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HEAD EAST – Behind the Scenes, Catherine Riley on Primadonna

My name is Catherine Riley and I am the director of Primadonna Festival, which means I manage everything being planned at this year’s brilliant festival of books, ideas and creative inspiration!

I became immersed in Primadonna Festival after being the Head of Communications for two years at the Women’s Equality Party (the UK’s first feminist political party), where I worked with party founders Catherine Mayer and Sandi Toksvig. Catherine and Sandi went on to become two of the seventeen founders of Primadonna Festival (aka “The Primadonnas”), and yes, they roped me in to help! Naturally, I was compelled to be part of a festival that aims to create “The World As It Should Be” and which celebrates diversity and inclusion.



I’m also a writer and educator. I’ve written two books about publishing and women’s writing and spent time as a lecturer after completing my PhD (on the publishing house Virago). My first novel Is This Love? is about to launch on 4 August 2022 (simultaneously nail-biting and exhilarating!).

Something you don’t know about me? I’m a Mancunian by birth, and my grandad played for Manchester United. We’re a red, white, and black family, so I am delighted that the cover of my novel has been designed with that colour scheme!


Leo Cackett and Fred Reed/Primadonna 2021


This year’s Primadonna starts next week on Friday 28 till Sunday 31 July at Food Museum, Stowmarket, Suffolk.

Leo Cackett and Fred Reed/Primadonna 2021

I’m looking forward to welcoming 100+ writers, publishers, musicians, influencers, and creatives of all kinds who offer their insight, experience, and expertise – creating an amazing programme, but also some incredible opportunities. You can speak to them after their sessions, pick their brains a bit and you might even come away with a new opportunity – or a book deal! That’s happened before at Primadonna, and it’s bound to happen again.


Leo Cackett and Fred Reed/Primadonna 2021

I can’t wait to explore the cinema, comedy, dance and theatre either, with a stellar live music line-up that includes Baby Queen (whose music is all over the Netflix hit “Heartstopper”) and the 1980’s joyful party phenomenon that is Betty Boo.

After the festival, I’m planning a well-earned (!) break in our campervan on the Norfolk coast with some friends. Chilled evenings, expansive starry skies and chips on the beach.


Stowmarket is my go-to hidden gem of a town in Suffolk. It’s become a sort of “home away from home” to me because Primadonna is held there at The Food Museum. I’ve been so happy to see Primadonna welcomed by the town and made to feel at home there. Visits to The Food Museum are always enjoyable because of the interesting ways they explore the history and connections between East Anglian farming, families, food and fork.


I’ve got to say, the charity shops are amazing in Stowmarket! Plus the town has two of the region’s best independent bakeries located on the same route from the Station to the Museum (Palmers and Little Pig Bakery). The pizzeria in the market square, Bella Sorrento, is very good.

Whilst it’s sad that Stowmarket no longer has its own dedicated bookshop, thankfully the local Library is thriving and we’re bringing Waterstones to the Food Museum for the weekend of the festival. So get yourself a ticket and come buy some books!

I love the artist Maggi Hambling and “The Scallop”, her beautiful beach sculpture in Aldeburgh. I love its form and elegance, and its tribute to gay artist Benjamin Britten and to all the ‘voices that will not be drowned’.


The first Primadonna was established in 2019 and we’re proud that a new and relatively small festival continues to attract so many internationally celebrated artists and writers to Suffolk, including Joanne Harris (“Chocolat”), screenwriter Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”, “Suffragette” and BBC 1’s “The Split”), Kit de Waal (“My Name Is Leon”) and Erin Kelly (“He Said / She Said”, “The Poison Tree” etc).

Leo Cackett and Fred Reed/Primadonna 2021

Primadonna was thought up in Suffolk, and we’ve found a wonderful home at the Food Museum. The team there are fantastic, and we look forward to many more years of our partnership, and to embedding Primadonna at the heart of Suffolk’s cultural life.

To find out more about this year’s programme and to buy tickets click here


This is a Behind the Scenes profile for HEAD EAST



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