women into politics”.

Credit: Rony Jack

The reason for her visit was her latest book called “What Happened” which recalls her version of events from the 2016 presidential election. She has followed in Churchill’s footsteps in telling her own narrative of which everything she had written can be validated, she claims. Her tale of events has been hogging the top spot of the book chart for sometime now, as people are desperate to hear what she divulges on topics such as her controversial emails. However this chapter in her book feels forced and scripted, which could also be said for some of her answers during the event.

Mariella Frostrup was a strong interviewer, asking bold questions which were on everybody’s lips. She challenged her role as a feminist when it came to standing up for the victims of her husband, Bill Clinton, to which she replied, “Let’s leave it in the past” and veered the interview back into her control effortlessly. Questions such as this and others left Clinton closing up and reverting back to her political self with well thought out answers that felt safe to say. She is a politician after all, she was always going to steer the conversation in the way she wanted and attempted to portray herself as perfect as possible. This made me really admire Mariella Frostrup to not tiptoe around her and not be intimidated by such a character and status.

Despite Mariella’s best efforts to get the former secretary of state to open up, the answers seemed to often find their way back to feminism and Clinton’s work for women. When speaking about the election, or the current situation in Puerto Rico or California I noticed Clinton often steering away from responsibility and placing blame elsewhere, with the FBI or the man himself,Trump. This reoccurring theme made me understand why some find her inauthentic. She did remain professional throughout speaking of her defeat, admitting she was hurt, shocked and disappointed and telling light hearted stories of how she used wine, yoga and alternative nostril breathing to get her through.

Throughout the entire hour she had the audience gripped as Frostrup guided her from topic to topic, and she conquered each and every one. Gliding through tricky topics such as Russia and North Korea like a pro, she remained poised and confident. She had the audience laughing on cue at her jokes and wit, aching with sympathy at her loss of the election and spontaneously bursting into applause with phrases such as “There is no such thing as alternative fact”. Her presence was room commanding and she demonstrated the very height of interpersonal skills.

The event finished with questions from local students, one by myself and another spoken directly to the lady in question by another student, Jade Padam. At this point, time was of the essence but she had already won over the entire auditorium. She left to an almighty cheer and a standing ovation accompanied by applause that didn’t seem to die down as the audience shuffled out.

Post event, the electricity didn’t fizzle as with any other occasion. The buzz continued throughout Cheltenham and even made an appearance at an event I attended later in the evening. Everybody wants to know who was there and what she said, conversations on bus stops and in supermarkets are still being had the following day and probably for some time. Clinton sure has made her mark on Cheltenham.

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