The Hay Festival has been hit with cancellations from big names who have objected to the festival's financial links with Israel.

Charlotte Church, Nish Kumar, Labour MP Dawn Butler and economics commentator Grace Blakeley have refused to take to the stage in their scheduled slots as they object to the involvement of Baillie Gifford, one of the festival's sponsors.

Baillie Gifford & Co is an investment management firm who are said to have links to Israel and the fossil fuel industry.

Taking to her Instagram, Charlotte Church posted a statement, accusing the festival of ‘artwashing and greenwashing’. “I’m scheduled in to talk at the Hay Festival with the brilliant Mary Loudon this weekend. However, due to the continuing sponsorship of the festival by asset manager Baillie Gifford, I will be boycotting and not attending in solidarity with the people of Palestine and in protest of the artwashing and greenwashing that is apparent in this sponsorship.

“According to the Fossil Free Books campaign, Baillie Gifford has investments worth more than £10billion in companies with links to Israeli occupation, security apparatus and genocide of Palestinians. It also has between £ 2.5 billion and £ 5 billion invested in fossil fuel companies.

“In response to this criticism, they downplay this as ‘only 2%” of their portfolio invested in companies that profit from fossil fuels. As you can see, this is many times more than the combined net worth of everybody involved at the Hay Festival.’ Only 2% is not good enough.

“The Hay Festival is one of the most beloved liberal arts festivals in the UK. It exists because artists give it their energy. In 2024, for Hay Festival to platform leading environmentalists and climate justice campaigners whilst accepting cash that has been generated in the fossil fuel industry, is a rank hypocrisy, and a betrayal of those contributors and of all the children whose futures will be radically different because of investors like Baillie Gifford.

“This is not a game of checks and balances. Your art festival is not more important than the lives of Palestinian children and the future of healthy ecosystems on Earth. We are at a critical stage in the world where we must demand transparency, accountability and consequences for those profiting from destruction of life on Earth. If the art world continues to take this dirty money, we all become complicit. I’m thankful to the wonderful network of humans who for decades have done and continue to do, so much deep research to root out and shine a light on these dishonest partnerships.

“To those people who were going to Hay for my talk with Mary, I’m sorry and disappointed too. I’d like to encourage everyone reading to give anything they can afford to Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). I will also be rearranging that conversation with Mary Loudon on Instagram Live – details to follow.”

Comedian Nish Kumar responded to a campaign by Fossil Free Books, who are demanding Baillie Gifford ‘divest from the fossil fuel industry and from companies that profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide’. Taking to X, he said: “Sad to say that I will be pulling out of Hay to support this campaign. Love the festival and the people that work in it, but this was the right decision for me.”

Labour MP Dawn Butler posted a video statement to X, saying: “It has since come to my attention that Hay-On-Wye festival is sponsored by investment company Baillie Gifford who, according to Fossil Free Books, ‘profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide.

“I have been shocked and disgusted by events in Gaza. With over 35,000 Palestinians now killed by the IDF - a majority of them women and children - and with Gaza on the brink of man-made famine, I cannot in good conscience participate in this festival.”

Other names to drop out include writers Noreen Masud and AK Blakemore, climate activist Tori Tsui and comedian Ania Magliano.

Environmental campaigner George Monbiot opened his event at the Hay Festival by calling for ‘systemic change’.

Julie Finch, Hay Festival Global CEO, said: “Hay Festival Hay-on-Wye is now underway, welcoming thousands to enjoy a world of different perspectives in our green fields in Wales over the next ten days.

“As a charity, our mission is to create accessible spaces for creativity and curiosity to thrive, provoking collective conversations to build a better future, drawing on the most creative minds and experts. To do this, we operate a mixed-funding model that includes sponsorship, grant funding, ticket revenue, memberships, and donations. In all our agreements, Hay Festival Global maintains its editorial independence.

“This past week, some of our Festival artists have joined the renewed protest over the investments of one of our sponsors, Baillie Gifford. Many supporting this call are doing so in their planned Festival events, but some have chosen to withdraw. We continue to engage with Baillie Gifford and other arts partners to resolve this.

“At a time of overlapping global crises, every voice and every conversation matters at Hay Festival. Where artists withdraw from our events, we will work to fill the space with platforms that explore these issues in depth. We are grateful to all those artists, partners and audiences who continue to contribute to the conversation, on stage and off. Please join us.”