Nicola Lisle talks to the new chief executive officer of the acclaimed Henley Festival

Charlotte Geeves is having a typically busy day. When I arrive at the Henley Festival office I find her in deep discussion with one of the box office staff. It all sounds horribly complicated.

Later, over a mug of coffee, she tells me that she is then off to Marlow to chat to the Patrón Tequila Company and chef Atul Kochhar, both of whom will be coming to the festival this year. She also has to fit in a conference call with a potential partner for the 2016 festival.

Obviously, for Charlotte, there is no such thing as a typical working day – much to her delight.

“One of the reasons I like working in the arts so much is that no two days are ever the same,” she says. “My priorities shift on a daily basis, depending on what’s happened. Up until about February a big chunk of my time is spent fundraising and talking to our sponsors. That tails off as we move towards the festival.”

Charlotte took over as CEO of Henley Festival last November, and admits she is still finding her feet.

“I suppose I know a lot more than I knew seven months ago!” she laughs. “But it’s nice to join part way through because you get to see how the festival evolves and can enjoy the run-up to the festival. You see the festival for itself and then you can take some breathing space and look at what needs to change next time around. So it’s really exciting.”

She certainly has the pedigree to run Henley Festival, having previously worked at Salisbury International Arts Festival and the Wildscreen Film Festival in Bristol.

Originally from Woking, Charlotte had a passion for theatre and the arts from an early age, but her interest has always focused more on management than performance.

“I was in school plays as a child, and when I got to secondary school I knew that I wanted to do drama, but equally I knew then that I didn’t want to be an actor.

“I don’t ever feel comfortable standing on a stage pretending to be someone else.

“I have a massive admiration for anyone that has the ability to do that, and to do it well.

“I’ve got lots of friends who are actors and singers and musicians, and I take my hat off to them because I don’t know how they do it. I think it’s the most terrifying thing!

“But I knew I wanted to do something in the arts. I liked going to the theatre and watching plays. I have an 18-month-old son now so I don’t get to see as much work as I’d like to, but I saw a lot of work for many years and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than sitting watching something. I find it totally exhilarating.”

Defying her parents – who wanted her to be a lawyer – Charlotte went off to Trinity College in Carmarthen, where she did a degree in theatre studies and history.

“I found my feet at university working backstage,” she recalls.

“By the time I got to the third year I was doing all the producing for everyone’s final projects!”

From there, Charlotte went on to do a postgraduate course in stage management and administration at the Welsh College of Music and Drama.

This paved the way for a 20-year career working in the arts in a variety of roles, starting with stage and company management for small-scale theatre companies such as Paines Plough and Shared Experience, before going on to work for the Young Vic and The Globe. She then landed what was, for her, a dream job at Sadler’s Wells.

“I decided I wanted to move sideways into less of a company management/tour management kind of position, where I was on the road for a lot of time and working very unsocial hours,” she says. “So I got a job as a production co-ordinator at Sadler’s Wells, which was an amazing organisation to work for.

“I have a complete, deep love for dance, and have done since I was very small, but contemporary dance rather than classical dance. And Sadler’s Wells is one of the best, a great grounding in how a large organisation works.”

Charlotte stayed at Sadler’s Wells for nearly three years, before moving to Salisbury International Arts Festival as general manager to be closer to her partner, a TV producer, who was then working in Bristol.

After 18 months of commuting from Bristol to Salisbury, she began a three-year stint with the Wildscreen Film Festival in Bristol, first as a festival event manager and later as festival director. Then the CEO post at Henley Festival came along. What inspired her to apply?

“After doing a film festival for three years I missed the arts,” she says. “I missed the people, I missed working with creative individuals and I missed working with a live product, instead of film and TV, which is very different.

“When I moved to Salisbury I fell in love with that whole festival circuit and how a festival runs, so the attraction to Henley was that it’s a festival, and the fundraising is run along similar lines to what I’m used to.

“Also, I haven’t done anything that is specifically pop music. I’ve done a wide range of everything else, but pop music is the one thing I haven’t dipped my toe into, so that’s really exciting.”

Visitors to this year’s Henley Festival will notice that a few changes have crept in since Charlotte‘s arrival. The famous Roving Eccentrica have now been renamed the Roving Troupe of Entertainers, which Charlotte feels more accurately describes what they do, and a new £35 general admission ticket has been introduced for people who want to come and enjoy the festival without having to pay to see the main act on the floating stage.

Meanwhile, Charlotte is now settled in Henley – having come via Woking, London, Salisbury and Bristol – and enjoying every minute of it.

“My partner works in London a lot now, so being closer to London was a good thing for him. We’re renting a house in Henley at the moment, which is great, so we’ll certainly stay here for the foreseeable future.”

• Henley Festival runs from July 8-12. See