A FORMER Prime Minister, iconic actor and one of the lead developers of the Oxford Covid vaccine are just some of the high-profile names confirmed, as an arts festival prepares to get people partying in real life again.

Oxford Festival of the Arts was forced to go online during the coronavirus pandemic but is set to come back in style next month.

From June 24 to July 25, the arts – including music, theatre and film – will be celebrated, with this year’s festival coined Around the World in 80 Ways.

The likes of Theresa May, Brian Blessed and Professor Sir Andrew Pollard are set to make appearances, in addition to stand-up comedian Rosie Jones, world renown tenor Joseph Calleja and the supremely talented jazz pianist Julian Joseph.

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Oxford Mail: Former Prime Minister Theresa May during a visit to Oxfordshire in 2019. Picture: Ed NixFormer Prime Minister Theresa May during a visit to Oxfordshire in 2019. Picture: Ed Nix

Oxford Mail: Iconic actor Brian Blessed. Picture: Yui Mok/ PAIconic actor Brian Blessed. Picture: Yui Mok/ PA

Oxford Mail: Professor Sir Andrew Pollard. Picture: Steve Parsons/ PAProfessor Sir Andrew Pollard. Picture: Steve Parsons/ PA

In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, festival director Michelle Castelletti said: “Over the two years of the pandemic, we did things virtually and it worked quite well.

“We tried to do things in different ways and I’m proud of how successful it was.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be coming back though – it feels like we’re a bottle waiting to explode.

“I think everyone has had enough of screens, and they want to party in real life.

“There’s been more time to think how we want to do things this year, and bringing partners in.

“We had to come back really strong across different art forms, and it’s about trying to achieve the most exciting way we can show off an art form.”

Oxford Mail: The Academy of Ancient Music will be appearing at Oxford Festival of the Arts. Picture: Ben EalovegaThe Academy of Ancient Music will be appearing at Oxford Festival of the Arts. Picture: Ben Ealovega

Oxford Mail: Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers are set to star at Oxford Festival of the Arts. Picture provided by Oxford Festival of the ArtsMugenkyo Taiko Drummers are set to star at Oxford Festival of the Arts. Picture provided by Oxford Festival of the Arts

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Much of the festival will take place in the grounds of Magdalen College School (MCS), with events also taking place across the city at locations such as Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford Botanic Garden and The Ultimate Picture Palace.

Dr Castelletti said: “Our grounds are extraordinary – there’ll be lots of wonderful things happening, and of course we’re bringing some of the most phenomenal names.

“The arts never let people down, whether you’re watching a film or going to a museum, it’s a way for us to experience ourselves as the artists.”

For Mr Blessed, it will be a special return to Oxfordshire.

The legendary actor said: “I am absolutely thrilled to bits to be appearing at the Oxford Festival of the Arts.

“It will bring back wonderful memories as I was stationed at RAF Upper Heyford during my National Service in 1955.”

Helen Pike, master at MCS, added: “It is a joy that we are all able to share the full festival experience once again.

“And what a festival it is going to be: a celebration of our world in a multitude of ways – and of Oxford’s scientific, literary and creative achievement too. 

“We hope that there will be an event to entertain and inspire everyone – and an opportunity to come down and enjoy each other’s company in beautiful surroundings.”

For more on Around the World in 80 Ways, visit: artsfestivaloxford.org

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This story was written by Liam Rice, he joined the team in 2019 as a multimedia reporter.

Liam covers politics, travel and transport. He occasionally covers Oxford United.

Get in touch with him by emailing: Liam.rice@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailLiamRice