‘I want people to be amazed again, to feel like children’

Apr 11, 2024 | News

Frank Cottrell Boyce, the author of the London Olympics Opening Ceremony, is guest director at Brighton Festival, England’s largest arts festival, this spring. The programme is based on his belief in hope and his desire to bring joy and wonder into turbulent times.

Frank Cottrell Boyce (main image) has been involved in more creative projects than anyone else. He is a renowned children’s author, screenwriter for films like 24 Hour Party People and the writer of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012. Most recently, he has taken on a curatorial position as guest director of the 2024 Brighton Festival.

“I love Brighton,” says the man. “It feels different from the rest the UK in many ways. It’s an incredibly forward-looking place, and it looks ahead in fun. There’s a real sense of optimism in the air.”

Cottrell Boyce’s sense of joy emanating from the picturesque seaside town is in line with his own views on life, art, and culture. “I was looking for a place to talk about optimistic things,” he says. “So, when I was asked by Brighton Festival to curate, it felt like an ideal platform. The festival is an opportunity to discuss optimism, because pessimism can be a luxury in good times. We’re in bad economic times, so it is important to find a way out.

Cottrell Boyce has created a festival in May that is full of fun, magic, and hope. “I wanted the net to be as wide as I could,” he says about his curating process. The festival’s lineup is diverse, ranging from the poet and musician Kae Tempest, to the illusionist Scott Silven. The festival will include more than 120 events spread over three weeks. These include music, literature and theatre, as well as circus.

Cottrell Boyce has seen and experienced first-hand how magic can inspire. “I organised a magician for my mum’s birthday party, just before she died,” he explains. “She carried the weight of the entire world on her shoulders as my father died. I watched the magician perform close-up magic on her, and she was transformed into a child. I want people to feel like children again when they come to the festival – to be amazed .”

This moment would help him in a difficult situation. In his grief, he says, “I lost my mojo.” “I remember thinking: ‘I have lost my magic. Where should I look? So I learned magic. When you perform a magic trick well, people will ask you: “How did you do it?” Adults have so few opportunities to be vulnerable and open. It’s wonderful to see people’s defenses come down and they just say: “Wow”. “So, instilling this in people became my criterion.”

The festival is an opportunity to discuss optimism, because pessimism can be a luxury in good times. We are in bad times so we must find a way out

Cottrell Boyce has been a long-time advocate of the power of arts in education. He also hopes to bring the wonder of learning through art to children via the extensive programme at the festival. “Imagination is the key to everything,” he says. “We didn’t go the moon without imagining how it would feel to be there. Art and culture can be used to experiment with what the future could look like. The festival is a big thought experiment.”

He hopes that the event will be unpredictable, filled with surprises and a place where people can learn, explore, and revel. “The great thing about festivals is they can offer you things you didn’t even know existed,” says he. “It is one thing to watch out for the shows at your favorite venues and go see them, but this festival offers something completely different.” It’s full of stuff you didn’t even know you wanted.”

Cottrell Boyce has also benefited from curating a festival full of hope, wonder, fun and magic. “It was a joyous experience,” he says. “When I write a book, it’s important that the ending is a surprise. You get to be the person who is surprised first. Curating the festival was similar – and almost everything surprised me.”

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