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Countryfile presenter Jules Hudson on the show’s new Spring Diaries daytime spin-off

Jules Hudson (Adam Fradgley / Exposure Photography)
Jules Hudson (Adam Fradgley / Exposure Photography)

IT’S one of telly’s top shows that even ravaged X Factor when they faced off head-to-head.

Countryfile went from a Sunday morning sleeper to a ratings-busting peak-time smash.

Now, after tonight’s big Spring special, the programme is going back to its daytime roots with a week-long spin-off series starting tomorrow.

As Countryfile Spring Diaries gets ready to hit our screens, presenter Jules Hudson has lifted the lid on the show’s astonishing success and how it’s hoped this will be a fresh chapter that will lead to daytime domination as well as a primetime powerhouse.

“This is a really exciting extension of the Countryfile brand,” Jules, also a longstanding main show favourite, told The Sunday Post.

“We’ll be celebrating the unique transition from winter to spring.

“We’re based in the New Forest but will be looking at issues right across the UK.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it goes well and we can have Diaries running at different times through the year, summer, autumn, winter etc.”

It seems we now can’t get enough of Anita Rani, Matt Baker, Ellie Harrison & co and Jules says they knew right away that the show was going to be an astonishing instant hit.

“I joined when the show launched into prime time in 2009. As a countryman myself I was thrilled to be asked to get involved.

“It was a savvy bit of rescheduling. There was a recognition the countryside was of interest and it was case of trying it and seeing what happened.

“Right from the first viewing figures, when about 6.5 million tuned in compared to the million-and-a-half it had been getting on a Sunday morning, it was obvious it was going to work.

“I can still remember the buzz that went round everyone when we realised how big it was.

“It’s become what TV people call ‘appointment to view’ television.

“There is something in there for all interests and every age group.

“When we moved from Sunday mornings we didn’t massively reinvent the show. It simply celebrates the rural life that people enjoy but many don’t get a chance to experience day-in, day-out.

“This is my 20th year in television and I’m a believer that good programmes get good ratings.”

The Countryfile creww of Matt Baker, Ellie Harrison, Adam Henson, Tom Heap and John Craven (BBC / Oliver Edwards)
The Countryfile creww of Matt Baker, Ellie Harrison, Adam Henson, Tom Heap and John Craven (BBC / Oliver Edwards)

While peak-times shows have big budgets and crews, anyone stumbling across some Countryfile filming is as likely to find a tiny handful of souls in the middle of a field. “We’re always working to a budget, against the clock and often against the elements,” laughs Jules.

“I’m not saying we work on a shoestring, but we are lean. It makes us lighter on our feet in the way we respond to things.

“And frankly if you are climbing up a mountain to do a piece to camera you don’t want a whole load of people following you.”

Those who haven’t yet been converted and assume it’s all very cosy and non-controversial would be surprised by the issues tackled.

Jules insists the show has always reported on real countryside issues whether it be rural housing, tree disease, TB or hot topics such as hunting or badger culling.

“If something’s hotly debated there are going to be two sides to the arguments and we won’t duck it.

“I speak to farmers who complain that we’re talking about saving badgers. Well, we’re not. We’re talking about issues around the future of badgers and TB. It’s a difficult topic as the science seems to be out as to whether or not they are the culprits.

“We all have our opinions on what we cover, but TV is not where they surface.”

But there’s no doubting that there’s a comforting feel of being among friendly, familiar faces on a Sunday evening as the stresses of another working week start to loom.

“There’s a warmth about the show and I think viewers can see we’re all passionate about the countryside,” says Jules. “Most of us live a country life so we’re sharing our passion and I think that comes across as a very credible offering.

“The fact we get on with each other is hugely important. We’ve all been around for a while and there’s a real sense of pride among the team, in front of the camera and behind.”

And Jules says that pride was never more evident than when Anita ditched her wellies and waterproof jackets for dancing shoes and sparkly dresses on last year’s Strictly.

Fans were outraged when she was just pipped for a place in the final.

“Anita was brilliant and more than took it in her stride.

“She grabbed it with both hands and did us all proud. Matt Baker led the Strictly charge a few years ago so there’s a Countryfile connection.

“To be honest being asked to go on Strictly is one of those phone calls we’d all like to get – but then we’d think: “What have I let myself in for?”

Keeley Donovan (James Green Studio)
Keeley Donovan will also host the show (James Green Studio)

Jules is joined on Countryside Diaries by weather presenter Keeley Donovan, Paul Martin from Flog It! and John Craven.

And sharing a screen with veteran John is an especial delight.

“He’s an absolute legend. I know John really well as we made a big series on heritage heroes, locked in a Land Rover for four months.”

“I remember driving round the Jurassic coast in Dorset and he started telling me what it must have been like 350 million years ago. I told him he should know – he covered it for Newsround!”

Jules’s country credentials are certainly impressive.

Until four years ago he lived in the mountains of west Wales in a small sheep farming community and he’s now in Herefordshire with wife Tania and their 15-month-old son Jack.

“We’re renovating an old timber-framed farmhouse so when I get home it’s on with the scruffy jeans and out with the cement mixer.”

Having been a regular on Escape To The Country for many years, Jules concedes that the profile from being seen by seven million avid fans has taken some getting used to.

“Being viewed as a bit of a star is really surprising.

“I remember filming in the Highlands of Scotland in failing light when a car passed then did a U-turn and two Australians leapt out. I can’t repeat exactly what they said but it along the lines of: “Blimey, it’s Jules!”

“They said they were huge fans and wanted a photo. So if Aussies can spot me in the middle of nowhere in Scotland then you can pretty much get noticed anywhere.”

Countryfile Spring Diaries, from Monday, BBC1 9.15am.


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