At home in the Cotswolds with Simon McCoy
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
In a world where the global news delivered to our homes is often grim, Simon McCoy’s ability to inject his personality and much-needed sense of humour into the headlines is a breath of fresh air, says Katie Jarvis
Television news presenter Simon McCoy is admired for his journalistic skills and loved for his wry sense of humour. Thanks to the former, he has worked as royal correspondent for Sky, covered the Iraq War in Kuwait and Basra, and presented BBC News at One. As far as the latter is concerned, his many fans have delighted in episodes such as his mistakenly presenting a live broadcast holding a pack of printer paper instead of his iPad; (a BBC spokesperson said, ‘In the rush of live news, he didn’t have an opportunity to swap the items, so simply went with it’). And his pronouncement, during the wait for the birth of Prince George of Cambridge: ‘The news is there is no news.’
When Simon left the BBC in March, after 17 years with the corporation, as much coverage was given to his ability to inject ‘much-needed humour’ into the headlines, as to his many media talents.
Simon’s new role is as journalist and presenter on GB News, a free-to-air British news channel launched in June. He lives with his partner, the actress, writer, artist and Cotswold Life columnist Emma Samms.
Where do you live and why?
I live in Gloucestershire with my fiancée, Emma. I’m London-born but grew up in Bristol, so I knew of the Cotswolds but didn’t know the area very well. I was never a country boy before, but I’ve come to like living in the countryside a lot. It’s never dull. (Though that could be because I’m very old now…) I love the space; I love pottering in the garden. I’m very content, and at the stage where I’m happy to be where I am.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
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For two years.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
Just being at home with Emma, mooching. I’m happy to sit in front of the telly. Most of all, I never thought I’d be quite so obsessed with mowing the lawn. We’ve got a new mini-tractor-thing and I could sit on it all day. I use it so much that it keeps running out of petrol. It has a cup-holder but, luckily, you can also get a wine glass in it. Don’t come round after I’ve been at it two hours because there will be no straight lines.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I very nearly bought a house in Tetbury once. I love that part of the world, so I think Highgrove would be nice to live in. It’s a style of house I like. Would I turf out HRH if money were no object? He’s likely to read this so I’m definitely going to say no to that.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
There’s one place I’ve been told never to live – Walkley Wood in Nailsworth.
[NB to readers from KJ: Simon McCoy knows very well this is where I live. A stiff letter from Outraged of Walkley Wood is in the post to GB News.]
Where's the best pub in the area?
I like the Butchers Arms in Sheepscombe. It’s where Emma and I first had lunches together. In winter, it’s cosy and friendly. In summer, it’s nice and open, with not too much traffic. A pub for all seasons.
And the best place to eat?
The Painswick Hotel is a special place. We had a celebration meal there, with family and friends, for Emma’s birthday last year. It was perfect.
What would you do for a special occasion?
Professionally, I’ve reported on a lot of special occasions – but the sad thing about being a reporter is you never take part in the actual event. Some of the most special occasions have been foreign trips, particularly a royal tour abroad. They’re always amazing because you get to go to the palaces the royals go to – and you do get looked after very well. Nepal was great: I was there with Diana [the late Princess of Wales, in 1993]. The scenery was beautiful; the whole thing was very relaxed. A remarkable place to be. Whenever Diana did a foreign tour, the first night would always be a drinks reception with the accompanying media, so we got to know one another reasonably well. I once told her it might be the last tour I’d be on because Sky – at that time – was short of cash. She was very upset and concerned, and told me she’d never realised what it must mean, financially, to send a reporter to follow her around the world.
What’s the best thing about the Cotswolds?
The fact that the Cotswolds is easily accessible but not too easily accessible. You’ve got Bristol not far away; Oxford, too. Nor is it crowded with tourists. You can find peace and quiet without being isolated.
... and the worst?
It might be mundane, but it’s the traffic. When it’s busy, it is really busy. When I was commuting daily to the BBC, lockdown took an hour-and-a-half off the journey.
Which shop could you not live without?
Kwik Fit in Stroud. I’m always getting punctures. Nailsworth Garden Machinery would be my second choice – that’s where I got the mower from.
What’s the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
What is a person from the Cotswolds called?
Sir or madam.
What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?
I’ve never cooked in my life; wouldn’t know how. If someone else was going to cook, the main course would be lamb from the ‘Cotswold’ shop, Tesco. Starter would be a cheesy soufflé. Pudding would be Cotswold cheese…. Though that means I’ve now got a cheese starter and cheese for pudding – so you can see why I don’t cook for myself. In that case, we could start with soup using vegetables from the garden – maybe a nice Cotswold gazpacho.
What’s your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
My favourite view is of a glass of wine at the top of the garden as I look down the valley after a hard week – and a hard week is a given, at the moment, with GB News. This is the second time I’ve joined a start-up. The first one was with Sky in 1989; the beauty, then, was nobody had a satellite dish and there was no social media. GB News has been very different. Inevitably, there are technical issues, and they are being ironed out. But never has a channel evoked so much interest before it even launched, which is a double-edged sword.
What’s your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
Painswick. Whenever you drive through, you think of Christmas. It feels totally unchanged.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds…
The fields; the trees; the architecture.
What’s your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
My home. It’s a traditional Cotswold house in a perfect setting. Over the door is the mark of a wool-maker, meaning it was a wool merchant’s home. Thanks to the stone, it’s cool in summer and warm in winter. And it’s the best retreat in the world.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Starter homes or executive properties?
Starter homes – you want younger people here; you want families. Where can those houses go? Well, anywhere but near me! Seriously, though, they should go everywhere. We don’t need huge, sprawling estates. A number of nice houses, in lots of areas, that integrate into the community: that’s how it should be.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
Oh heck. Bath to Oxford; Chipping Campden – my uncle lives there and I love the town; and Stroud because you’re pretty much in the sea, otherwise.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
I’d take Emma, of course. When I was working in Kuwait and Basra during the Iraq War [covering the conflict for Sky each day], the only thing we didn’t have access to was alcohol. So a bottle of Cotswold Gin would be the thing I’d want to take anywhere like that. (Having said that, there wasn’t really time to switch off: we were broadcasting nonstop.) The heat was the other issue. So my answer is: Emma, Cotswold Gin, and a cooling fan made by a Cotswold company.
What’s the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Talk to neighbours; talk to the people who live in the area. Don’t try and plug in a pad of paper [ie: a pad of A4 refill instead of an iPad]. Don’t leave a very cushy job for a start-up.
And which book should they read?
I’m not a particularly great reader but it would have to be Cider with Rosie... Err… Is that too obvious a choice?
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
We’ve just bought electric bikes from a shop [eCycle UK, John Street] in Stroud. We rode them back to the house and they haven’t moved since. But we do intend to explore the Cotswolds by bike.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
To the world, it’s the cheese-rolling. We do the pictures every year on the telly. (You can’t possibly say it, but the expectation is always that someone will break a leg.)
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
If I were invisible, I would go into Highgrove and stand by the phone to listen to any conversation Prince Charles might have with Harry. I feel desperately sorry for Charles – I really do. Family difficulties are bad enough without one of you bleating about it to the press all the time.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
I’m a great admirer of Edward Colston… It’s a joke. It’s a joke! The Woolpack [pub in Slad] is a memorial to Laurie Lee.
The Cotswolds – aspic or asphalt?
Absolutely preserve them. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
What attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?
Leave us alone to get on with it.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
I’d take the Queen to the Woolpack. I’ve never had a real chat with her, though I did manage to spill my drink near her once – she looked over to see what on earth was going on. She is very good at small talk. When we were with her on the Britannia, in Cape Town harbour, there had just been a ceremonial welcome and none of us knew what to say to her. I mean, it was the Queen! What do you say to the Queen? I think I stupidly said to her, ‘That was a remarkable ceremony with all those native costumes!’ And she replied, ‘There is one country where all they have is a feather. And I do worry when it’s cold.’
For more on GB News, visit gbnews.uk
Follow Simon on Twitter: @SimonMcCoyTV