PREVIEW: Leeds International Festival of Ideas 2022 – full speaker line-up announced

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NATIONAL treasure Mary Beard has been added to the big name speaker line-up for this year’s thought provoking Leeds International Festival of Ideas 2022.

BUY TICKETS: For tickets and full list of events with guests from the world of TV, sport, stage and screen see below – for more and available tickets also visit

Award-winning stand-up, writer and actor Aisling Bea, consultant, speaker, writer and podcaster Africa Brooke, along with Christopher Wylie, best known for taking down the cyberwarfare firm Cambridge Analytica, have also been added along with stand up comedian Jamali Maddix.

They will join previously announced celebrity chef and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi, British-Nigerian historian and broadcaster David Olusoga OBE and BBC TV’s Click co-presenter and journalist Lara Lewington.

The Festival – taking place September 22 - 25 – will also feature speakers Gail Porter, David Harewood, Rosie Jones, Simon Jordan and Gareth Thomas

With a focus on tackling some of the most crucial questions of our time, this progressive, diverse festival will showcase four keynote talks and six panels taking place in Leeds’ new premier venue, Howard Assembly Room and Howard Opera Centre.

LIFI 2022 is brought to the city by LeedsBID, working in partnership with Howard Assembly Room, Opera North, Weightmans and Bruntwood, with Yorkshire Evening Post as media partners.

It is a metropolitan celebration of new ideas and innovation, which aims to introduce the brightest minds to the city and the city to the brightest minds to share new ideas and discuss the world of tomorrow.

2022 is the festival’s seventh year but it switched to Leeds International Festival of Ideas in 2021.

The festival evolved to continue its exploration of new ideas in its own innovative way to present a programme made up of inspiring keynote talks and thought-provoking panel discussions, addressing issues and topics of the day with local, national and international speakers.

It brings renowned names, experts in their field and some of the world's most exciting thinkers to Leeds to share thoughts and ideas through a series of compelling talks, with its range of speakers just as diverse as the subject matter.

Its highly successful debut in 2021 saw a programme packed with emotive topics and 30 speakers, including headliners Katherine Ryan, George Clarke and Kanya King CBE. Other guest speakers have included Evan Davis, Alastair Campbell, Helen Sharman OBE, John Cooper Clarke, Frank Bruno MBE and Dame Sarah Storey.

Last year was the first time the festival had placed the spotlight firmly on ideas and events welcomed more than 1,200 people to hear talks, exploring subjects from sustainable growth and the future of eating to identity and loneliness.

Working in partnership with Opera North, Bruntwood and Weightmans, LIFI’s organisers have planned a programme filled with today’s most pressing topics, questions and opinions.

LIFI 2022 will include four unique and stellar keynotes plus six panels tto delve deep into some of the world’s most relevant and important topics.

From the future of technology, to climate justice and the social duty of sports professionals, its household names and industry experts will debate and discuss fascinating, thought-provoking subjects, and more.

New names for LIFI22, Africa Brooke, Christopher Wylie, Jamali Maddix and Mary BeardNew names for LIFI22, Africa Brooke, Christopher Wylie, Jamali Maddix and Mary Beard
New names for LIFI22, Africa Brooke, Christopher Wylie, Jamali Maddix and Mary Beard

Christopher Wylie. best known for his role in setting up - and taking down - the cyberwarfare firm Cambridge Analytica, will join the Sonia Sodha-chaired panel ‘Is social media ruling the world?’.

Sodha, chief leader writer and columnist at the Observer and Guardian, will also be joined on the panel by Dr Al Baker, editorial director at misinformation-fighting tech start-up Logically and consultant, speaker, writer and podcaster Africa Brooke.

Metaverse seems to be the word of 2022 but do you really know what it means?

The Is the metaverse our future reality? panel will delve into IRL, Meta, Web 3.0 and explore what the next phase of the internet really means for us all.

Chaired by the previously announced Lara Lewington, the panel’s line-up is completed by AI, data and design expert Ahmed Razek, revered technology commentator and strategist Leanne Elliott Young, academic Dr Neil McDonnell and Matthew Warenford, CEO and Founder of Metaverse Brandtech company Dubit.

In a society where so-called ‘cancel culture’ and ‘wokeness’ is widespread, rising star on the comedy circuit, Jamali Maddix will chair the controversial panel What can you laugh about?.

Dame Mary BeardDame Mary Beard
Dame Mary Beard

Maddix will be joined by rare right-wing comic Geoff Norcott, comedian, actress and panel show favourite Rosie Jones and cultural commentator, fashion stylist and photographer Ayishat Akanbi for an event that is set to be heated, contentious and unmissable.

With sportsmen, particularly footballers, considered to be overpaid and unduly worshipped, recent years have seen the general public expect these role models to give something back to the community.

Subsequently dubbed the Marcus Rashford effect, is giving back now integral to the DNA of sport?

Does sport have a social duty? will be chaired by respected broadcaster Charlie Webster, who will be joined by former professional footballer and anti-racism activist Gary Bennett MBE, olympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE, former rugby player Gareth Thomas and businessman and former Crystal Palace FC chairman Simon Jordan.

The topic of looking after our mental health, particularly that of men, has been one that has been rightfully highlighted of late. Award winning journalist, author and mental health campaigner Bryony Gordon will host How do we talk about mental health?, where her panel will discuss if there is still more to be added to the conversation, or if it has now been normalised.

Joining Gordon on the panel will be fellow mental health campaigner motivational speaker Luke Ambler, television personality Gail Porter, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health Sarah Hughes and actor David Harewood MBE.

Finally, What’s wrong with climate activism? will explore how the mainstream narrative of climate activism may need altering if we are to ever achieve climate justice.

Chairing the panel will be environmental activist Judy Ling Wong CBE, who is also honorary president of Black Environment Network. The panel will be completed by policy and advocacy expert Pauline Castres, president of Swedish youth organisation Sáminuorra Sara-Elvira Kuhmunen, climate justice activist Dominique Palmer, Miami-based artist Lee Pivnik and wildlife cameraman and photographer Hamza Yassin.

Andrew Cooper, Chief Executive at LeedsBID, said: “We are delighted to be presenting such a diverse programme for audiences to enjoy as part of Leeds International Festival of Ideas 22, welcoming such a stellar line-up of names from across industries and academia to address an array of ideas and thinking.”

“We hope LIFI22 brings something new, exciting and enticing to the city’s cultural calendar, providing the opportunity for people to come along to listen, challenge the way they may think about an idea or issue and join in the debates.”

David Olusoga, who will be speaking at Leeds International Festival of Ideas, said:: "The world is in a strange place right now and having festivals like this, bringing people together to discuss topics is exactly what is needed. I will be talking about the history of great inventions and the inventors and can they ever be separated."

Yotam Ottolenghi, also looking forward to his visit, said: "Like any other human activity, cooking is hugely enriched by interaction between cultures. I can’t wait to discuss culinary diversity and multiculturalism at Leeds International Festival of Ideas."

With the full programme now revealed, tickets are on sale now. Explore the full line-up and buy tickets at


Is the metaverse our future reality? Thursday 22 September 2022, 7pm to 8.30pm at Mantle Music Studio. Tickets £10.

Amongst the rhetoric of avatars, Meta and Web 3.0, what could and should this next phase of the internet really look like and mean for us all? Lara Lewington (host), Technology presenter; Leanne Elliott-Young, CEO and Co-Founder, Institute of Digital Fashion, Dr Neil McDonnell, LKAS Fellow for VR and AR, University of Glasgow, Ahmed Razek, Principal Technology Advisor – AI, Information Commissioner’s Office Matthew Warneford, CEO and Founder, Dubit

Yotam Ottolenghi: Universal Language of Food In Conversation Thursday 22 September, 7.30pm to 8.30pm at Howard Assembly Room. Tickets £15.

In an increasingly divided world, acclaimed chef, restaurateur and food writer Yotam Ottolenghi explores how food brings people together.

How do we talk about mental health? Friday 23 September, 7pm to 8.30pm at Mantle Music Studio. Tickets £10.

Have we now normalised the conversation surrounding mental health or is there still a way to go? Why is it important to talk about mental health and what more needs to be done to empower people to open up? Bryony Gordon (host), Journalist, Author and Mental Health Campaigner Luke Ambler, Mental Health Campaigner and Motivational Speaker David Harewood MBE, Actor and DirectorSarah Hughes, Chief Executive Centre for Mental Health, Gail Porter, Television Personality and Presenter.

Aisling Bea: Contemporary Voice of Screenwriting In Conversation: Friday 23 September, 7.30pm to 8.30pm at Howard Assembly Room. Tickets £15.

Aisling Bea discusses what it means to be a 21st century BAFTA-winning screenwriter.

What’s wrong with climate activism? Saturday 24 September, 3pm to 4.30pm / Howard Assembly Room. Tickets £10.How do we platform marginalised communities to alter the mainstream narrative of climate talks? Without equality, can we ever achieve climate justice? Judy Ling Wong CBE (host), Honorary President, Black Environment Network Pauline Castres, Sara-Elvira Kuhmunen, Dominique Palmer, Lee Pivnik Hamza Yassin.

What can you laugh about? Saturday 24 September, 7pm to 8.30pm at Howard Assembly Room. Tickets £10.

In a society where cancel culture is widespread and language censored, where exactly should we draw the line between comedic expression and just downright offensive? Jamali Maddix (host), Comedian Ayishat Akanbi, Stylist and Writer Geoff Norcott, Rosie Jones.

David Olusoga: Britain and the History Ways: Saturday 24 September, 7.30pm to 8.30pm at Mantle Music Studio. Tickets £15.

History is now front-page news, contested as never before. Statues have fallen and the reputations of great men called into question. In this talk, Professor David Olusoga examines the causes of the ‘history wars’ and asks where they might lead us.

Is social media ruling the world? Sunday 25 September 2022, 3pm to 4.30pm at Howard Assembly Room. Tickets £10.

The expansion of social media sees us spiralling towards tailored algorithms, fake news and geopolitical influence. Can the power of an instant communications system really be beneficial for humankind? Sonia Sodha (host), Dr Al Baker, Editorial Director, Logically, Africa Brooke, Consultant, Speaker and Writer Christopher Wylie

Does sport have a social duty? Sunday 25 September, 7pm to 8.30pm at Howard Assembly Room. Tickets £10.

The Marcus Rashford effect has raised questions about the role of sport within society. Is giving back integral to the DNA of sport? Are sports personalities best placed in highlighting important social issues? Charlie Webster (host), Broadcaster, Journalist and Campaigner Gary Bennett MBE, Former Professional Footballer, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE, Simon Jordan, Entrepreneur, Author and Presenter, Gareth Thomas, Former Professional Rugby Player.

Mary Beard: Arts and Culture – A Price Worth Paying? Sunday 25 September, 7.30pm to 8.30pm at Mantle Music Studio. Tickets £15.

Classicist and broadcaster Mary Beard looks at how we can best defend, and pay for, arts and culture from the ancient world to now.

*LeedsBID (Leeds Business Improvement District) is a not-for-profit, non-political organisation, working collaboratively to put Leeds on the map, making new things happen in the city centre for the benefit for all who use it.

Representing over 650 businesses, the BID is delivering over £14m investment back into Leeds city centre through its projects, events and activities over the next five years (2020-2025).

As the largest Business Improvement District outside of London, LeedsBID is the driving force behind a number of bold and innovative projects, with its work including investment in headlines events and activities in the city such as the MOBO Awards, the Leeds International Festival and the Leeds Jurassic Trail, raising the profile of Leeds locally, nationally and internationally.. For more visit


Twitter: @LeedsIntFest

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