The day Suffolk Show’s food hall stood half a metre above the ground as wind lashed park
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
Not all Suffolk Show directors have luck on their side when they stage the county’s biggest’s annual bash – including David Nunn, who had to cancel the event due to high winds. Peter Over, David Nunn, Bill Baker and Bee Kemball look back over an eventful run of shows from 2008 onwards.
Peter Over: 2008-2010
I had the immense honour and privilege to be honorary show director for three years. It is without doubt the most rewarding, fulfilling and enjoyable role I have ever taken on. The biggest thrill was to work with a 400 strong team of like-minded, passionate, committed individuals all who give of their time freely with one sole aim – to stage the best Suffolk Show possible, one the association and the county of Suffolk would be proud of. The week before the show was – and still is – my favourite time. When all the hard work and planning is taking shape, the showground has a real buzz of anticipation around it. Obviously not everything goes to plan and for me that’s when the Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA) is at its best. If there is a problem no matter how big, everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets on with the job of fixing it. That in turn creates a wonderful sense of camaraderie among everyone. If I had to pick one highlight, it was at my last show. Months before, I had a chance meeting with Colonel David Turner, Commander of the Army Air Corp flying station at Wattisham. David is a charming man and was loving his stay in Suffolk, so I asked if it would be possible for him to arrange a flypast by one of his Apache helicopters during the show. He came back two weeks later and said he could do better than that, would we like them to stage a display which would involve landing an Apache helicopter in the grand ring and then re-enacting a mock battle with troops and gunfire?
You could imagine we were all thrilled and excited at such a generous offer and after a lot of planning we had a rehearsal in February and everything went smoothly. However, Col Turner did have a quiet word with me to say on the days of the show to be very careful that everything is battened down securely as the downforce from the helicopter will send anything loose flying. The show finally arrived, bright blue skies beautiful hot weather, thousands of people packed around the grand ring. As the helicopter was starting to land my heart was in my mouth as one or two objects started to take off. I remember the Strutt and Parker marquee took a bit of a hit (luckily my good friend is a senior partner there, so a few bottles of decent claret smoothed that over nicely). The display was a huge success enjoyed by one and all. For me the icing on the cake was that my late father who was a very proud former soldier with the Parachute Regiment, took the royal salute on behalf of the association. That meant so much to him and me. By then I had tears in my eyes and I thought to myself I could not of wished for a better send-off as honorary director of the Suffolk Show – a role I am immensely proud and honoured to have taken on.
David Nunn: 2011-2013
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The advantage of changing show directors every three years is that it brings new ideas to the table. One constant is that we all want fine weather, the one thing very much out of our control. In my three years I had it all. The 2011 show was beautiful. The sun shone late into the evening and I remember asking stewards to work later than usual because families were sitting around the showground enjoying the great weather. Then came the 2012 show. The first day was windy and cold. I spent most of the day studying the weather forecast. It looked likely it was going to get worse. As we know, the weather can quite quickly change in this country. Do we cancel the second day or wait? We decided to get up early and make the decision in the morning. I remember setting off with John Taylor, my deputy, to inspect some of the larger marquees. The food hall was leaving the ground by about half a metre, as were many of the other larger structures. However disappointing closing down a show can be, the safety of our visitors and competitors comes first. At 7am the decision was made. It is much harder to stop a show than to let it keep going. There are thousands of people on the showground staying overnight, looking after livestock, trade stands, etc. I am pleased to say no one was hurt, just the odd ripped marquee. My last year 2013, was much quieter and it wasn’t too hot. From a show director’s point of view, it is much less of a challenge to deliver a show after a good year. When visitors are planning their days out, they might remember the great day out they had last year. I need not have been concerned. The show bounced back and we were well supported by everyone.
Bill Baker: 2014-2016
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If you want three years of your life to disappear in a flash, then I thoroughly recommend this role. My friend and previous show director Peter Over wisely advised me that the term soon flies by and to give it all the energy you can muster to ensure that you are left with no regrets. I certainly tried! Having spent a year as David Nunn’s deputy I was well prepared to take on the role and my first thanks go to my three deputies Mike Warner, George Harris and Bee Kemball, along with three wonderful presidents – Clare, Countess of Euston, Terry Hunt and John Wall and chairman of the SAA Robert Rous. As is so often said, it is the people that make the SAA so special and you simply cannot fully appreciate the commitment and passion of everyone involved, from the fantastic staff, senior stewards, volunteer stewards, contractors and exhibitors until you undertake the role.
My first show was certainly a baptism of fire, or more accurately “rain”. As we prepared to welcome HRH Prince Harry, all the meticulous planning and preparation was threatened by 50mm of rain falling in one afternoon on our busiest set-up day, the day before he was due to arrive. Our showground turned from being perfectly manicured to something akin to a ploughed field in the space of a few hours.
That is when you need your friends around you and I will forever be humbled by the way in which everyone rallied around to assist so we could be open for business the following day and welcome our royal visitor – a day many of us will never forget.
I am proud of the legacy of introducing free entry to all children under 15 and the Farm Discovery Zone along with enhancements made to the many features established by my predecessors. Our show ball raised more than £30,000 for charities thanks to the hard work of Sarah Brown and her small team, including motor neurone disease from which my father suffered. Three wonderful happy years giving memories and friends to last a lifetime and while reflecting on the photos taken over the period the addition of a few grey hairs – I can’t think why!
Bee Kemball: 2017-2019
I loved all three of my Suffolk Shows. The weather was with us, and we welcomed more than 90,000 people through the gates every year. My personal highlights in 2017 were hosting the Suffolk Show ball the week before for 650 guests, raising money for our retired military heroes and setting up new free display rings for visitors supported by wonderful sponsorship such as the Horse & Country Ring and Forestry Ring.
A massive part of being show director is also getting to know all the other volunteers and staff at the SAA so much better, and that was a total joy for me – all amazing, passionate people. Putting on any Suffolk Show is a huge team effort. In 2018 we staged the Looking Back…Looking Forward theme, with amazing displays from Suffolk 100 years ago linking across to glimpses into the future with new technology, which was wonderful to set up and work with new exhibitors such as BT. We also put in our irrigation main, so our rings could always be in tip top condition for show days, which is a real legacy for Trinity Park. In 2019 we continued to build on making the show better than ever with again record sponsorship, giving us the opportunity to showcase more free displays to our visitors. We had the wonderful 60ft Viewing Tower and Farming Live exhibits which everyone loved, plus the amazing Woodland Garden last year in the Flower & Garden Show.
On a personal note, I was blessed with three amazing deputies – James Blyth, Andrew Fairs and Bruce Kerr – and I loved working with them all, through all the frustrations and lots of laughs. The senior stewards and key show team were and are fantastic and without them it would be hard to take on this very all-consuming role.
My favourite part of any Suffolk Show is always the setup days, when everything comes together – or not! The camaraderie, the laughs, the people.
I was looking forward to Bruce’s first show this year so much this May – to support him and my father Bill Kemball who is currently president. Though we are all disappointed, we will be there to support Bruce and rest of the SAA for an amazing comeback in 2021.