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BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival 2012

Posted on 16 August 2012

Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, leads line up for BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival 2012

Leading minds from across the world will come together at Sage Gateshead this November to for BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival, to explore this year’s theme, ‘Them and Us’ – debating if the world is becoming a more divided place.

  • Keynote speaker: Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights argues that female leaders are better placed than men to confront the crises of the 21st Century.
  • Events are free to the public and the festival is produced and broadcast by BBC Radio 3.
  • Speakers range from Ian Goldin, former Vice President of the World Bank; novelist Amos Oz; theologian Mona Siddiqui; Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall; historical novelist Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl, The White Queen); and broadcaster and Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff.
  • Poet Simon Armitage will create a new drama for BBC Radio 3 to be broadcast live from the Baltic.

Each year the Festival, produced and broadcast by BBC Radio 3, brings together high-profile figures from the worlds of politics, literature, science and the arts to discuss and challenge current thinking. “Them and Us” is the central focus this year, looking at difference, division and how we define ourselves in relation to others.

Now in its seventh year, the festival will once again take place at Sage Gateshead from Friday 2nd November – Sunday 4th November. A weekend of talks, interviews, debates, original drama, music and performance, all events are free to the public and hosted by BBC Radio 3’s presenters including Anne McElvoy, Ian McMillan, Philip Dodd, Matthew Sweet, Tom Service, Sean Rafferty and Rana Mitter.

Matthew Dodd, Head of Speech Programming at BBC Radio 3, said: “At a time of uncertainty, when many people and nations are entering uncharted territory, it is important to talk about and share ideas. BBC Radio 3’s arts and ideas programmes aim to be at the forefront of current debates and our Free Thinking Festival brings leading thinkers to audiences in the North East, and to listeners around the country.”

There will be more than 30 events taking place over the three-day festival with more names to be announced, but already the 2012 Free Thinking Festival line-up includes:

  • Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She will be arguing that female leaders are better placed than men to confront the crises of the 21st Century.
  • Amos Oz, one of Israel’s leading writers and commentators, on the Middle East divide.
  • Ian McMillan, who will present BBC Radio 3’s The Verb, featuring Kate Mosse, Don Patterson and Tony Harrison, who will perform his poem “Them and Uz”, plus live music by the Sunderland band The Lake Poets.
  • Michael Ignatieff – broadcaster, academic and former leader of the Liberal Party in Canada – who will tackle partisan politics on the eve of the US Presidential elections. Why do politicians treat opponents as enemies, and what needs to be done to restore people’s faith in politics?
  • Theologian Mona Siddiqui and historian Tom Holland discussing what divides Islam and Christianity, and the impact that has on the world today.
  • Mark Pagel, Head of Evolution Laboratory at the University of Reading, explaining why humans have evolved with so many different languages and cultures. Does the future mean greater diversity, or will humans evolve to speak a universal language?
  • Alan Milburn, former Labour Health Secretary and now the government’s social mobility tsar, discussing inequality.
  • Ian Goldin, former Vice President of the World Bank and now Oxford Professor of Globalisation, questioning whether globalisation is a force for good or the source of an ever more unequal and risky world.
  • One of Ireland’s leading writers Colm Tóibín (Brooklyn, Mothers and Sons) and bestselling historical novelist Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl, The White Queen) discussing their work and ideas in Free Thinking’s Books at Breakfast.
  • A new drama written by Simon Armitage for Free Thinking to be performed at the Baltic and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
  • The winners of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Thinker Scheme – the BBC’s search to find the brightest new academic voices with a talent for broadcasting – discussing their latest research and taking part in Speed Dating with a Thinker, where the public have a face-to-face guide to their ideas.
  • Sean Rafferty hosting BBC Radio 3’s drive time show In Tune with live music and guests. Tom Service will also present a live edition of Radio 3’s Music Matters.

Event and Ticket Information:

The Free Thinking Festival takes place at Sage Gateshead from Friday 2 November – Sunday 4 November 2012. It will consist of more than 30 events over three days, all of which are free.

More information on the Free Thinking Festival including how to book tickets can be found here.

To request a free festival brochure email:

Broadcast Details:

Free Thinking events will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 for three weeks from Friday 2 November in a variety of slots including each weekday 10 – 11pm.

Notes to Editors

The Free Thinking Festival was established by BBC Radio 3 in 2006 as a platform for innovative thinking and debate on ideas relevant to contemporary society. This is the festival’s seventh year at Sage Gateshead. Previous speakers at the festival include Jimmy Wales, Rt Hon William Hague, Brian Eno, David Miliband, Fiona Shaw, Tony Benn, Kevin McCloud, Albie Sachs, Jacqueline Wilson, Ian Paisley, Soweto Kinch, Lisa Jardine, William Orbit, Lionel Shriver and Will Self.

BBC Radio 3 broadcasts classical music, jazz, world music, arts and drama programming. Asthe home of classical music, BBC Radio 3 features more live classical music programming than any other and is the home of the BBC Proms, broadcasting every Prom live and over 600 complete concerts a year. The station is committed to supporting new talent; thinkers, composers, and new young performers through schemes such as New Generation Thinkers, World Routes Academy, New Generation Artists and is the most significant commissioner of new musical works. BBC Radio 3 is committed to arts and ideas programmes all year round with regular strands including Nightwaves, The Essay, The Sunday Feature, The Verb and over 30 new drama programmes a year.

Sage Gateshead is both a national live music venue and a centre for music education located in the North East of England. The local, national and international concert programme runs all year round and incorporates all kinds of music. It is home to Northern Sinfonia, the Orchestra of Sage Gateshead, and the Folkworks programme. The extensive Learning and Participation programme enables everyone of every age or ability to become involved in music. The building, designed by Lord Foster, incorporates outstanding performance spaces of internationally acclaimed acoustic excellence.