Clinton: ‘Wales open for business’

Former US President Bill Clinton has used his visit to the Hay Festival to call on tourists to come back to Wales.

Following a lecture to a sell-out 1,300-strong crowd, Mr Clinton said it was clear rural areas across Britain were not no-go areas, despite the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Speaking after the event, he said he wanted tourists to take the opportunity to visit countryside locations like Hay again.

Mr Clinton was in the small mid Wales town to give a talk on conflict resolution at the increasingly popular literature festival.

He arrived at the event on Saturday to a chorus of boos from a left-wing poet draped in a Welsh flag, who attacked US foreign policy. Another man who hurled abuse was taken away in a police car.

But once Mr Clinton began to speak, the crowd inside was won over by his talk, which frankly explored his eight years in office.

He focused mainly on the conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

Mr Clinton said he believed the peace process in Northern Ireland would succeed, but expressed his regret that conflict between Israelis and Palestinians continued.

“It’s really quite tragic,” he said.

‘Unjudging love’

In a question and answer session after the speech, he defended the decision not to enter a land war in Kosovo as the air campaign had succeeded, and said he regretted not intervening in the Rwanda civil war sooner to stop the killing.

He ended his talk with an emotional quote from the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

“All our deeds and words, each truth, each lie, die in unjudging love,” quoted Mr Clinton.

He said that as a child he had never understood what the lines that Dylan wrote for his child meant, but as a parent he now understood.

Mr Clinton’s daughter Chelsea was with him at Hay-on-Wye and is travelling with him throughout this visit to Britain and Ireland.

After the event, Mr Clinton shook hands with members of the public and won round earlier detractors even further.

“I think he’s charismatic – mesmeric,” said local woman June Sloper.

Actors Joseph Fiennes, Alan Rickman and writer and comedian David Baddiel were among the famous figures in the audience for Mr Clinton’s lecture, which was delayed.

Cerys Matthews of Catatonia was at the lecture and was due to perform at a gala banquet.

Massive security

Feminist and critic Germaine Greer, journalist James Naughtie and Wales first minister Rhodri Morgan were among the diners.

Mr Clinton is the 10-day event’s most expensive speaker but organisers are confident his visit will generate income for the area, which has been hit by foot-and-mouth disease.

Tickets for a banquet table for 10, including entry to Mr Clinton’s 45-minute lecture cost £2,395 plus VAT.

It has been estimated that Mr Clinton’s presence at the festival in the town which has a population of just 1,300 will bring an extra £1.5m into the area.

Mr Clinton is reported to command at least $100,000 per speech.

He was obviously delighted to be at the festival which he hailed as “the Woodstock of the mind”.

A massive security operation surrounds Mr Clinton’s visit.

Secret Service agents and the Metropolitan Police have been helped by Dyfed-Powys Police to put strict measures into place.

He used the talk to call on tourists to take the opportunity to visit countryside locations like Hay which have been affected by the foot-and-mouth crisis.