Academic turned pig farmer and presenter, Jimmy Doherty reveals how his 20- year-old family business has received plaudits from HM King Charles

Essex boy Jimmy Doherty who is currently gracing our screens in ITV travelogue series, Jimmy’s Taste of Florida, has had a rather unconventional route to television stardom. But the brave decision to break away from a trendy London social life in his twenties and live off the land, has truly paid off.

Wife Michaela, who holds the fort while he’s away filming, and their young daughters, Molly Rose, Cora Mae, Neve and Bo Lila, enjoy a hectic but idyllic lifestyle. Surrounded by traditional farmyard breeds, there are regular arrivals of more exotic foster creatures, plus a daily supply of delicious produce including fresh sea bass.

Life in the countryside hasn’t been all romance and plain sailing however. Like farmers up and down the UK, Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park in the village of Wherstead, near Ipswich, has survived a string of economic setbacks over the last two decades, not to mention a dose of bird flu, but sheer hard graft has turned his working farm into a leading tourist attraction.

Great British Life: Jimmy’s four children love feeding Ewa the polarbear at Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife ParkJimmy’s four children love feeding Ewa the polarbear at Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park

'Being naïve is a great asset,' laughs the Food Unwrapped host when he thinks back to the early days slumming it in a field without running water and electricity.

'If you knew all the ins and outs you probably wouldn’t start in the first place.

'We were in a tent for three weeks, then a caravan. It was really ramshackle. It wasn’t like (Jeremy) Clarkson’s farm with a brand new tractor.

'I do look at photos and think, how did we live liked that? Early on before my mother-in-law was my mother-in-law she came to stay and the loos weren’t working so I had to put a septic tank in the day she turned up. It was chaos.'

After convincing his then girlfriend to give up her television career and up sticks with him, the couple battled through rearing their free-range sows and selling sausages at farmers markets before opening a farm shop. It was a real touch and go labour of love, with little in the way of a safety net.

Great British Life: Jimmy DohertyJimmy Doherty

'There’s 120 people working at the farm now and that reflects how diverse it is. As well as farming pigs, cattle and sheep, producing 10,000 free range turkeys for Costco, running weddings and festivals, we’ve now got a wildlife park with rangers and we’re part of the international breeding programme for crocodiles, camels and polar bears.'

But yet there was no great privilege or inheritance to help cook up these ventures.

'I was the first to go to university in my family, (studying zoology at East London). September 11th happened and I thought, I want to change what I do and do something I really love.

'I’d gone to Ebury books to say I was writing a diary. At the same time a director friend was doing a pilot for BBC on killer diseases and I’d studied for a PhD in entomology (insects), so he asked me to take part.

'I did it for fifty quid. Nothing happened, but the BBC called me in, and asked me what I was doing. I said about my plans for the farm and they said, ‘we’ll film that!’ They thought I sounded like a complete plonker if I’m honest.

Great British Life: One of Jimmy’s wolves at the farm and wildlife parkOne of Jimmy’s wolves at the farm and wildlife park (Image: Jimmy Doherty)

'So, the first seed money I had was the advance for the diary. I didn’t have a lot of money, but enough for two years of rent and a couple of caravans. Pigs turn into sausages straight away and money that came in went on new pigs.

'But actually the rent for the farm with its derelict buildings was cheaper than the rent I paid for shared accommodation in Walthamstow.'

Arguably Britain’s best known organic farmer, Jimmy has long used his voice to fight on behalf of those in the agricultural community, and his work soon caught the attention of King Charles.

'He’s the nicest guy and I’ve been very privileged to meet him a number of times,' confirms Jimmy.

'We are part of Food For the Future Scotland (food waste campaign), although he missed a recent dinner due to his (prostate) operation. We produce enough food to feed over 10 billion people. There’s only eight billion of us so over a third of it goes to waste.'

Since 2016 Jimmy has been President of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, a charity of which the King is a Patron.

'He has incredible values on architecture and rare breeds, and he’s a really good facilitator saying, ‘you should meet so and so,’ which leads to these amazing projects, the start of massive change. And he’s apolitical he hasn’t got to worry about what party he’s allied to and winning votes. He just gets on and does stuff which is really progressive.

Great British Life: Jimmy DohertyJimmy Doherty (Image: Jimmy Doherty)

'We had to walk side by side into a dining room a while back. I’d been in a real rush and the trousers I had on were too long so I’d gaffered taped them up and as we walked in, the tape gave way and my trousers got longer and longer. He thinks that kind of things hilarious. There’s no pomposity.'

Jimmy was born in Ilford to his father, a bricklayer and mother, a hairdresser, before the family famously moved to Clavering where he became best buddies at Newport Grammar School with chef Jamie Oliver. As a teen he developed a passion for the wilder side of life in a small local zoo.

6'When I was a kid I used to work at Mole Hall in Saffron Walden, run by Mrs Pamela Johnstone. She was a real inspiration.

'While my brother pretended to play for West Ham, they’d stick me in goal, but I preferred to play around with grasshoppers and I’d always loved the idea of growing food.'

Passionate about protecting the farming community, Jimmy practices what he preaches.

'Jacob Rees-Mogg recently said, if we can’t produce our own food affordably, we should import it all.

'And it’s a real short-sighted view because production is the cornerstone of our health and it’s the farmers that have the answers when it comes to climate change. It’s important we back our farmers.

'I like to use my platform for conservation, better eating, reducing food waste without being elitist. Times are tough and you don’t want to be saying, ‘you should only eat free range chicken’, but we can all do a little bit.'

Great British Life: There are a pack of twelve Arctic Wolves, including a recently born pup called Neville, at Jimmy's FarmThere are a pack of twelve Arctic Wolves, including a recently born pup called Neville, at Jimmy's Farm (Image: Jimmy Doherty)

Jimmy regularly visits his relatives over the border in Essex and of course filming Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast on Southend Pier for three years.

He also rehomed some capybaras from Tropical Wings zoo in South Woodham Ferrers when it closed down in 2017, welcoming some baby capybara pups last Christmas Day.

'I love Essex and it’s often a misunderstood county. I’m a big fan of TOWIE, I was obsessed. I thought it was hilarious. I didn’t know you could breed dogs so small.

'At same time you’ve got the capital of Roman Britain, Colchester and Essex girl Boudica, who smashed up the Roman Empire. At The Old Sun Inn, in Saffron Walden, Oliver Cromwell supposedly devised his new model army in that inn which changed Britain forever.

'I also did my dissertation on butterflies in Hockley Wood, ancient woodland. Whenever you drive through it always brings a smile to my face. There’s definitely a certain sense of humour in Essex.'

Later this year viewers will get to see the journey of Jimmy’s animal rescue mission while building his one million pound polar bear reserve, the largest in Europe.

Jimmy has indeed founded the dream base for his four girls who are flying the flag for female farmers, but only part time.

'It seems idyllic, but they’re still on their iPads like everyone else,' laughs Jimmy.

'Cora’s got two snakes in her bedroom, Mollie feeds the chickens. I’m a real believer in giving them responsibility. I do say, ‘do you realise how lucky you are,’ when they’re feeding Ewa, the polar bear.”