IAN Smith is a self-confessed workaholic. One minute he is editing books for the European Commission; the next he is in Malaysia or Hungary working with the commission on anti-counterfeit and food safety issues.

Away from those commitments, he returns to his first love, as artistic director of the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival and now the new ClassicFest that he will launch in Harrogate this summer.

Ian, who was born in Shipley, founded the three-week long International Gilbert & Sullivan in Buxton in 1994 and the festival today sells more than 25,000 tickets to people who travel from as far afield as Australia and Brazil and everywhere in between. This year, he has gone one step further by organising ClassicFest, whose inaugural run in Harrogate will be from August 21 to 27.

The refurbished Royal Hall will play host to performances by Ian’s Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company of HMS Pinafore on August 25 and The Mikado on August 27, both at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

Harrogate Theatre will welcome five operetta and musical theatre performances: North West Productions’ The Quaker Girl on August 21; Fusion Theatre, from Belfast, in Chess, August 22; Trent Opera’s The Merry Widow, August 23; Trent Opera’s A Little Night Music Festival, August 24; and the Festival Production of Die Fledermaus, August 26. Each will start at 7.30pm.

Another highlight will be a link to The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee when hundreds of voices unite for the Jubilee Choral Spectacular backed by a 45-piece Festival Orchestra on August 26 at 3pm. The all-English programme at the Harrogate International Centre will vary from Arthur Sullivan to The Beatles, Ilkley Moor Baht’at to the Hallelujah Chorus.

The festival line-up will be completed by An Afternoon Of Flanders & Swann at the Majestic Hotel on August 22 and David Turner, The Mousetrap Man, at the same hotel on August 24, both at 3pm.

“This festival is very much an experiment”, says Ian, who first reflects on a job well done for G&S.

“In the early 1990s, there was a major fear that Gilbert and Sullivan would be largely lost to future generations. I think it’s fair to say our festival has had a significant role to play in ensuring that G&S will play and play and play – all over the world. Opera North have added Gilbert and Sullivan to their repertoire; Scottish Opera will be touring Pirates Of Penzance. Yes, G&S is very much alive and kicking.

“Now I would like to see if we can do the same with operetta. It’s interesting to read that, although, times are hard and money is short, theatre continues to attract its audience – particularly, musical theatre.

“It’s great to be able to escape for a few hours and enjoy the wonderful music of Sullivan, Lehar, Offenbach and others and that’s what we’re bringing to Harrogate. It’s now up to Yorkshire people to prove that I’m right and that they will come along and have their little ‘escape’.”

Ian believes the most exciting development has been the “amazing upsurge” of interest from young people. “We have a Youth Festival in Buxton for kids aged between nine and 19 and this year we have a University Festival there,” he says.

“I’m hoping that in 2013 we might have an opportunity to bring to Harrogate an enlarged ClassicFest, which will truly represent ‘classics’ of the past 150 years. And, by classics, I mean the ‘classical successes’ in all elements of music making. from full-scale performances to choral presentations; from folk dancing to every other kind of music making.”

This year is the test, Ian emphasises. “If we can do it this year, I believe there is every chance that it will run and run and run for years to come,” he says.

• Tickets are on sale on 01423 508116 or online at harrogatetheatre.co.uk and more information can be found at gsfestivals.org