Our Farm in the Dales: Matt Baker talks family life and filming in the farm

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Being responsible for the farm, as documented in More4 series Our Farm In The Dales, reminded him just how much effort is required to make country life work and pay. Now Matt has written a book – part-memoir, part-nature guide – documenting how the countryside made him the man he is today. He says: “I realised how everything in my life stemmed from where I had grown up and that is what the book is about. You work hard to be able to live your best life. It’s not easy. You have to put the time in.”

One of the biggest names in TV, he joined the popular Countryfile series in 2009 after finding fame on children’s show Blue Peter.

Matt recalls: “When Countryfile started, we weren’t sure if it would work as there was no rural programming in a primetime slot. I was really passionate about it, it was my world, it was what I loved. I didn’t really mind if people didn’t like it, but then suddenly: Bang, all the channels are commissioning rural TV shows. They work because it’s wonderfully fascinating.”

Former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson is currently being lauded for showing the truth about how hard farming is in his Amazon Prime show Clarkson’s Farm, but Matt was there long before him.

He says: “[On] some of the programmes, you get that feeling that farming is an idyllic life but actually, it’s a hard life, and it’s tough.

“The work ethic I have stems from the fact that unless you do it, nobody is going to do it when you live somewhere like this. Even as a youngster, if there is a practical problem, a sheep in trouble, you can’t just wander back, and go, ‘Oh we’ll call someone’.You deal with it.

“It’s about taking risks and taking control, and that independence you learn at a very young age carries you through life without you even knowing it.

“I see it in my children now. They are very independent and, at 14 and 12, are getting to that age when they can be really useful and can see what an impact they can make on the farm. They are amazing. It’s a real joy. There are not many lifestyles when you are all working as a family and have an outcome.

“Do they want to run the farm in the future? I would never want to force farming on them, but Luke loves driving the tractor, his reversing skills with trailers are superb, and Molly is such a force of energy, and she loves it. Nothing is ever off the table in life. It’s there if they want it and maybe they do.

“The children are fine with the attention [of filming]. We’ve kept it very low key. We are in control of the edit of the series too, and I’m aware of their sensitivities. It’s a feel good show and I want everyone involved with it to feel good.”

Now busy filming more episodes, the second series of Our Farm In The Dales returns tomorrow and has been commissioned for a third series and a Christmas special.

The presenter returned home last July with wife Nicola and children Luke, now 14, and Molly, 12, to help his parents on the 100-acre hill farm in the Durham Dales in the run up to lambing season while Janice recovered from a broken leg and knee surgery after being trampled by sheep.

He made the farm more manageable, including buying smaller sheep, and came up with the idea of documenting the journey, the first for his own production company. Matt says: “I never really thought I’d put my family on TV but the honest truth is I would never have done a farm series unless I was 100 percent in control. And that’s what it was.

“More4 were fantastic, and the kids and my mum and dad and everybody were so involved.There was no script. It was just a joy to do, we put it out and people loved it.”

HE CREDITS Nicola, a former physiotherapist, for getting Janice on her feet after knee replacement surgery. With hospital appointments scarce in lockdown, she was able to give her exercises and treat her.

“Mum is hitting her stride now, she’s loving the new sheep and the new focus. It was getting tough for her but it was only the sheep that would tell her it was time up. We managed to find a solution so that she could still be a shepherdess.”

Matt, 43, met his wife 23 years ago when he was 20 and performing in a disco show in Cleethorpes.

Married for 17 years, he says: “Our secret is friendship. We’ve grown up together, we’ve been through career highs and we’ve been here, there and everywhere… like it’s one massive adventure. We’re just having fun and when we’re getting too stressed, laugh about it and step back.

“When things get on top of me, she’s brilliant at recognising it before it gets too much.”

They commute between the farm and their home in Hertfordshire. He says: “We are based in the Dales but are literally up and down.”

In his book, Matt reveals how he was a promising gymnast, competing at national level, until anaemia cut his career short at 14. He is still passionate about gymnastics and was part of the BBC commentating team at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

However, he was disappointed not to be in Japan. He laughs: “It was odd doing it from Salford and we were commentating in a cupboard. It was a challenge not being there.”

He fronts Countryfile on Sunday nights, and is close friends with former co-star Julia Bradbury, 51, and godfather to Xanthe, one of her sixyear-old twin daughters.

Britain’s Best Walks star Julia bravely went public with her breast cancer diagnosis to encourage other women to check themselves.

She underwent a mastectomy last week to remove a breast tumour, and a lymph node for a biopsy. Matt is proud of the way she is coping.

He says: “It’s tough but she’s dealing with it in the usual way. She’s trying to help as many other people while she is going through it herself. It’s classic Julia.

“We’re really close and I said to her, just make sure with everything that is going on that you take time for you and your family.

“As a friend, you’ve just got to be as supportive as you can and as helpful as you can be, and when you are needed you’re there.”

Matt does not regret leaving The One Show, which he co-hosted with Alex Jones from 2010. But he did find it hard to wind down after he quit last March and he misses his co-star and “TV wife”.

“I loved producing and doing a live show every day, and for a long time afterwards I used to get very energetic at 7pm and I couldn’t work out what it was,” he says.

“Then suddenly I realised it was ingrained in me that was the peak of the day when I’d go on air.”

“Every night with Alex, it was like we were having a dinner party. I do miss her.”

Between filming, Matt has also been brushing up on his gymnastics skills as he will be starring in a festive production of The Wizard of Oz, which will visit arenas in December .

It will be The World’s Biggest Panto, on the world’s biggest pantomime stage – equivalent to four London Palladiums, with two mobile yellow brick road stages that will travel around the arena. Matt smiles: “I’ll be an acrobatic, laserwielding wizard. I can’t wait.”

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