Brighton Magazine

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Selected Brighton Magazine Article

Sunday 11 April 2021

Interview: Brighton Festival 2021 Guest Director Lemn Sissay Talks Family, Festival & Themes

Author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay MBE took time out to explain what it's like to return for a second time as Guest Director, and what's in store for this year's very different, but as ever eclectic, Brighton Festival 2021.
Credit Jamie MacMillian

Lemn, how does it feel coming back as guest director for the second time and doing it all over again?

Really, this is my first Festival because 2020 was cancelled. I'm honoured that the Festival team – after having worked with me last year and having seen the entire Festival cancelled – said that they wanted to work with me again. The answer was a hands-down 'yeah!.

Where did the idea come from for your Brighton Festival project, 'Tell Me Something About Family'?

I've never had a family. I was fostered for a short period of time and then I was brought up in children"s homes. I found my birth family, who were located all around the world. 

I met my mother maybe 15 times and my brothers and sisters maybe five or six times but I never met my father. I've never had that relativity, so I'd like people to share something about their family with me and what it means to them. 

What kind of things would you like people to share with you?

It doesn't matter what it is. It could be a memory from childhood. It could be a phrase that your father used to say that you thought everybody said, but you discover they don't! It could be the smell of your mother's cooking. 

The more detail the better but something that represents family to you. It could be something good, or bad. 

It's all going to come together on a new website and I want to gather as many memories as possible so that they collectively become part of a bigger online family.

Why do you think these stories are important to share?

Even if we are physically a long way from family, as many people have been throughout this pandemic, we have become closer to family and our relationships with them, whether good or bad. 

We have considered what family is, and who matters. Your comment might be 'my family is my best friend: they were with me when I was ill'. 

It can be whatever your interpretation of family is. There is something beautiful about hearing people speak honestly about the things that really matter. We have learnt in this pandemic that family really matters.
Can you tell us more about the theme for this year's Brighton Festival?

Care. As we walk gently out of lockdown into our 'new normal', care has got to be what we take, for ourselves and for the other people that we meet. When we go out to events, or when we engage with online events, it's important that we care for ourselves and tread carefully, but with joy. That"s what I want to happen at the Festival. 

Care is the word that we want to see in every event that we do. That could just mean 'go and enjoy yourselves, you deserve it'.

But remember that we haven't experienced this amount of art for a whole year. We need to be careful. Our senses are gonna be alerted! 

We will all be reminding ourselves of how important it is to engage with each other. Enjoy these experiences and take them as an action of self-care.

Finally, what are you excited about seeing or experiencing at Brighton Festival this year?

The author Jacqueline Wilson is really important to me because she brought children in care right to the heart of popular culture in children's writing with her character Tracy Beaker. She'll be doing an online talk about her new book, The Runaway Girls. 

Another great storyteller is the poet and singer Eliza Carthy performing with her 80-year old father Martin and some really special guests at Brighton Dome. 

We've got Chineke! Chamber Ensemble coming to perform classical music. And the actress Jane Horrocks is presenting a film about her own family, Yolk and Aliens, in a shop in Dukes Lane and I'll be doing a live in-conversation with her which I'm really looking forward to.

For more information visit

by: Mike Cobley


The First Release of Brighton Fringe events will feature comedy from Paralympic, World Championship and European Championship dressage medallist Ricky Balshaw; Love and Money, a play by internationally-acclaimed writer Dennis Kelly and the return of award-winning comedy actress Joanna Neary with a show based on her comedy podcast Wife On Earth.

On the 21st December hundreds of people will walk 5k to support the NSPCC. Landmarks across the UK, including the BA i360 in Brighton and Lancing College Chapel are also supporting the charity by lighting up and turning the NSPCC's trademark green colour.

Creative Learning at Theatre Royal Brighton runs a programme of workshops, performances, talks, tours and events alongside the shows on its stage. 

Mr Bruce - former frontman of The Correspondents - marks the start of his solo career in spectacular style with the release of Race To Nowhere [Part One], and a date at Brighton's Green Door Store.

Following last year’s virtual sing-along, Brighton Festival Chorus (BFC) returns to the stage for its annual Christmas Concert at Brighton Dome on Sunday 12 December at 4pm. 
Credit Vicki McManus

Budding young circus performers are preparing to take to the stage at Brighton Dome this December, with help from professional artists from Circolombia.

When the lights go up at the start of the performances of Riverdance: The New 25th Anniversary Show at The Brighton Centre next month, the excitement will be palpable, not just from the audience but very much from all the performers too.

The Beatles famously turned their back on touring towards the end of their career but The Bootleg Beatles, due to Covid, as with the rest of the industry were forced into an unwanted hiatus. 
Credit David-Geli

Komedia has teamed up with leading independent comedy promoters Little Wander for a fresh take on their weekend stand-up comedy offering.

After years spent living on opposite sides of the Atlantic world events threw Laura Mary Carter and Steven Ansell of Brighton's Blood Red Shoes back together into what has become the must fruitful era of their 17 years together. 
Florin and Charlie

Over one-hundred Brighton residents have been offered full or part time roles on-site at the £120 million Edward Street Quarter development as part of an ongoing social value commitment to support the local community.

The South-East's largest charity supporting vulnerable young people, YMCA DownsLink Group, has launched its Christmas fundraising appeal
Credit Vic Frankowski

Brighton city centre will once again be filled with a sea of colour and creativity as thousands of school children, teachers and volunteers celebrate the return of the Brighton Festival Children's Parade after a two-year gap on Saturday 7th May 2022.
Credit Rosie Powell

This year, Towner Eastbourne invited members of the LGBTQIA+ community in East Sussex to take part in a unique creative project, exploring personal responses to artworks in the Towner Collection, through a queer lens. 

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