GROWING UP IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
My love of the countryside comes from being born in it and taking it for granted. I was brought up in Quorn which is, depending on your view, a textured vegetable protein or a village in Leicestershire! My parents are both librarians, nothing to do with the countryside, so I grew up in this village with farms around it and never thought anything of it. It was just normal to have places to build a den or ride a bike. I didn’t appreciate the great views at the time, I do now.
JOINING THE TEAM
My career is down to a chance meeting in a lift. I was working as a reporter on daytime TV, based at Pebble Mill in Birmingham, which was also the home of BBC rural programmes. I met the big boss in the lift who had a gap to fill, so the next week I was presenting BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today and then moved onto Countryfile in 1998. The first item I did was about the transportation of live animals.
A SERIOUS BUSINESS
I am probably best known for tackling the more serious subjects, but I’ve done all sorts for Countryfile: side-saddle riding, kayaking, standing (almost) naked in a field and swimming through mud are just some of the things that spring to mind. The great thing about the programme is that it’s never predictable!
MY COUNTRYFILE HIGHLIGHTS
Bog Snorkelling: Going bog snorkelling was surprisingly fun, even if cold and a bit smelly. I had a good shower afterwards because I needed to catch a plane to the next filming location. A few minutes into the flight I thought: “What’s that smell?” and then realised it was me! As the plane got warmer, this bog smell was just seeping out of me. It was only a short flight but felt like it lasted hours.
Filming in Argentina: We went to Argentina during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 to see how they dealt with the problem. It was amazing, if a bit stressful, because we had very little time and proved very good at getting lost! But we met the Minister of Agriculture and flew out to huge cattle ranches, and I still use the handbag I bought in Buenos Aires.
Adam’s Audition: Picking Adam – that was quite a highlight. We had to find a new presenter and so asked people to send in video tapes of themselves. Then we took the finalists away for a couple of days and put them through their paces. I remember trying to explain how to talk to the camera – it was a hoot. That approach to finding a presenter was way before its time, and it worked. I mean just how wonderful is Adam Henson?!
Laughing: Most of my highlights with Countryfile are just laughing: when things go wrong, when the weather doesn’t do what you expect, or the animals run off at the wrong moment. And when we’re just with the crew in a pub after work. It’s always been a happy programme. I remember being in a hotel in Cumbria with John Craven and we were laughing so hard that everyone was looking at us.
OUT IN ALL WEATHERS
It can be hard to plan what to wear. This summer I was filming on a grouse moor so I hadn’t expected torrential rain, but that’s what we got. I was wet through to the skin, my mascara ran, and then I fell into a bog. Anyone considering a ‘glamorous’ career in TV should bear this in mind.
FILMING RURAL DEMENTIA
My grandmother had dementia. Dementia is horrific for sufferers and their families wherever they live but if you’re somewhere rural it’s a lot harder to get support.
Dementia can be very difficult if the sufferer is a farmer because farms are full of hazards. But it was really heartening to see how many lovely people in rural communities make it their business to come out and help people. So the filming was sad and heart-warming in equal measure.
MY FAVOURITE PLACES
Thanks to Countryfile and Farming Today I’ve been just about everywhere in the UK. My family are fed up with me saying: “Oh, I’ve been here before with John Craven!” I’m lucky to have been shown so many beautiful places by people who really know them.
My favourite places are probably the Howardian Hills in North Yorkshire and the South Hams of Devon (and the fact that both places produce great food is entirely coincidental). I still have a really soft spot for Leicestershire. There are some beautiful bits which people completely overlook. It’s an underrated county and I’m very proud to be from there.
Image credit: BBC Images