I grew up in semi-rural Worcestershire. Our house was on top of a hill and, at the back, field upon field rolled down to an area that we called the Golden Valley. My sister and I would play in the woodland there for hours in the school holidays. My older brothers got the short straws – they worked on the pig farm on the other side of the valley in their holidays and always came home stinking of the pigs they’d been mucking out.
I’m always happiest in Yorkshire – Dales and Moors. I was born in Bradford and we lived near Ilkley for a bit, so whenever I go back I insist on going to the Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor. I vowed one day to run the pub there but making TV put paid to that ambition – for now! I love driving across the moors from Pickering to Whitby – incredible views wherever you look. You can’t help pulling over to take in the views.
It’s almost impossible to pin down the most spectacular place I’ve visited in Britain but I can narrow it down to a few. Driving into Glencoe for the first time was breathtaking. I love the little fishing villages of Cornwall, the expansive sands of the north Norfolk coast around Holkham and I still love the Llyn peninsula in North Wales where we’d go on childhood holidays to Llanbedrog.
I first started working on Countryfile in 2001 as a director. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with John Craven – a childhood hero. I also loved the variety of stories, all rooted in the British countryside but with so much opportunity to be creative with storytelling.
I like to think that the enduring appeal of Countryfile is its warmth of the show. I hope it has something that appeals to everyone. It’s also one of the few opportunities the people who work in the countryside get to have a ‘voice’ and tell the wider audience about the issues that are affecting them. It’s also a beautiful watch on a Sunday night and a good way to relax with a glass of wine.
There have been many strange and surreal moments on Countryfile. I’ve filmed John Craven in a bath wearing a snorkel and mask, Adam Henson in a toe-wrestling competition and Ben Fogle in a tin bath race in the Isle of Man.
My most memorable experience on the show was working with the Prince of Wales when he guest edited the programme for us last year. I was incredibly nervous before the first main shoot with him on his farm in Gloucestershire. After all, how do you ‘direct’ the future King? I was convinced I’d end up being sent to the tower but HRH was nothing but charming and has an easy sense of humour and a genuine passion for the countryside. He was a dream to work with.
I’m glad to say that every day is still a school day on Countryfile. I know so much more than I did 10 years ago. My friends would say I’ve turned into a countryside geek as barely a car journey or walk through the countryside goes by without me calling out the names of cattle or crops I see – my favourite being a Belted Galloway.
It would be a fool who stepped in to lead a successful programme like Countryfile and made massive sweeping changes. It’s a show that’s hugely loved by its loyal viewers and they can be reassured that I’m not planning any revolution. I’m not saying I might not tweak things here and there.
Litter is the main issue that annoys me in the countryside. Why would anyone want to spoil this glorious land we live on by dropping litter and not putting it in their pocket to take to a bin?
If I could change one thing about the countryside it would be fairer prices for the work our farmers do. It makes no sense that a bunch of footballers are paid a ridiculous amount to kick a ball around while men and women who work their fingers to the bone to put food on our table are paid so poorly. It’s hardly any wonder that many young people spurn the profession.
My rural hero is Adam Henson. I know my predecessor chose John Craven so I’m going for our own ginger farm boy. I think he’s done a huge amount in informing people about farming in such an accessible and charming way. He’s made us fall in love with his way of life and appreciate what farmers do for us all and he’s a lovely man to work with too. (But please don’t tell him that – he’ll be insufferable).
Then there was the time we took a fridge to the House of Commons to illustrate a story about fridge mountains. Charlotte Smith wheeled it gamely all the way along Millbank.
I’ve got an idea for how we might raise even more money for Children in Need, alongside the Countryfile calendar, we might try to tempt in another guest editor and I’d like to build an even closer connection to our audience through social media.
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