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Helen Skelton: ‘The world is still turning, animals are still being born. This is a chance for some escapism… and ridiculous cuteness!’

Helen says Springtime On The Farm offers viewers some 
much-needed escapism
Helen says Springtime On The Farm offers viewers some much-needed escapism

Her past achievements have included solo kayaking the length of the River Amazon and reaching the South Pole by bike and kite ski.

But facing up to months indoors is proving as tough for Helen Skelton as any physical challenge she’s previously undertaken.

Going no further than the back garden for the foreseeable future is a distinct change of pace for the Countryfile presenter.

Carlisle-born Helen is currently holed up in the family home in Yorkshire with her rugby player husband Richie Myler and their two sons, four-year-old Ernie and Louis, three.

“We’ve been in lockdown for ages now, because they thought someone at my husband’s work had it, so they told everyone to go home,” said Helen, 36.

“But we can’t complain. We’re lucky to have a big garden, because I keep thinking about people who are living in flats with kids and no garden.

“Our kids are little, so we can spend all day building dens, but it must be tough if you’re a parent to a teenager and all they want to do is see their mates or girlfriends, or constantly play Fortnite.

“I always nagged my kids to go outside and now I’m discouraging them from doing so.

“My youngest asks why we don’t go to the beach anymore. We would usually be going for a walk in the woods or taking a cycle ride, but at least we have the garden.”

And it’s from that garden Helen will present the new series of Springtime On The Farm this week.

It’s the third series of a show that shines a spotlight on farm life during the industry’s busiest time of year – lambing season.

Until a few weeks ago, Helen and co-host Adam Henson, also of Countryfile, would have been presenting the Channel 5 series from Cannon Hall Farm in Barnsley, but the lockdown has forced them to work from home.

“It would have been an easy one for the makers to abandon,” she continued. “They could’ve said it would be too difficult, but we’ve soldiered on.

“Adam and I are filming from our gardens, and we’ve been FaceTiming with farms all over the country.

“This series has been about people putting in the hours and effort, going above and beyond. I have a lot of respect for my colleagues.

“Hopefully the show proves to be a distraction, to give some spring joy and a chance to celebrate farmers and food producers – now more than ever that is a relationship we need to remind people about.

“Increasingly, we are going to have to turn to our own for produce.

“The world is still turning and animals are still being born and needing fed, so this is a chance for some escapism and to showcase lots of glorious countryside and greenery, and we also have ridiculousness cuteness, like baby goats on slides!

“The idea is that it makes people feel good and shows how hard farmers work.”

© David Fisher/Shutterstock
Helen with former rugby player husband Richie Myler

It’s a life Helen knows well. She was brought up on a Cumbrian dairy farm, where her parents continue to live.

“I enjoy interviewing farmers because it reminds me of my family,” she smiled.

“I spoke to a young farmer who hasn’t had a holiday in a decade, working from 4.30am to midnight. He loves his cows and call them his girls.

“It reminded me of my dad, who used to milk 150 cows every day. Foot and mouth finished my parents’ herd, but they still live on the farm, growing willow and they have some sheep and cows.

“My dad would say he is no longer a farmer but most city people would assume he is.

“What I love about Springtime On The Farm is it shows farmers in a good light. It’s not an easy life.”

Instead of following in her father’s footsteps, Helen studied journalism at university and worked in local radio and with Borders Television before moving on to BBC children’s series, Newsround.

Her big break came in 2008, when she became a presenter not only on Countryfile but Blue Peter.

The following year, she became just the second woman to complete the gruelling Namibian ultra-marathon and, in 2011, Helen walked a 500ft tightrope between chimneys at Battersea Power Station – 66ft above the ground – for Comic Relief.

With that sort of pedigree, Helen is one of the favourites to win the next series of Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, which begins soon on Channel 4.

Ant Middleton and his unrelenting team will put famous faces such as ex-Strictly dancer Brendan Cole, former world boxing champion Tony Bellew, TV personalities Anthea Turner, Katie Price and Joey Essex, Paralympian Lauren Steadman and retired footballer John Fashanu, through their paces.

It was filmed on the ruggedly beautiful Raasay, off the coast of Skye, late last year and Helen says the mental aspect was tougher than the physical hardships the stars were put through.

“They push you into a mind-set where you are constantly under pressure. You can never relax and you always think they’re about to come in and have a go at you. That was the hardest part for me.

“We never slept, rarely ate, were never out of wet clothes, it rained a lot, we basically lived in a barn and we were being beasted – it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

“That said, I absolutely loved it. The location was incredible and the light was unbelievable.

“One night I was sitting with Tony Bellew, barbecuing rabbits for dinner, and I said, ‘This is the dream, isn’t it?’

“And he said, ‘No, it’s hell on earth!’ But I just loved the rustic beauty of it.

“I did feel the pressure, though, as people expected me to stay in the competition for a while because of what I’d done previously.

“This was actually the first thing of this nature I’d done since having kids. Previously, I wasn’t concerned about getting injured, but now I was thinking – if I put my back out I won’t be able to lift my boy out of his cot, or if I hurt my neck I can’t take them bike rides – so having two little people who need me has changed my outlook.”

Helen landed on Raasay just days after completing a trek to the summit of Ben Nevis with members of Glasgow youth group, the Peek Project, as part of the National Lottery’s 25th anniversary celebrations.

“It was one of the worst days of the year as far as the conditions, so for those guys to climb Ben Nevis for their first mountain, on a day like that, was hardcore,” Helen added.

“I did Ben Nevis, then went to London to finish some filming, then Yorkshire for more filming, so by the time I reached Raasay I was exhausted.

“One day on the island, I sat down and fell asleep, and one of the team remarked I was knackered. But it wasn’t from doing Celebrity SAS, it was just from life!”

As she tries to keep two kids under five entertained for the next few months, Helen may long for those wet, exhausting days on Raasay.

At least, for the next few days, she has life on the farm to relax her.

Springtime On The Farm, Channel 5, Mon-Thur, 8pm.