Adam Henson: The route to joining Countryfile was not a simple one
PUBLISHED: 12:43 23 September 2016
Our columnist reveals in his new book that the route to joining Countryfile was not a simple one, but more like a farming X Factor with plenty of drama
Adam Henson had never planned to follow father Joe into any kind of TV presenting role – his interest was in looking after Bemborough Farm. But then he discovered Countryfile was running a competition to find a new presenter.
Adam applied and was one of 20 hopefuls chosen for a two-day boot camp-cum-crash-course. Then he made it to a shortlist of three whose audition tapes were to be sent to 100 Countryfile dedicated viewers. Adam received a call from the show’s team to say he’d won… but it turned out not to be a straightforward route to our screens.
‘Had I really been chosen from all of those to become John Craven’s onscreen sidekick? Well, maybe not. There was just one catch.
The competition prize no longer seemed to be as advertised. In fact, there had been an unexpected complication.
At the same time as the BBC had been holding its Countryfile presenter search it had also been broadcasting one of the very first TV reality shows. Castaway 2000 had dispatched 36 members of the public to live on the remote Hebridean island of Taransay for a year to attempt to build a community from scratch.
When the programme was broadcast the following year, it was a ratings success – and one of the participants stood out a mile. Ben Fogle was a handsome, charming young man from a London acting family and the camera clearly loved him.
It soon became obvious to BBC executives that here was a star in the making, but what should they do with him? Well, there was that presenter’s job going on Countryfile…
Some senior BBC execs spoke to Countryfile. ‘You don’t need that ginger farm boy who has won the presenter contest,’ they told them. The Countryfile producers also thought Ben was great, but it did leave them with the problem of what to do with me.
Maybe there was some kind of compromise solution? They had decided that there was – so when that phone call telling me that I had won came in, it was not what I had been expecting.
‘Congratulations, Adam!’ a woman told me. ‘You have won the competition and we can offer you the prize – one day’s presenting on Countryfile with John Craven!’ Huh? That wasn’t what it had said on the tin! How had that happened? My mind was whirling.
I stayed polite and pleasant on the phone as I tried to demur: I had thought it was more of a long-term job than that?’ ‘Yes, as I say, you will do one day’s presenting with John Craven!’ repeated the cheery female voice. ‘We will be in touch with the details. Bye!’
When I put the phone down I was seething. What a swizz! I felt totally cheated.
Dad listened intently and nodded as I told him how unfair I thought it was.
Then he delivered his verdict. ‘Adam, you are never going to beat the BBC,’ he smiled. ‘If that is what they have decided to do, go along for the day anyway. Have a go at presenting, meet John Craven, have a good day, make the tea and carry the tripod for the cameraman. Who knows what might come of it?’
Dad was right, I realised. There was no point in throwing my toys out of the pram. I decided to suck it up, swallow my pride and take Countryfile up on its kind offer. After all, I had not been that bothered about the whole thing in the first place.
I’m so glad that I did, because at that point the BBC did the decent thing and restored the presenter search prize to what it had originally been. They would try using both Ben Fogle and me and see how it went. It was beginning to sink in for me that this was all quite a big deal. As it turned out, the Countryfile producers liked what I had done and decided to make a big deal of my arrival on the show.
On the week that it was to be broadcast, John Craven would present the whole of the programme from Bemborough Farm. I have never been someone who gets particularly star struck around celebrities but even so I was pretty nervous meeting John.
Like most kids of my age, I had grown up watching him present John Craven’s Newsround and Multi-Coloured Swap Shop. The man is a television legend.
John gave me countless tips and nuggets of advice. I admired him from the off not just because he is a helpful, avuncular mentor. He is also a proper, investigative old-school journalist.
In my early days on Countryfile there was probably only one person whose approbation I craved more than John’s – and that was Dad. Happily, and characteristically, he did not stint in giving it. Dad quickly became my biggest fan on Countryfile. It was a rare week that he did not ring me after a show had aired or, next time I saw him, make a point of telling me how good he thought I had been that week. He gave me tips but mostly he gave me praise.
In the way that he had done ever since I was a small boy, he educated me, but mostly he encouraged me in what I loved and what was important to me.I just knew that my being on Countryfile made Dad very happy – and for me, that was all the more reason to do it, and to do it well.
As he knew, and as I knew, I still had a lot to learn.’
Abridged from ‘Like Farmer, Like Son’ by Adam Henson. Published in hardback by BBC Books
More Adam Henson…
• Adam Henson extols the virtues of the Berkshire pig - Keen-eyed fans of ‘Countryfile’ might spot a new addition to my livestock the next time the cameras come to film on the farm.
• Adam Henson on the work being done around the country to preserve rare animals - My latest series of assignments for Countryfile fit me like a glove. During the coming months, I’ll be travelling all over the country filming Adam’s County Breeds, telling the story of our native cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, goats and horses as well as meeting the dedicated people who keep them.