The Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival in June is set to be one of the first live events

Never has there been quite such a hankering for the way things used to be. So we make no apology whatsoever for trumpeting the launch of what will be one of this summer’s first major gatherings — the Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival.

As things stand, June 21 is scheduled to be England’s Hallelujah moment — or, as civil servants prefer to call it, the start of ‘Step Four’. For now, at least, that is the day when nearly all legal limits on social contact are due to be lifted.

Just two days after that, the gates will open at the Chalke Valley History Festival. Always held at the end of June, this spectacular event has a well-earned reputation as Britain’s top summer celebration of great history for all the family — from Iron Age life through to the Romans, the Victorians, World War II and the Coronation (in the company of one of the maids of honour from the Queen’s Coronation).

Set deep in the heart of Thomas Hardy country (where else would you find a festival site rejoicing in the name of Church Bottom?), the festival takes place on the Wiltshire/Dorset border not far from Salisbury. This year’s programme will feature more than 100 events — all of them Covid-compliant — to suit every age and taste.

So we make no apology whatsoever for trumpeting the launch of what will be one of this summer's first major gatherings ¿ the Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival

So we make no apology whatsoever for trumpeting the launch of what will be one of this summer's first major gatherings ¿ the Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival

So we make no apology whatsoever for trumpeting the launch of what will be one of this summer’s first major gatherings — the Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival

For ten years, this has been one of many gems in the summer festival calendar but it has surely never been as keenly anticipated, given the year we have just endured.

The pandemic has already driven other great events, such as the Hay Festival, online, while the vast Glastonbury pop bonanza has been reduced to a putative ‘concert’ in September.

At least, though, there will still be one place where people can, once more, liberate the soul; where they can experience that simple pleasure of being entertained and illuminated in the heart of the British countryside; where they can dine in a huge open marquee, or sit on a hay bale, or lie on the grass and enjoy fish and chips or a platter of Asian street food with a beer or a Pimm’s in the company of great storytellers and the odd passing Spitfire . . .

The organisers of Chalke Valley are still finalising some of the programme but the decision has been taken to press ahead so that people can put the dates (June 23-27) in the diary.

Always held at the end of June, this spectacular event has a well-earned reputation as Britain's top summer celebration of great history for all the family

Always held at the end of June, this spectacular event has a well-earned reputation as Britain's top summer celebration of great history for all the family

Always held at the end of June, this spectacular event has a well-earned reputation as Britain’s top summer celebration of great history for all the family

All planning has been agreed with the relevant authorities, though precise details will not be announced until the next phase of the lockdown ‘roadmap’ is clearer.

However, blessed with masses of open space, there is more than enough room to accommodate a line-up of top historians, biographers and broadcasters, along with as many members of the public as the rules permit at the time.

Whatever your favourite period, there will be talks and panel discussions, with historians including Margaret Macmillan, Philippe Sands, Antony Beevor, Max Hastings and Tracy Borman. Margaret Thatcher’s biographer, Charles Moore, will conduct a ‘Whodunnit’ on the toppling of the Iron Lady while our foremost playwright, Sir Tom Stoppard, will be grilled by his biographer, Hermione Lee.

Courts past and present loom large. Charles Spencer examines Norman treachery while Lady Anne Glenconner reflects on life as lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret plus the day she accompanied the new Queen up the aisle of Westminster Abbey for the Coronation.

Spooks past and present are in the mix, too. The former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, will swap espionage notes with the Elizabethan scholar Stephen Alford.

Boris Johnson, then London Mayor, was a speaker at the Chalke Valley History Festival in 2013

Boris Johnson, then London Mayor, was a speaker at the Chalke Valley History Festival in 2013

Boris Johnson, then London Mayor, was a speaker at the Chalke Valley History Festival in 2013

Younger festival-goers have just as much to choose from, including Tudor cooking lessons and sword school. The comedian and author Charlie Higson will explore, in grisly detail, how our less fortunate monarchs have met their end (and, yes, that includes Edward II and the red-hot poker).

And then there is music — lots of it. ‘It’s just going to have that wonderful jamboree party feel with tents and flags and archery and lots of living history,’ says the chairman, historian James Holland. ‘Think of it as a return to the sunlit uplands.’

While there will be two big, airy marquees for talks, there will also be Roman-style open-air amphitheatres. Most of the family events are out in the open, too. All events have been planned in line with Step Four guidelines, but they can also conform to the more restrictive Step Three rules, too, should those be in force.

Everything is being org-anised in conjunction with the authorities. ‘We are in their hands and will be abiding by whatever the rules are at the time,’ says James Holland, pointing out that the festival is only happening thanks to a grant from one of the Government’s rescue schemes, the Arts Council’s Culture Recovery Fund.

Since the public have helped keep events such as this alive, it seems only right that they should now be able to enjoy them.

And right now, we could all do with a blast from the past.

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