My Countryside interview: Sophie Ellis Bextor
The singer discusses the freedom of the countryside, skinny-dipping in winter and the joys of fish and chips by the sea
If I had to pick between walking along or canoeing down a river, I’d pick walking. I’ve never been good at being cold and wet, and walking through the countryside is good for long chats or being alone with your thoughts. I’d probably stroll rather than hike, but I’m up for either.
I think it’s important for children to get out into the great outdoors. My eldest son went through a big Enid Blyton phase, and there are a lot of outdoors adventures in there. We live in London and whenever I take my four boys to the countryside I feel very selfish about the fact I am raising them in a city. Children make sense in the countryside.
I like the freedom of the countryside and the fact you’re so aware of nature and the seasons – you don’t really get ‘good’ and ‘bad’ weather in the same way as in the city, you just get weather, which makes it more exhilarating.
Sussex is one of my favourite parts of Britain, as it’s so familiar to me – my Dad and my in-laws both live in the county – but I also love the Norfolk Broads, where we’ve been on holiday, and Dartmoor.
If I were a wild animal, I’d be a bird. I don’t think many folk would pass up the chance to experience what it is like to fly. I’ve never been bird-spotting though. It doesn’t quite appeal in the same way that being a bird does. And no, in case you were wondering, I don’t sing better than a nightingale.
If I were a specific British bird, I think I would choose to be a robin redbreast, because they’re pretty well known and recognisable, and also because my Dad is called Robin, so they’ve always been birds that resonate with me!
I know foxes cause a lot of problems, but I always get a bit excited when I see one. I also love seeing deer in Richmond Park, and farm animals whenever I get a chance.
I think there is a division between town and country, but there’s also a grey area. There are lots of places that have a town sensibility but are surrounded by green and vice versa.
I like camping, although two nights is about the maximum. The bit when you’re packing the car full of essentials and leaving your perfectly comfortable house of bricks feels like lunacy, but once you’re all pitched up and near the campfire, it seems like the best place to be.
My earliest memory of the countryside is visiting my grandparents in Devon and walking their dogs on Dartmoor with my granny. Taking my kids to places I went when I was small is always fun. We haven’t had a family trip to Cornwall yet – that’s next on the list.
I’ve honestly lost count of the number of festivals I’m playing this summer – it’s about 15 I think. I’m most looking forward to appearing at Glastonbury, Carfest and Feastival. I’m sure my music has Britishness running through it. You can’t help but be influenced by your surroundings.
I’d always choose coast over mountains. I’d love to have a little place by the sea for the weekends. Although I said I don’t like being too cold or wet, I have been skinny-dipping in the very cold sea in winter at midnight. And so as long as my bed at night is cosy, I’m alright. Plus my favourite British food is fish and chips – so it has to be the coast.
I love the changing of the seasons, of spring and autumn. In spring I like the new beginnings – it’s really reassuring and glorious – and in autumn I love the colours and the richness of the red and golds, along with the fading hues. I really enjoy the feeling of the transitional months, of going from one place to another.
I’d like to think I’d be able to fend for myself if I got lost in the deepest, darkest woods but honestly I can’t see how I would. I could maybe make it to about one in the morning but then I’d get tired and weepy. I don’t even know what things you’re meant to eat – I’d probably eat the wrong type of mushroom.
Maria Hodson is production editor at BBC Countryfile Magazine, alongside Margaret Bartlett. Since moving to Bristol in 2014, Maria has made every effort to escape into nature and loves all things wild and watery, from surfing and swimming to paddle-boarding and kayaking. Her adventure highlight in recent years was sea kayaking around remote St Kilda, off the coast north-west Scotland, in 2016. Most weekends, however, are spent exploring the great outdoors with her small child and doing accessible walks. Favourite family adventures are bird-watching at Slimbridge Wetland Centre and exploring the Forest of Dean, as well as an annual pilgrimage to see the starling murmuration on the Somerset Levels.