Arts

Countryfile's Adam Henson talks tractors and toe wrestling at The MAC

As Countryfile presenter Adam Henson embarks on a theatre tour, he tells Gail Bell what Belfast audiences can expect at his one-man show at The MAC

Countryfile's Adam Henson, who is taking his one-man show to Belfast next month

LOSING control of his sheep, getting knocked over by his sheep... Countryfile presenter Adam Henson has pretty much seen it all when it comes to unpredictable woolly farm animals.

There is even a YouTube film entitled 'Adam Henson sheep bloopers' for anyone really interested, so unsurprisingly, part of his upcoming show at The MAC in Belfast will be devoted to amusing stories of his flocks back home in the Cotswolds.

They say you should never work with children or animals, but in Henson's case, he has made a highly successful niche career farming through a camera lens and bringing modern agricultural methods right into millions of living rooms.

Speaking ahead of a new seven-date theatre tour which opens in Stratford tonight before coming to Belfast on May 12, he admitted there were "quite a few" out-takes which don't make the final Countryfile cut.

"I have a number of funny stories to share in the show and it's always great to hide behind the animals, who are the real stars," says the popular presenter who will also be signing copies of his new book, Like Farmer, Like Son following a post-talk Q&A.

It is his second book and is a literary tribute to his beloved farmer father, Joe, who died in 2015 and had also successfully fused farming with a career on the small screen, presenting a countryside TV programme and working alongside children's presenter Johnny Morris on Animal Magic.

But it was Mr Henson senior's interest in farming, in particular rare breeds, that first attracted television cameras, which initially zoomed in on his Cotswold Farm Park project after it opened in the 1970s; it now attracts 145,000 visitors annually.

Now, his Countryfile presenter son – selected for the role out of 3,500 applicants – is proud to continue that legacy while farming sheep and 4,000 acres of arable land alongside his "part-time media career".

"People seem genuinely interested about my life down on the farm and especially the rare breeds," he says. "Peg, my border collie, has become the real star of the show, but unfortunately she won't be accompanying me to Belfast.

"Some of my animals have made it on to the big screen, though – oxen have starred with Mel Gibson in Braveheart, a pig made it on to film with Colin Firth and a Glouchester Old Spot [pig] got to sit on Cruella de Vil's lap in 101 Dalmations."

He has had some 'rare' moments himself, all for the entertainment of viewers – a "fairly horrible" toe-wrestling competition filmed for the programme is suddenly recalled and makes him shudder.

"I think I earned my Countryfile badge for that segment," he jokes. "In the end, I was beaten by a big, hairy, tattooed guy who I think had athlete's foot..."

That aside, his memories are all sweet-smelling ones of the hugely popular Sunday evening programme which regularly pulls in more than nine million viewers and has even been credited with making farming fashionable.

"I have a real passion for rural living, so Countryfile is really an extension of my real job and way of life," he says.

"Farming seems to have undergone a new image lately – the public are more engaged with farmers who are better at communicating with consumers who are better at supporting foods and crafts that come direct from the land."

He is is unsure what Brexit will bring – "that's a bit like crystal ball gazing" – but thinks diversification may become more important.

"Farmers are entrepreneurial by nature and they are resilient," he adds. "For me, and my business partner, we'll definitely not be putting all our eggs in one basket. But, whatever happens, I believe the food supply chain has some amazing opportunities."

:: An Evening with Adam Henson is on at The MAC, Belfast, on Friday May 12 (themaclive.com).

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