Thursday, 28 February 2013
‘I can rugby tackle an angora goat’
She remains one of our best-loved and most glamorous broadcasters, but as spring arrives, Selina Scott is running a farm – having adventures that would make James Herriot blanch, says Roderick GilchristThe other day, Herbert, the curly-fleeced, long-horned Billy goat, the rampant alpha male in Selina Scott’s angora herd, felt the call of spring and, like most males at this time of year, was overcome with the unassailable urge to jump his fence.
And so he did. Over the meadows Herbert charged, up the lane, and away. Freedom! Well not quite. Selina is quick off the mark herself and soon she was in hot pursuit in her battered farm car.
About a mile later, she caught up with Herbert, told him he was a naughty boy, got hold of his horns and hoofs and pushed him into the back seat of the saloon.
It was unfortunate that on her way back to her manor house, in the wild Hambleton Hills in the old North Riding of Yorkshire, she had to stop at the local pub to drop off a package, which was where an emerging group of well-refreshed locals first saw the goat.
‘Herbert was reclining in comfort as if a VIP passenger, looking out at them completely calmly like it was the most natural thing in the world for a goat to be chauffeured about the countryside. They wondered if they had had a drop too much,’ recalls Selina, giggling.
This straw-in-the-hair image of a bucolic life that could have come from the pages of James Herriot, sits uneasily against the more readily identifiable Selina Scott; that of a glamorous broadcaster on first-name terms with the Royal Family, a woman more comfortable, many might assume, in a TV studio, than mucking out the farmyard. She was even asked by James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli to audition for the role of Miss Moneypenny in the 15th 007 film, The Living Daylights. ‘He sat me on a high stool so he and his producer could get a good eyeful,’ she says.
But all of this changed when she bought a 200-acre farm after falling in love with it at first sight. It sits in a beautiful, remote valley, camouflaged by ancient oaks. The farm has provided the landscape for her to live the life she adores – that of a country girl.
As winter’s icy fingers at last loosen their grip and the countryside seems suddenly dressed in its spring best, the woods carpeted with bluebells, it is Arcadian England in the season of renewal.
‘I’ve farmed these grass and arable acres for the past 10 years and it’s kept me so fit I haven’t needed to go near a gym,’ Selina says. ‘I’ve planted orchards and miles of hedges and excavated a two-acre pond. An ancient stone boundary wall has been rebuilt. And there are now 20ft margins around every field for voles and barn owls, along with pollen and nectar mixes for insects.
‘My two rescue dogs, Nip and Kike, follow me everywhere, but then so does my herd of angora goats, whose fleeces form the basis of my internet sock business. They are always on the scrounge for the biscuits they know I keep for them in my pockets.
‘When I first took over the farm I was a bit overwhelmed. Then, as flocks of lapwings and curlew arrived, thanks to stubble left to overwinter and land left wet, it became obvious how little it took to make a difference.
‘Tree sparrows have proliferated so much they bounce up and down on the hedges. The pond has become a magnet for mating swans and curlew. I daren’t sow wild flowers on the land around it, in case I disturb them.’
Last year, she pushed the boat out and planted 7,000 ash trees as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. It cost £7,000 but a substantial chunk of the cost was grant-aided under the English Woodland Scheme. The boys from the local rugby club helped her put the saplings in, but it’s up to Selina to make sure they survive, by controlling weeds and checking guards and stakes.
‘I had a terrible scare when the ash dieback disease threatened to destroy all of the ash trees in the country,’ she says. ‘Fortunately we haven’t been affected and now I can see the saplings shooting up. It is an absolute joy. I love trees. Walking through a mature native wood, with the wind in the high branches, is not only a solace but a privilege. It’s spiritual. It replenishes everything modern life takes out of us. Because of the car, most of us have lost the physical urge to walk. Tragic. It’s so regenerating.’
Selina’s rural life has not dimmed her appeal to TV producers. She is still constantly asked to appear in primetime shows but is selective. She recently turned down an invitation to star in Splash!, ITV’s Saturdaynight diving extravaganza, as well as Strictly, and I’m A Celebrity. She also declined to be the Rear Of The Year, thank you very much.
But when offered a culture show, Treasure Houses Of Britain, for Sky, a 3D series about the nation’s great stately homes, Selina seized the opportunity to present it and was a welcome guest at Chatsworth, Blenheim Palace and other noble piles. She has also found the energy to become a social activist, campaigning both against ageism in television and the march of big businesses, putting small shopkeepers on the dole and wrecking small communities, much like her local market town of Malton.
Little wonder then that Selina’s designer dresses, which were gathered through her years as a distinguished anchor on the ITN news, launch presenter of BBC Breakfast and The Clothes Show, have been despatched to mothproof trunks in the loft in favour of all-weather gear.
‘I have help with the heavy lifting but hauling hay bales has made me wiry,’ she says. ‘The Belted Galloway cows aren’t such a problem but my angora goats require constant attention. I love these exotic creatures but I’ve had to learn how to rugby tackle to catch them. No wonder I sleep well. There’s a lot to be said for hard, physical work. It toughens the body and the soul.’
Despite all of the labouring, Selina says this is her favourite time of the year and she feels proud to be the custodian of this natural heritage. ‘Soon the wild cherry, hawthorn and blackthorn blossom that attracts insects and smells heavenly will be out. Simply gorgeous.’
Selina’s everyday contact with animals has made her a passionate conservationist and she recently angrily pursuing on foot the local hunt, which charged across her land without permission, ordering them off. Foxes, badgers, even emaciated hedgehogs brought into the kitchen for resuscitation, are all safe on her farm.
‘These days I’m practically a vegetarian,’ she says. ‘I was brought up on old-fashioned Sunday roasts, but factory farming and the way we’ve allowed appallingly cruel conditions to flourish in our abattoirs disgusts me.’
Windblown, rain in her unlined face, as fit as Jessica Ennis, Selina tramps across her fields and proffers a wish about the land she loves and its future.
‘I won’t be around to see the woodlands I’ve planted grow to maturity, but I hope that half a century from today the boys from the rugby club will return, look again at the trees and remember the sunny March day they planted saplings here. I think it will give them a good feeling.’
For more about Selina’s products (pictured): www.selinascott.co.uk
Photography: Les Wilson
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Q: A recent survey has revealed the Top 10 things British women would love to do but are too scared. Have you done any of the following?
Sing in public / karaoke - 10.6%
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Have cosmetic surgery - 7.3%