In an age of Zoom interviews, communication can be fraught at the best of times. But throw in a language barrier and what hope have we got?
However, my interviewee is not Spanish, French or Italian. He’s not from a far-flung country or another continent altogether. In fact, he’s only on the other side of the Irish Sea and we both speak English. But still, he can’t understand my gloriously guttural accent!
The interviewee? None other than Jeremy Clarkson.
To be fair, I speak a mile a minute when I’m nervous and/or excited.
“Lisa could translate. It’s like having Lisa in the room,” Jeremy remarks of our linguistic challenges, referencing his Irish girlfriend, actor Lisa Hogan.
I suggest we try Google translate.
And so sets the tone for an interview peppered with banter and ball-hopping (although I’m sure this turn of phrase is wasted on my new friends).
The screen in front of me reveals a very country sight indeed. Jeremy and Kaleb Cooper, who helps Jeremy run his farm, sit on opposite sides of a chessboard, a stove in the background.
I remark on the rustic view. Their reply is that it’s raining torrentially and water is pouring in under the door of this farm building.
Jeremy holds his index finger and thumb about two inches apart to demonstrate how much water is on the floor. Kaleb squelches his foot to reinforce the point.
It’s almost like being there. If Irish Country Living were there though, I would most certainly be getting a spin in Jeremy’s Lamborghini tractor.
You see, the broadcaster, best-known for Top Gear and The Grand Tour, has swapped car-centred programmes for tractor-focused ones. I’m here to discuss his new show, Clarkson’s Farm, which launches on 11 June on Amazon Prime Video.
Getting in gear
Jeremy’s farm is in the Cotswolds, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in south-central and southwest England. He has 1,000 acres which, to begin with, was primarily in tillage, but now he’s added some sheep to the mix – more on that later.
Buying the farm in 2008 was more of a happy coincidence for Jeremy, rather than a lifelong dream.
He jokes that it happened so quickly it wasn’t even a dream the day before he bought it. Land rarely comes up in the area and when it did, he decided to snap it up.
However, with a local man running the farm, Jeremy hadn’t much to do with it. That is until this man retired in 2019 and Jeremy decided to have a go at farming himself while charting his venture for a new TV show.
A journey that’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant and sometimes downright baffling.
Jeremy admits himself that he didn’t realise the work involved in taking on the farm.
“I really thought you put seeds in the ground, weather happens, food grows and then I go on a skiing holiday. You sell it [the crop] and then: ‘Oh, I’ve got all this money and it’s brilliant.’”
Throughout the show we see the broadcaster struggle with various aspects of his new undertaking – cue Kaleb and some others coming in to help. There are teething problems, like putting in tramlines wrong and a lack of lambing experience – issues all farmers are familiar with but he’s optimistic regardless.
“The thing is, I could sit and moan about the weather, Brexit, COVID-19 and all of the other things that have come along to make life difficult – and they did make life difficult – but there were also some incredibly enjoyable times.”
Turning to Kaleb he states: “We’ve had some good laughs. And on a summer’s evening, driving the tractor along – I wouldn’t swap it for the world.”
Kaleb is in his early 20s, farms locally and has his own contracting business.
He was working on Jeremy’s farm with the man who previously ran it, hence why he was called back in to assist with the solo run.
In many ways he’s the complete opposite of Jeremy, who has travelled the world over. Kaleb makes no bones of the fact that he’s a home bird.
Irish Country Living jibes that once the show airs Jeremy may have to find a replacement, as Kaleb will be a celebrity. The response puts the idea to bed.
“The funny thing is,” Kaleb muses, “I never leave Chadlington, Chipping or Heythob, so I guarantee I’m not going anywhere.”
“He’s never been to Ireland,” Jeremy remarks, unperturbed.
“I’ve never been to Ireland, no,” Kaleb agrees. “So I’m not going anywhere.”
Everyone is being told: ‘Farming’s terrible, farming’s destroying the environment, farming’s poisoning us.’ It’s not true, it’s not happening
Even though he’s almost one-third of his age, Kaleb is Jeremy’s go-to man for anything farming and Kaleb doesn’t give him an easy time either. He’s a bit like Richard Hammond and James May (Jeremy’s motoring show co-stars) rolled into one. Only possibly better able to handle him.
“You’ve no idea how hard it was to go out and do the job I needed to do with no tramlines,” Kaleb chastises Jeremy of a previous mistake. “I was very angry. I treat the place like my own place when I’m here and then when he messes it up like he did, I was very, very angry. I’m surprised the door stayed on my tractor when I shut it.”
“We’re all friends again now – just,” Jeremy grimaces.
In spite of having a male co-star to bounce off, Jeremy is quick to point out that Clarkson’s Farm won’t be like Top Gear or The Grand Tour. There’ll be no tractors crashing or on fire (thankfully).
Really, even among the humour, Jeremy wanted to show something specific and serious.
“The ultimate thing is to say: ‘This is farming. It’s nowhere near as bad as you keep being told.’ Everyone is being told: ‘Farming’s terrible, farming’s destroying the environment, farming’s poisoning us.’ It’s not true, it’s not happening. Maybe in America or China a little bit, but it certainly isn’t happening in the UK and I’m damn sure it isn’t happening in Ireland either.
“To show that, for the most part, farmers do look after the land, they do look after their animals and they do look after nature. I wanted to do something that says: ‘This is how it works.’ Then I thought, well, if I put myself in the role of the farmer that increases the likelihood of it being commissioned. Therefore we can get lots of people watching a programme about where their food comes from.”
It is the theory of this writer that there are two types of farmers: machine heads and livestock heads.
I put this to Jeremy and Kaleb.
Before the explanation is finished both are in agreement that Kaleb is a machine head. Of course, given his motoring history, one would naturally put Jeremy down as machine head too. But when he started his flock he got very fond of sheep.
“I hated them to start with,” Jeremey reflects, “then I liked them, then I hated them again.”
“It was a love-hate relationship,” Kaleb interjects.
But in the end, machines win out. No surprise really.
“I much prefer barley, OSR (oil seed rape) and wheat to sheep,” Jeremey concludes. “And I wish I’d listened to Kaleb who said: ‘Don’t get sheep, don’t get sheep.’ I’ve learned my lesson now: don’t farm sheep.”
At one point Jeremy has to cull three ewes and we see a very different, perhaps unseen sensitive side, to him. Although, he’s not keen to admit it.
“Nobody likes killing animals, you’d have to be a psychopath to say: ‘Ya I want to kill a sheep, a cow, a horse or whatever.’ That’s mental,” Jeremy exclaims. “So of course I wasn’t going to enjoy this and I didn’t enjoy it. But they had to go, they had bad backs. And no, I didn’t enjoy it. But all the lambs went off too and I ate them. I trousered the money and ate them. It was a short-lived emotional experience.”
Given his level of fame and fortune, could Jeremy really be happy running a farm and a farm shop? He opened Diddly Squat Farm Shop a short time after taking on the farm.
The answer: a resounding yes!
“I really like it. I mean, I got so fed up with terminal five at Heathrow Airport,” Jeremy explains. “I was going through there three times a week. I checked in for a flight and they said: ‘Where are you flying to?’ And I said: ‘I’ve no idea. I don’t know where I’m going.’ It got to that point.
“I turned to Richard Hammond and said: ‘Where are we going?’ You just get on a plane and it lands somewhere hot and sticky. And you don’t really know where you are. Whereas farming, you get up and Kaleb rocks up in his toy tractor every morning.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Kaleb cautions.
“It is a toy tractor,” Jeremy insists.
“I have a Claas and he has the horrible Lamborghini that he drives around in,” Kaleb offers by way of an explanation.
Despite the teasing, Kaleb is complementary (in a way) of Jeremy’s farming skills.
“I mean, at the start he was useless,” Kaleb says, not sugar-coating anything. “But the good thing about it is he has an interest in the farm. Anyone can go to a job and say: ‘Oh God, here we go.’ But he gets up in the morning and says: ‘Right, what are we doing today? What’s the wheat like today? That rain last night really affected things.’
“He has an interest in it. That’s the main thing you need when you’re farming – or on any job actually. I’m hoping in the future he’ll get better at connecting a tractor to a cultivator and stuff like that, so that I don’t have to do that for him – but I can’t see that happening for at least 10 years.”
“By which time I’ll be too old to do it,” Jeremy laughs.
“And then I’ll be doing it again for you, with your stair lift getting into the tractor,” Kaleb finishes.
In the end, despite Kaleb’s joking, Jeremy is convinced he’s a farmer. If not by work than by way of his attire – he has a check shirt on – and his car. He drives a 15-year-old Range Rover with a rusty tailgate and it’s filled with animal feed, so he reckons he must be a farmer now. Nothing flashy or shiny.
He has a particular fondness for Kenmare, Co Kerry, and reckons his car would fit in well there. I float the idea of season two in Ireland but it’s struck down.