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Kaleb Cooper on his new book and live theatre tour

Cotswold farmer, TV star and author Kaleb Cooper. Photo: Plank PR
Cotswold farmer, TV star and author Kaleb Cooper. Photo: Plank PR

Country bumpkin Kaleb Cooper – who made Jeremy Clarkson famous in the hit TV documentary series Clarkson’s Farm (or was it the other way round?) – has written a second book and is about to embark on a live theatre tour. Katie Jarvis drops in on muck-spreading.

Kaleb Cooper is sitting in his office. Obviously - what I mean is, he’s sitting in the middle of a field. ‘I do apologise if you can hear any sort of tractor or loud beeping,’ he says, in the exemplary manner of someone apologising that the boardroom is currently occupied.

‘We’re out muck-spreading today and I’ve just jumped out of the loader to come and sit in a field so I can do this interview.’

‘Do you not think I’m absolutely thrilled with where you are?’ I ask, absolutely thrilled with where he is; taking in – over our Zoom connection - his checked shirt and green fleece. (I’ve Googled ‘What do farmers wear?’ and this is bang on the money (though dungarees and overalls equally acceptable.) My big disappointment – and I must be honest here; it’s a blow – is that his hair lacks perm. More on this later.)

‘I’ll turn the camera round. There you are – look,’ he says.

There’s stubble (not his; he has a beard) almost as far as the eye can see; seam-of-gold field fraying into treeline-of-black under white-out sky. As he pans out, horizontal jeans and one boot swing into view.

Great British Life: According to Kaleb if Jeremy Clarkson was an animal he would be a combination of sheep and chicken. Photo: So VisualAccording to Kaleb if Jeremy Clarkson was an animal he would be a combination of sheep and chicken. Photo: So Visual

He’s in Great Tew. ‘Near Soho Farmhouse. I’m making it very smelly for them people coming from London – they love that.’

Obvious question because this is Kaleb:

‘Are you a member of Soho Farmhouse?’

Obvious answer because this is Kaleb:

‘I’m not a member. I’ve been once for a meeting with Amazon.’

Course he has. This is Kaleb Cooper, who got home about half-past midnight last night after working on fields all day (that’s an early night, actually). Then up at five this morning because there’s rain due later in the week and they need to finish up.

This is Kaleb Cooper – one of the few men capable of telling Jeremy Clarkson his tractor is too big – TV star, author, and (soon-to-be) touring entertainer.

Kaleb Cooper has a new book out – Britain According to Kaleb; The Wonderful World of Country Life.

This is specifically lunatic Country Life.

The world of the World Gravy-Wresting Championships (August; Lancashire); the world of World Gurning Championships (September; Cumbria).

(It’s most impressive that all these world championships are held in the UK. On the other hand, it’s just possible Qatar hasn’t applied to host yet.)

And not just international events; there’s interplanetary too. Who knew that Slaithwaite had a biennial Moonraking Festival? (Rather changes the dynamics of the new Space Race, methinks, hmm? Russia, China, the US, and Huddersfield.)

Thing is this.

Even Kaleb admits that the success of his first book – The World According to Kaleb – took him by surprise. The zenith was World Book Day.

‘I see them young kids dress up as me and go into school – it was a proper: ‘You know what? I’ve made it’ moment.’

Great British Life: Kaleb’s unorthodox form of transport to his first show – and he’s had his passport checked Photo: Plank PRKaleb’s unorthodox form of transport to his first show – and he’s had his passport checked Photo: Plank PR

I can see that. No one has ever dressed up as me. Even I try to avoid it.

‘[I thought] This is amazing! They’re all getting their… well – they’re not getting their hair permed as they’re normally quite young so they’re getting wigs.’

He got the idea of the ‘Kaleb perm’, by the way, from a Simmental cow. (Why do hairdressers never include bovines in their style books? Mystery.)

‘But I hope one day the [kids will] get their hair permed. And I can see it happening because them curls will look good on everybody.’

In case you’re wondering who’s sending up whom, he is hilarious.

Straight-faced hilarious.

‘I don’t mean to be funny, but it just happens,’ he says, in a way that isn’t meant to be funny but happens.

Anyway. He began researching his next book – the one I’m on about – looking at British traditions. The mad rural ones.

‘The Carry your wife competition! [Dorking.] Who knew that about that? I didn’t know. Now I do and I want to get involved!’

*Backtracks*

‘…I don’t know if I do want to get involved now because I know what’s going to happen. My other half, who’s not my wife just yet; I know for a damn fact, we’ll go there, we’ll have a race and we’ll lose. And that’s what I’m most scared of. Not having to carry my wife all the way round this circuit but getting home and getting a rollocking because we didn’t win.’

He hasn’t actually cheese-rolled (Gloucester) because he’s not that much of a loony.

Though he did get injured simply watching.

‘Me and my brother went for a day out [to Cooper’s Hill]. And this stone came down the hill, went through my brother’s legs.

‘‘Watch that stone!’

‘I’ve got it all on video. It hit me in the leg and cut my leg open.’

Talking of dangerous sports, what’s this I hear about him about to embark on a live theatre tour?

Great British Life: Kaleb decided to go on tour to see a bit more of the UK Photo: So VisualKaleb decided to go on tour to see a bit more of the UK Photo: So Visual

Ah, yes, he says.

He was researching Scotland - World Stone-Skimming Championships (Easdale Island); St Margaret Hope’s Boys’ Ploughing Match (both of which look quite normal. Neither’s going to impress a contender for the World Stinging Nettle-Eating Championships (Dorset).)

‘And it got me looking up passports. I didn’t know if you needed a passport for going to Scotland.’

Spoiler: you don’t.

‘I’ve never been on a plane; never been on a boat; never been on a train; never caught a taxi. I’ve been in a helicopter, thanks to Jeremy. But that is when I went, ‘Kaleb, you’re looking at a passport to go to Scotland.’

‘And then I went: ‘Why don’t I go on tour, and then I can have a look at all these different places, and see all these different farmers, if they turn up.’

Umm.

You do know you can do this via B&Bs, right, Kaleb? As in, see Scotland, etc, through cottages4you without having to get up in front of an audience.

‘I know, but then I thought: I can go out there and I can teach people around Britain about farming, but in a really, really fun way.’

And there you have the nub. Or a nub, at least.

Because Kaleb Cooper is also deadly serious.

He was serious at the age of 13, growing up in Chippy, dad a carpenter, mum a dog groomer. ‘I had my own chicken-egg company: I was selling eggs round Chipping Norton. I had my own sheep; I was working a full-time job.’

He remembers the day well – even earlier; must have been eight or nine – helping his dad with his work. Supposed to be passing him nails on demand.

‘But behind that building where I was working, there was a tractor ploughing. And I was so hooked on watching that tractor. My dad was getting very annoyed because I wasn’t getting his hammer and his screwdriver – know what I mean?

‘I was so hooked on watching that tractor. That was the day I went, ‘I’m going to become a farmer’.’

He’s never looked back.

Fame came his way when he got a job on Jeremy Clarkson’s farm and became a star of the subsequent TV documentary series. Since then, he’s acquired millions of fans, ‘four chest hairs’, and he’s still only 25.

It’s a life he loves. And his aspiration (though don’t doubt his perm-aspirations; you can have several aspirations at once) is to persuade kids they can also become farmers.

So in amongst the Christmas-Tree-Throwing Championships and the World Bog-Snorkelling, the real stars of Kaleb’s Britain-book are events such as the Cotswolds’ own Moreton-in-Marsh Show.

‘I was at a [agricultural] show a couple of weeks ago and there were 10 young girls in an arena with their own sheep they’ve reared since they were kids. I just know, the day before they went out there – they don’t get paid for this stuff – they washed their sheep; they made it all show-ready.

‘It was tipping down with rain, but they all had a smile on their faces, in their white coats, walking their sheep down the arena. Even if they didn’t win, they were just as smiley as they went in there.’

He might want to extol the farming industry. But does he also worry simply that children’s lives are too online? That they’re missing out on the mental-health benefits of nature and the big outdoors?

‘100 percent. Get out there. Go and enjoy life just as much as I have since I was a very young age. I can’t wait to wake up the next day and go, Right: what am I doing today?

I know, I’m going to sort them cows; I’m going to jump on a tractor and I’m going to go and muck-spread. Yes, I’m going to smell and it’s going to stink around the area. But do you know what? I’m going to do it with a smile on my face.’

He’s currently working with Cirencester-based Royal Agricultural University, championing a bursary to encourage young people into farming.

‘I want to show people out there that you can. No matter what age you are; no matter what background you’re from, you can go and get into farming. There’s a job role for you.

‘You don’t have to just get As and go, ‘I’m too brainy to be a farmer’. No, no, no, no. If you want to be a techie, go and be a techie in farming – the GPS; the science in farming is unreal. There is a job in the farming industry for everybody.’

Don’t ask him what he’d have been in another life.

‘I honestly cannot physically answer that question – I don’t know. There are people out there – nurses, doctors, dentists; there are so many important jobs. But for me, personally, it’s to put food on people’s plates.’

Interesting.

Does he think the country supports farmers enough? Do we spend enough on the food farmers such as Kaleb are putting on our plates? Do we put our money literally where our mouths are?

Put it this way, he says. When the Government tells farmers to diversify:

‘Well, why should we? Why shouldn’t we get paid the right amount for the stuff we do incredibly well; and that is produce really good standards in terms of British food for people.’

(Not sure if that’s aimed at you, Jacob Rees-Mogg.)

So, let’s ask the million-dollar question…

(Actually, the £4million-plus Cotswold question if you browse Savills’ website.)

If Kaleb had his own farm instead of working – as he currently does – as contractor on other people’s, how would he do things?

‘That’s a tricky question. I’ve always said I don’t like thinking about it too much because, if I don’t ever get that dream, it’s a let-down. In my head at the moment is: What I can do now to get to that point?’

OK – message sensitively, and poignantly, received.

‘As soon as that paper[work]’s done, I can go: Right – I want to plant wheat in that field; or I can grow cattle. For example, 1950s/1960s, everybody had a cow; everybody had a sheep; everybody had a goat. You know. So why are we just farming one thing? Every single farmer out there should be a mixed farm; they should have some cattle; they should have some sheep.

‘Because they all work together.

‘If the price of wheat drops one day, maybe the beef price will come up and the farm will be safe.’

Sounds to me like the sort of common sense Jeremy never listens to.

Speaking of which. Quick-fire round.

So, Jeremy Clarkson – owner of Diddly Squat Farm. The would-be farmer who employed Kaleb as his right-hand man and got far more than he bargained for.

One piece of advice Jeremy should take from you?

‘Listen to me.’

That’s cheating.

‘No, if he took that and said, ‘I’m going to do that from now on, Kaleb’, we’d get very far. That would be fine.’

If Jeremy were a farm animal, he’d be…

‘Umm. A mixture – yes – of a sheep, yeah; and a chicken.

‘Because sheep are very stupid and it’s so hard work with him when he doesn’t listen.

Sheep don’t listen to anybody. But chickens are very intelligent, and that man knows how to make television.’

A 50/50 diplomatic answer.

He shakes his head. Might never be the same again.

‘I’m weirdly now thinking of Jeremy looking like a chicken and half a sheep.

Traumatising.’

Britain According to Kaleb: The Wonderful World of Country Life by Kaleb Cooper is published in hardback by Quercus, £20. The World According to Kaleb theatre tour, starring Kaleb Cooper, will be at Cheltenham Everyman, January 25, 26 and 27; at Warwick Arts Centre on February 3; and at The Forum, Bath, on February 5. Tickets are on sale at www.kaleblive.com



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