I thought I was sending sausages to the future king, not a pub laughs Jimmy Doherty
- Credit: Archant
Farmer and TV presenter Jimmy Doherty talks about this year’s festival, larking about with Jamie Oliver on the Friday Night Feast and why he was nervous about the Prince of Wales’ recent visit.
“My middle daughter Cora kept calling him Prince Charming, asking ‘When’s Prince Charming getting here?’. I made sure she didn’t do that when he was here,” laughs Jimmy, gearing up for next weekend’s food and music festival.
It’s not the only embarrassing story he has to share about the heir to the throne, who visited the Wherstead farm to learn about the vital work going on there to preserve rare breeds of livestock. The farmer and TV presenter is an ambassador for the Prince’s Countryside Fund and current president of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, of which Prince Charles is the patron.
“One of our very first online orders was for the Prince of Wales. We got very excited and sent two boxes of sausages off. To my dismay I found it was the Prince of Wales pub. I told him and he goes ‘it happens a lot’.
“We got him to meet every single member of staff, he chatted to all the customers, none of them knew [he’d be there]; he was really interested in all the rare breeds, very passionate about that and very interested in the area so it was great.
“I’ve met him a couple of times but it was so strange thinking about when I first got here and was living in a tent, then a caravan. Then you watch the Prince of Wales fly in by helicopter.
“It was mad, I’m standing with the heir to the throne talking about the Ipswich Super Blue, how we made a sausage for Ipswich Town; Simon Milton, a long chat about putting the garlic in, the stilton, why it’s called the Ipswich Super Blue. He was going ‘oh right’. He must have thought I was crazy.”
Don’t expect to see Jimmy scoffing any in the festival’s annual sausage eating competition.
“When it first started it was fairly foolhardy, now there are steely-eyed sausage eaters out there, I let the experts do what they’re expert at doing. You might have an American airman, tourists - as soon as you’ve got somebody from Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex that’s it; game on. You feel the energy and all the crowd get behind it.”
He’s really excited about this year’s festival which includes appearances from KT Tunstall and Chas and Dave to children’s TV presenters Dick ‘n’ Dom, actor Neil Stuke and the Great British Bake Off’s Martha Collison.
The festival dictates the farming rather than the more usual way around, including everything from when the cows leave the fields to when you cut them for the silage they feed on so crowds can sit there. It’s just another part of the complex preparation that starts pretty much straight after one festival ends.
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“People can drift in, pick up some amazing cooking tips here, go over to the acoustic stage... we’ve got the Rare Breeds Survival Trust here doing a lot of activities. I really like to connect the music, the food but also the gardening, the growing and the animal farming side of it,” says Jimmy, who says farming and conservation goes hand-in-hand - be it the effect managing the landscape has on how rich our wildlife is, getting involved with breeding programmes or hosting active research alongside universities.
He doesn’t get to enjoy much of it himself.
“I’ve a piece of paper with lots of timings on it where I have to be certain places and that gets pulled out the pocket between ciders. Dotted round the whole farm will be glasses with three or four sips taken out of them where it’s ‘oh got to go, what we doing now?’. What I do is go behind stage and have a little peek. I love watching other people enjoying themselves, I get a real thrill out of that.”
The festival has evolved as the team try to marry what they want it to be and what people want, which crystallises when it comes to choosing the music.
“You go ‘oh I really like that band’ but we can’t get them because the price has to go up and we want to keep it really affordable. Equally there’s no point getting a thrash metal band when it’s for families. There’s a lot of us in the festival, but you’ve really got to listen to what people want to do. It’s like you’re putting on a party,” says Jimmy, who believes educating the next generation about food doesn’t have to be boring; hence the addition of new animals including a South American tapir which was heading to Dubai, meerkats, rare butterflies and more.
There’s no handbook to staging a festival and they’ve learned a lot along the way, from having bigger bars and more toilets to preparing for terrible weather while not losing the grass roots vibe it’s known for.
“We have visitors from all over the country, from around the world but it’s still a very local event which gives it a uniqueness. I go to lots of wonderful festivals but I think what’s really lovely about our’s is because so many locals come it feels almost like a village fete.
“You get the young people coming for a certain band, day trippers who pop in for a pulled pork sandwich and Chas and Dave, people who turn up with their whole house on a trolley; people coming for their first festival and families who feel like they couldn’t go to a festival because they’ve got young kids.”
Jimmy’s got a five-and-a-half hour drive to Weston-super-Mare to look at an aquaponics farm after our chat, followed by visits to Dorset and then Reading. Next is Spain and Portugal to look at the cork forests for a piece about cork versus screwcap and the science behind both.
He enjoys filming, but not being away from wife Michaela and their three daughters Molly Rose, Cora Mae and Neve.
“The travel side is still hard, I was in Uganda for about four weeks, then I had to go off to Indonesia for another two and then after that... the farm is always very grounding,” says Jimmy, who’s been interviewing butchers today, including one who’s come all the way from Hong Kong; visiting the livestock and chatting to visiting school children.
“Then you really see the work element of the farm. I’ll say ‘I’m sorry there’s some bricks down there’ or ‘watch out for the compost’ so it’s important it always remains that way. Equally, I get to see some amazing things, bring all these weird ideas back and try them on the farm all the time which drives people crazy.”
Speaking on driving people crazy, spare a thought for the poor producer of Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast.
“Imagine being put in a car with your oldest mate from school and you’ve known him since you were two. You just wouldn’t get any work done,” says Jimmy who is originally from Essex and really passionate about the south east and its produce.
He and Oliver are constantly told off for mucking around all the time. What you see on camera is the tip of the iceberg.
“We’re terrible. We were in Wales the other day driving the Capri. We’re talking about how great Wales is and and the director came on the walkie talkie - we used to have a director in the back under a pile of clothes every now and then you’d see them and people would tweet ‘who’s that behind you’ - and has to go ‘can you talk about this’ because otherwise you go off on a tangent.
“We ended up talking about Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones being the king and queen of Wales and then Jamie trying to do a Welsh accent. “It sounded like he was from Jamaica, then Scotland and we laughed so much, ridiculous.”
• Jimmy’s Festival is on July 22-23.