Benedict Cumberbatch dazzles the Hay Festival with a series of readings of great historical letters

Sherlock star is one of the fastest ever sellouts at the Welsh literary festival as 1,700 pack in a tent to hear him read from two books

Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch filled the largest tent in the Hay Festival to the rafters yesterday as he read a selection of notable letters from history.


An estimated 1,700 people packed in to watch the Sherlock star read in an event called Letters Live, with onlookers observing a more than usual collection of teenage girls in the audience.

 “If only Benedict Cumberbatch had been three per cent sexier,” joked the publisher Jamie Byng in his introduction to what is believed to have been one of the fastest sellouts in the sleepy festival’s 26-year history

The event was devised by Simon Garfield and Shaun Usher and was based on their respective books – To the Letter and Letters of Note.

One of the pieces read by Cumberbatch was a letter written by a young Second World War signalman called Chris Barker, stationed in Cairo, and his girlfriend Bessie Moore with actress Lisa Dwan taking the part of his girlfriend Bessie.

Another letter saw him take on the persona of doomed explorer Captain Scott in his final letter to his wife Kathleen from the frozen wilds of Antarctica.

In another he played poet Ted Hughes writing a tender epistle to his son Nicholas.

Not surprisingly his appearance drew a rapt response from the audience.

Editor and critic Holly Kyte wrote:

The festival’s director Peter Florence was ecstatic about the sprinkling of Hollywood stardom, telling WalesOnline: “It’s been very busy today adding a huge festival audience to the Benedict Cumberbatch appreciation society, which is a passionate and enormous group of people. He’s a fabulous actor and happens to have the zeitgeist.

“Sherlock has lifted him into a global star but he manages to combine stardom with utter brilliance which is really rare.”

Earlier in the day Cumberbatch joined stars including Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville and singer Paloma Faith in reading out winning entries in Radio 2’s 500 Words competition.