Adam Henson - returning to Derbyshire as President of Chatsworth Country Fair 2015

Adam Henson

Adam Henson - Credit: Archant

The popular farmer and TV presenter will be returning to Derbyshire this month as President of Chatsworth Country Fair. Derbyshire Life interrupted his busy schedule to ask him a few questions

Adam Henson

Adam Henson - Credit: Archant

Leaving Seale-Hayne with a HND in Agriculture and its Management, Adam spent a year working in Australia and New Zealand with his college friend Duncan Andrews, returning home via Canada and California. He took over the tenancy of the farm from his father in 1999 and Duncan and his family joined Adam in the business. Together they run the 650-hectare estate as well as the Cotswold Farm Park, which is home to over 50 breeding flocks and herds of British rare breed farm animals.

Adam’s father Joe once presented a countryside TV programme – with one-time Derbyshire Life contributor the late Phil Drabble – and his uncle is the actor Nicky Henson, so it could be said that the media world was also in his genes. In 2001 he was delighted to be chosen from over 3,500 applicants for a job as a TV presenter on the BBC’s popular Countryfile series.

What are your fondest memories of your work experience on the Chatsworth Estate?

When I went to work for Chatsworth for a year, it was my first time away from home and I remember how friendly everyone was, especially the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. I was also very keen on rugby at the time and whilst there, played for Bakewell and Derbyshire Colts. I am very much looking forward to returning to the Chatsworth Estate, to see how things have changed and hopefully bumping into some old friends. It will be a real trip down memory lane.

Is there any aspect of the Country Fair that you’re particularly looking forward to?

I really enjoy Country Fairs and I am attending with my 13-year-old son, Alfie, and we are hoping to have a go at fly casting and clay pigeon shooting.

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Did your travels abroad influence your approach to farming?

Working and travelling in New Zealand and Australia opened my eyes to another world of farming systems. In Australia, because the farms are so vast you take the equipment and pens to the sheep, rather than the other way around. I thought this was a great idea, so when I came home to work on the farm I bought a mobile sheep handling system which saves time walking ewes across the farm to the fixed handling pens and is less stressful for the animals. I also invested in a quad bike and an Australian Kelpie sheepdog.

What have been the major changes in farming in your lifetime?

Technology has changed farming beyond anything I could ever have imagined. We now have robots milking cows, electronic identification chips in sheep’s ears and self-steering satellite navigation guided tractors. When I started on Chatsworth I was driving a Massey Ferguson 135 with no cab.

How do you view the future of farming in this country? Is there anything that the country should be doing to help farmers survive and prosper?

With a growing world population and food security becoming a hot topic, the opportunity for farms is huge. We can use our land to produce food, fuel with anaerobic digesters and solar panels, or diversify to use our farms as an amenity. There will always be challenges like the weather, crop and animal diseases, exchange rates and political unrest, however the British public can help support our farmers by taking a few moments to choose British when buying their groceries.

What inspired you to become a television presenter?

I always wanted to be a farmer and studied at Agricultural College before eventually coming home to work. However, my father had filmed with Johnny Morris on Animal Magic, and also with Angela Rippon on a BBC programme called In The Country so I had seen the cameras coming to the farm. In 2001 Countryfile did a presenter search and my partner, Charlie, persuaded me to apply by sending in a two-minute video of myself. She filmed and edited it and thankfully I managed to get chosen for auditions and finally landed the job – a life-changing moment.

How do you balance life on the farm with a busy filming schedule?

I have a great business partner called Duncan Andrews, who I have been working with for the last 20 years. Duncan oversees the farm and Cotswold Farm Park whilst I am distracted by my life in the media. We also have a fantastic team of senior managers and staff who are our greatest asset.

Would you ever consider giving up farming to pursue a full-time career in broadcasting?

Television is a very fickle business and my face won’t fit forever and whilst I am currently a presenter and a farmer, farming is what I have always wanted to do and always will do.

What have been the highlights of your year so far?

At home our two children Ella and Alfie are doing really well academically and at sport, making me a very proud Dad. On the farm we have had a great lambing, some lovely calves and the crops look very well, set for a good harvest. Personally the highlight for me this year was being invited to have lunch with Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment to date?

I feel very privileged and honoured to have taken on the farm from my father and my accomplishments in life have been due to the support of my family and team around me. Having a happy, healthy family and a thriving, exciting business means I wake up every morning with a spring in my step.

From your knowledge of Derbyshire, what do you consider the best local produce?

Throughout my year’s work experience I lived in the village of Pilsley, home to Chatsworth Farm Shop. At the time it was in its early days and it is great to see that the Farm Shop has gone from strength to strength, with 60% of the products either produced or prepared on the Chatsworth Estate. Obviously everyone has heard of the world-renowned Bakewell Puddings, although unfortunately I don’t like cooked almonds so they are not one of my favourites. I am, however, really looking forward to sampling the local produce on offer in the ‘Fine Food Village’ at the Country Fair and learning more about the local food and drink, I might even try some of the Chatsworth range of wines, beer and ales.

Are you keen to revisit any past haunts?

Whilst living in Pilsley I used to frequent the local pub, the Devonshire Arms, which I understand is now a boutique hotel owned by the Chatsworth Estate. Working on the Estate was a real pleasure as it was such a beautiful place to be, and in my free time I enjoyed walking on the moors and playing rugby. For great food we used to enjoy evenings out at the Chequers Inn in the Hope Valley, just 10-minutes’ drive from Pilsley.

What are your plans for the future?

Duncan and I are continuing to develop the Cotswold Farm Park visitor attraction, supporting rare breed’s conservation and providing an enjoyable experience for our visitors of all ages. My television work continues to keep me very busy and in the near future I hope to be writing a second book.

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