With over 90 events embracing art, comedy, dance, film, music, sport and theatre, the Oxford Festival of the Arts promises to be a creative whirlwind.

This year’s event, which starts tomorrow and runs through to July 7, celebrates Connections – links between the arts, with the past and between cultures.

And it features some big names, from both high and low culture: with historian Dr David Starkey, Strictly Come Dancing’s Anton du Beke talking about his debut novel (and sharing a bit of celebrity gossip), shamed former politician and author Jeffrey Archer and The Great British Bake Off’s Prue Leith.

The Oxford Times:

Launched by Magdalen College School, which remains its lead sponsor and is at the heart of its events programme, Oxford Festival of the Arts is an inclusive city-wide initiative which places great emphasis on education and community engagement activities run throughout the year involving children from local primary schools – the results of which will be showcased during the festival.

Prue will be choosing her favourite music to be played by the Orchestra of St John’s. She says: “I’m best known for eating cake on telly and for writing steamy novels, so it is an absolute joy to be asked to have my favourite music played. And what could be more flattering and fun than talking about myself, à la Desert Island Discs?”

The Oxford Times:

Anton du Beke, who appears on July 2, says: “I’m so excited to be coming to the elegant city of Oxford to meet everyone and chat about my bestselling debut novel, One Enchanted Evening.

"Full of glamour, intrigue and of course, dancing – it’s the perfect summer read.”

Also appearing is Welsh rugby star Sam Warburton, who will be chatting about life on and off the pitch and the forthcoming rugby world Cup. In a change of pace, celebrated and sometimes controversial historian, author and broadcaster Dr David Starkey appears in the Festival Marquee at Magdalen College School on Wednesday.

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An engaging speaker, he will explore the fascination Winston Churchill had for John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough and the effect that writing the biography of his great ancestor brought upon him.

The Oxford Times:

That biography, Marlborough: his Life and Times, was Winston Churchill’s greatest authorial endeavour, being one million words long and 10 years in the writing. It was an enterprise which, ultimately, according to Starkey, transformed Churchill into a masterful statesman.

Dr Starkey said: “It’s good to be coming to Oxford, the home of Appeasement, to try to explain why Churchill – who didn’t have a university education – knew better.”

There will be politics of a less rarefied nature from Jeffrey Archer, who will talk about the inspiration for his latest novel.

Leaving the murky world of politics aside, author and poet Louis de Bernières, best known for his best-seller Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, will discuss his latest work on Tuesday, and announce the winners of the festival’s poetry competition.

The festival has an enviable music bill, including, on July 3, the world premiere of Frida, an opera based on the diaries of artist Frida Kahlo in the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building.

Composer Paul Max Edlin says: “As a composer who has been surrounded by visual art all my life and for whom surrealist painting is particularly relevant, Frida Kahlo’s work excites me.

“I am so grateful to the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums Trust for permitting me to set her poetic diaries to music.”

The Oxford Times:

World-famous mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, also plays on July 3. She says: “I’m delighted to be returning to the city where I love performing, this time in a more intimate setting, to talk about various events that led me to where I am now, as well as the vital importance of arts and education – a subject that is very close to my heart.”

There will be more boisterous sounds from Ronnie Scott’s Big Band, who come to town on Saturday.

The band boasts some of the UK’s greatest jazz talents and will play music from the giants including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones and more.

“We’re really excited to be bringing our music to the festival this summer as part of Ronnie Scott’s 60th anniversary,” says Pete Long, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra director.

“All of us are looking forward to playing a diverse selection of big band magic from every corner of the repertoire.”

The festival’s Comedy Night on July 1, features award-winning stars of stand-up. Lost Voice Guy (Lee Ridley), winner of 2018’s Britain’s Got Talent and the only comedian to use a voice synthesiser is joined by Desiree Burch and Larry Dean. And that’s barely scratching the surface.

The Oxford Times:

The festival launches on Saturday with a 40-piece pop-up orchestra in Bonn Square from 10am. It promises to be a lively start to the summer.

The 11-piece Afro-funk band AGBEKO, who play next Friday, are among those who can't wait to get involved in what promises to be a highlight of the summer.

They said: “We’ve been up and down the country and around Europe playing this music we love and to be stopping off in this iconic city is a start to the summer we’re all really looking forward to!”

  • Oxford Festival of the Arts runs from Saturday til July 7. All the details and tickets can be found at artsfestivaloxford.org or call the box office on 01864 305305