Kate Humble on growing up in Bray and presenting Kew on a Plate
PUBLISHED: 10:14 18 May 2015 | UPDATED: 10:14 18 May 2015
The TV star says her Bray childhood was like ‘The Famous Five’ with the bonus of growing her very own ‘Five A Day’. Photos courtesy of BBC/Lion Television/photographer Laura Rawlinson
Presenter Kate Humble has spent the past eight years the proud owner of a working farm in Monmouthshire in the Wye Valley. The much loved face of Springwatch, Wild Shepherdess, and The Wonder of Dogs, Humble grew up in green Berkshire, and has always treasured the rural life. “I grew up outside the village of Bray and my brother and I had our own small patch to grow vegetables,” she remembers.
After learning to ride age five, Bray life revolved around Humble’s obsession with horses, and living in a Victorian farmhouse next door to a working farm, much time was spent in the Great Outdoors, whether it be mucking out stables or tending to a garden.
“We didn’t grow anything very complicated, but I do remember the excitement of the first leaves appearing above the soil and harvesting carrots and radishes,” she says. Humble has often labelled her childhood “Something straight out of The Famous Five,” and today, with her own farm to look after, the keen naturist still insists, “Nothing tastes as good as something pulled straight from the soil and eaten there and then.”
But while Humble, who spent years in London before upping sticks to Wales eight years ago, is happiest tending to her three dogs and array of farmyard animals, she’s never been short of wanderlust. In fact, after attending the Abbey School, she vetoed university, instead deciding to travel alone to Africa.
It was 1988, a time far before accessible internet made communication easy, and at 19, Humble’s travels saw her explore the African continent, finding time to work as a truck driver for a safari company, and set up home with a crocodile farmer! After a year away, the constantly restless Humble returned to the UK still looking for adventure, and she spent a month in a squat in London, before entering the television world at its lowest rung.
Humble’s career direction saw her reconnect with family friend Ludo Graham, who was working in TV, and after three years of dating, the couple married in Newbury when Humble was only 23. Growing up in rural surrounds himself, though miles away in Yorkshire, the couple have often forgone the beaten track together since, spending months living out a van in South Africa, Namibia and Swaziland, exploring Madagascar by foot, and Mali by camel with a group of semi-nomadic Berabiche tribesmen.
Kew on a Plate
Between her work in the British countryside presenting Springwatch and Lambing Live, Humble’s work has also taken her to Afghanistan, Peru and beyond. But being close to home is a pleasure for Humble, particularly presenting Kew on a Plate in March, alongside Michelin-starred French chef Raymond Blanc.
The duo got to spruce up what was once the Royal vegetable patch at regal Kew. “The last time vegetables were grown here was about 200 years ago when there was a royal household here, and they needed feeding. It was quite a bold step for Kew, but it just felt the right thing to do,” she explains.
“The idea was that we could create a garden in a public space - because it would be really nice for the public to be part of the process - and we wondered where that public space would be. We thought Kew would be a wonderful location, except it’s not the most obvious spot, because Kew isn’t known for growing vegetables, it’s known for growing different varieties of tress from all over the world, orchids and all sorts of things.”
Ever the explorer, Humble admits that setting foot on the historical land was a thrill. “There’s that kind of joy where you’re able to walk through that door that says private, when no one else can. The lovely thing about being at Kew was being able to explore those places the public can’t. The Fungarium is just the most extraordinary place. It’s like Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection. There are millions and millions of show boxes there and the guy who runs it is this remarkable American, who will take you around and open the boxes and show you inside. There’s a piece of mushroom that Darwin collected. It’s just amazing.”
Of course, she also enjoyed being fed and cooking with Blanc from the garden’s produce. “It was such a tiny kitchen, so I would come in after Raymond had finished cooking and be the official taster. I definitely got the best deal!”
Humble was also able to learn about Kew’s legendary conservation work. “The Millennium Seed Bank is also part of Kew and it’s an attempt to collect the seeds of every living plant on Earth. It’s a ridiculous idea but also genius because it’s so ridiculous. They’ve got something like 22 billion seeds so far, which equates to 15 percent of all the plants on the planet. It’s a massive conservation project but it’s also very relevant. I learned during the series that brassicas - all the vegetables that kids hate: cauliflower, kale and broccoli - are all very genetically closely related. If a particular brassica-whacking disease came along we could lose all of them, and there would be no more broccoli, which would make lots of 10-year-olds very happy…”
It’s all in the taste
With her own 117-acre smallholding in Wales, which Humble and her husband bought from the council and is let to tenant farmers Tim and Sarah Stephens, who breed Welsh Mountain sheep and Hereford cattle, Humble knows a thing or two about the importance of food and farming; she’s come full circle from her Bray beginnings. The presenter is a stickler for natural products, especially when it comes to flavour, saying, “We have become trained to recognise the taste of something when the taste isn’t actually the taste. Homegrown radish and chilli taste nothing like the supermarket versions.”
“I think we have ‘crap bananas’ because I’m a spoilt brat who has travelled all over the world and has tasted funny little stumpy bananas with really thin skin but taste like nothing on the planet. But they can’t travel and they ripen at different rates. They don’t work for us,” she sighs.
She may be a famous face, but with her own farm open to the public, home bird Humble is far more comfortable mucking out or feeding the pigs than gallivanting on the red carpet. “People don’t expect me to be there serving food and washing up, but sometimes I am. This weekend I was there getting the lambing sheds ready for lambing season and some people came in with their kids to look at the pigs so I took them in and let them smell them, because piglets smell like biscuits. Telly’s a very remote thing so to have that contact with the public is lovely and gratifying. It makes me feel humble, forgive the pun.”
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