Her parents may have been disappointed Kate Humble didn’t go to Oxford – apart from for a typing course – but she’s done plenty to make them proud since. Here she tells Jaine Blackman how her marriage and country life are at the heart of her happiness
Kate Humble is not the sort of girl to pull any punches and she candidly confesses that three times during her 22-year marriage, shes had the seven-year itch.
While that ‘itch’ usually refers to a couple’s happiness waning after that number of years, it quickly becomes clear that the TV presenter, best known for science and wildlife programmes such as BBC’s Springwatch, Lambing Live and Rough Science, hasn’t suffered frequent emotional crises in her relationship with TV director, Ludo Graham, 52.
Far from it, the couple, who first met when she was a teenager, are patently blissfully happy but she confesses: “I really do suffer from the seven-year itch except, in my case, that means I get an overwhelming urge to move house to somewhere different.
“Actually, now Ludo’s looking at me in a kind of nervous way because it’s seven years since we’ve been in Wales. Clearly he’s thinking, ‘Oh no, where’s she going to want us to uproot and go to now?’”
He can relax though, because, during a chat in her cosy kitchen where her three dogs and endless hens wander in and out, she vows that nothing would uproot her from their home, a Wye Valley farm in glorious Monmouthshire countryside.
“I’ve finally found my right place in life and it’s bliss,” says Humble, 45, with a beam.
“The analogy which I think sums it up is that it’s like wearing the wrong pair of shoes for the past 40 years and suddenly finding shoes that fit.”
It was quite a gamble for two telly types to uproot from London and swap a city flat for a rural idyll, but they loved their original four-acre smallholding so much that two years ago they bought a nearby 117-acre council-owned farm to ensure it stayed a working farm instead of being sold off for development.
For Humble, who spent her childhood in the Berkshire countryside, the outdoor life has always come first.
“I hated school because it was very academic and we were all expected to go to Oxford or Cambridge,” she said. “I didn’t want to do either. My parents were very disappointed.
Kate handling a male Stag Beetle at the launch of National Insect Week
“They had put all this money into getting me a private education, so they insisted that I do a three-month typing course – in Oxford, of course. I think they hoped I’d fall in love with an undergraduate there, but that didn't happen!”
She now combines farming with her television work – and she’s helped educate millions about country matters.
This year alone, she has been on several filming trips abroad, including living with a nomadic family in the Gobi dessert in Mongolia, but she admits: “Since we got the farm, I’ve realised that although I never used to feel homesick when I was away filming, now I do.
“I still like nothing better than finding out about things, people and nature, and then being able to share it by telling a story on television. But while I’m often sad to leave the people and places I visit, nowadays I’m always so pleased to be going home to all my animals and my dogs.”
The couple raise sheep, pigs and cows, run craft and cookery courses, and have set up the country’s first aquaponics solar project – intensive, sustainable, environmentally friendly food farming.
If this all sounds a little too perfect, she stresses that setting up their thriving business, Humble By Nature, has been far from an easy ride a la TV’s The Good Life.
“Honestly, setting up our own business has been up there with the most frightening things I’ve faced – it compares with being threatened with a hippo which tried to overturn our boat or swimming with sharks,” she reveals.
“While facing aggressive wild animals makes your heart race at the time, it doesn’t necessarily keep you awake at night, but running your own business, when you’ve never done it before, literally does. For the first time in my life, when we started I felt the really unfamiliar feeling of, ‘I’m not in control of this and don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m responsible for this and people’s livelihoods. Help!’”
Kate placing her arm into a perspex box full of mosquitoes to launch a new partnership between Lloyds pharmacy group and Oxfam to help combat malaria in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010
Working together 24/7 can also test a relationship and Humble, who has said she’s never had any desire to have children, recalls the early days for her and her husband as hugely challenging.
“We made the classic mistake of trying to do everything ourselves as we didn’t think we could afford to employ anyone, and we never took a day off. We were literally working day and night. It got to the stage where we were either going to kill each other or ourselves because of the stress of it all."
They’ve since employed staff – a team she fondly describes as ‘like family’ – and their relationship weathered the storm.
“I hope I’m not tempting fate by saying this, because Ludo might of course run away tomorrow, but when you’ve been together as long as we have, you find ways of coping with hard times,” she says with a smile.
“I think he’d agree that it’s good that I go away working every so often because it gives us both space. We love being together, of course, but equally we function perfectly well when we’re not. At the end of the day, like most couples we muddle along.”
Down-to-earth, refreshingly natural, and completely free of personal vanity, she recoils at the mention of the words celebrity and glamour.
“I epitomise the dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards look. I’m inherently scruffy – I was always covered in mud and refusing to wear a dress to my mother’s despair when I was a kid – and my curly hair still seems to attract stray bits of hay or twigs,” she says.
“I think my poor husband realised quite early on that he wasn’t marrying me for my glamour. I didn’t even wear make-up on my wedding day, just a bit of eyeshadow, but even that’s so out of character for me, Ludo was in shock when he saw me with it on when I walked down the aisle.”
Kate is leading the 2014 Barefood Wine Beach Rescue Project to keep Britain’s beaches barefoot friendly this summer
Away from the camera, she delights in her anonymity and revels in the fact that her filming locations in all parts of the world usually require her to wear practical walking and hiking gear – also her ‘uniform’ at home.
“I don’t like dressing up – it's not part of my life – and actually, I’m beginning to get a bit insulted about the numbers of people who keep offering me makeovers. After all, not everyone wants to wander around in designer dresses and Jimmy Choos or compete for the Rear of Year or whatever it is,” she says firmly.
“I definitely don’t think of myself as any kind of celebrity. In my job I’m regularly in the public eye but there are definitely no red carpets or bodyguards or glitter in my life.”
An active lifestyle keeps her fit and she also runs to stay energised. “It’s essential I stay in shape so I can lug bags of chicken feed up the monster of a hill near the house, muck out some pigs, and be agile enough to crawl under our car to sort out mice that weirdly decided to nest in the engine,” she says.
Passionate about nature, she’s leading a campaign, the 2014 Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue Project, to encourage people to volunteer to pick up litter on their local beaches. She’s helped clear three beaches herself and is also constantly looking for innovative ways to encourage people to be aware of the link between farming and food and to value natural resources.
“I don’t sleep very well, so I do a lot of thinking at night which can be very dangerous!” she says.
“As I’m never short of ideas, the phrase that Ludo fears most in the morning is, ‘I’ve been thinking...’. He groans and goes, ‘Oh now I’m trouble!’. I’m quite emotional and can get a bit carried away, whereas he’s the one who’s measured, practical and filters my ideas into the impossible ones and those that will work, like the farm, so we’re a good team really.”
Kate Humble is leading the 2014 Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue Project, to keep Britain’s beaches barefoot-friendly this summer. For details visit www.barefootwine.co.uk