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Interview with Matt Baker ahead of Series 2 of Our Farm in the Dales

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Our Farm in the Dales is back and as lovely as ever. What can we expect to see from the new series?

To be honest, it was commissioned so quickly off the back of the first one so we could just continue pretty much where we left off which was just remarkable. We never expected to have the reaction we got and for it to be a record breaking show for More4! We were doing what we were doing, filmed it all and everybody seemed to love it and understood why we were doing it. They could relate to the issues and those family matters that affect so many families – we were so overwhelmed by the reaction! This time around, we’re continuing what we started and doing our very best to give mum and dad the opportunity to contemplate, look back and see where they’ve got to. Again, we’ve got the three generations, we’re shoring up the farm to make sure all is going to be well in the future – and also for when me and Nicola aren’t there. We’re just making sure it runs as smoothly, easily, and is as stress-free as possible.

The first series of Our Farm in the Dales broke records for More4 and was a smash hit. How does it feel to have been recommissioned for two more series as well as a Christmas special?

Well it’s pretty unheard of to get two series in one go as a commission so that commitment feels incredible. It was our first ever commission so to feel that continued support is so welcomed – they really trust us in what we’re doing and the type of programme we’re making. For us to feel like we’re on the right lines is lovely and again the support that we’ve found, the fact we’ve been able to employ local people and really make programmes that we believe in. I’m really grateful on many levels personally, and from a production company perspective too.

For those who didn’t see the first series, how would you summarise Our Farm in the Dales and why should people watch it?

It’s a series highlighting the eclectic mix of stuff on our farm. Three generations are working together doing the best they can for an organic farm, 1000ft up in the Durham Dales with an ancient woodland, ancient hay meadows and with all sorts of wonderful animals that live there. We had to make a fair few changes after my mum’s accident (Matt’s mum Janice was trampled by one of her Hampshire Down sheep and she needed a full knee replacement) as life on a hill farm is tough so we changed the sheep to hill breeds and brought in Herdwicks, Cheviots and Black Welsh Mountain sheep. Mum and dad didn’t want to leave so we were like, right, let’s make this sustainable, let’s do what we can so you can continue living where you love and doing what you love. Each show takes a different element of the farm and futureproofs it – changing the direction of it in a really entertaining way. We just filmed the reality of it as it unfolds – all of us get involved and anything goes really! From the miniature Mediterranean donkeys and chickens to the new breeds of sheep and we’ve even welcomed bees. It’s an organic farm – there’s lots of wildlife that choose to come and live with us and we’re very passionate about farming with wildlife in mind. There’s cooking, there’s craft and we even have an old car that we dug out of a field that we’re renovating. It’s an evening of TV in one programme!

How do you find juggling between being behind the camera and in front? Do you have a preference?

I absolutely love the behind the camera stuff. My job on camera is to make sure that what we’re recording will work for the edit. I have a camera crew and a soundman that I trust implicitly – they’re really good friends and I’ve chosen them as they are the ones that really seem to be in tune with the way I work and what I do. It’s all very fly on the wall, nothing set up and we just go for it. We film it, we review it and then we edit it off the back of that so it’s very true to what happens. Obviously we’ve got an idea of why we’re doing a particular item but no real set way of how it’s going to work. Our friends and neighbours who are in the series love that as they know they can just turn up, do what they usually do, and we’ll all have a bit of a laugh and a joke.

Was there any reluctance from the family to get back on camera or were they chomping at the bit to be involved again?

When the four programmes finished, there was an element of ‘oh, is it finished? Are we going to go again?’ and the common consensus was that everyone loved it, it was really good fun so why not. Mum was in a much better place when we finished the filming of this series compared to the first one, so she was keen to do another one where she could do a bit more. It’s been really good fun, it really has.

Talking of your mum, series one centred around the aftermath of your mum Janice’s accident. How is she doing?

She’s doing great. She’s now got a much clearer idea of where things are going and is really starting to get to grips with all the new breeds. We brought the Herdwicks to the farm for her and she just indulges in any form of new life does mum. That’s what she’s all about. We’re in a really good place – springtime was magical, summer was really good – we’ve got a great crop of hay so she’s in her happy place with a full hay barn.

How do the family fare in terms of constructive criticism? Do you take their feedback on board?

I’m very open to everyone’s suggestions. When we film, we will always 100% go for what makes people comfortable and things just happen organically. At the end of it, when I’m in the edit, it can get quite brutal as we’ve filmed so much stuff yet only have a small amount of time to show it in. We could have easily shot five series with what we filmed this time round!

The first episode takes us right to the heart of lambing season. How do you come up with names for all the lambs and do you take it in turns to name them? Have any names been vetoed?

What tends to happen is that you’ll give a name to an animal that’s made an impact for some reason. With all the sheep, you won’t go off and name them all but the first one out this time round, Molly named Bonnie which was perfect. If there’s one struggling for extra care and attention, you’ll end up naming those. It’s difficult to know who’s going to need a name! In the last series when the tup came, Molly came with us, and as we were driving back through the dale, Molly said ‘Dale! That’s a perfect name’ so we went with that.

There seems to be a real appetite for farming focussed TV shows at the moment. Do you watch any others yourself? And how do you feel about Jeremy Clarkson now getting involved?

Any telly is good telly when it’s on about our world. It’s all about welcoming people in and offering them an insight. Jeremy Clarkson’s show really highlighted a lot of the struggles farmers have and to take that approach of questioning things and constantly being surprised is actually really helpful for the farming industry. It just shows how challenging and difficult it can really be. So, hats off to Clarkson for doing that. Our Yorkshire Farm with Amanda Owen is great too. It’s interesting as Countryfile was a trailblazing programme – there was no rural TV on a primetime slot back then and suddenly there was a raft of it being commissioned left, right and centre off the back of the success of Countryfile. I’m very proud of having been involved since the early days – I never questioned whether it would be a success, I knew it would be. This is my world, I’m very passionate about it, and if people want to get involved and do it too, then I’ll support them every step of the way.

Do you think the amount of farming shows are a positive thing for the UK farming industry in terms of encouraging young people to think about careers in agriculture?

Yes. It’s difficult to be a landowner as the price of land is incredibly high and it’s very challenging but if people are engaged with it and turn up at farms wanting to be part of it, wanting to learn, it’s great. To be fired up and excited at a young age, to find a career path and find ways of getting involved and helping out can only be a good thing. It’s a tough industry, it’s hard work, it’s not the idyllic life that’s sometimes portrayed – it’s full on. If people can get a connection to the landscape, understand why our countryside looks the way it does and be grateful that your cupboards are full because of the hard work of British farmers then that can only be good.

How are your mum and dad coping with their new celebrity status? I know you’ve talked about your mum being spotted at a chicken show she went to recently.

They love it! Mum and dad love talking to people anyway. Mum’s started an Instagram account from the farm which she’s enjoying, and I think they both enjoy the fact people are really liking the programme. She’s always been very family orientated. People have also seen her as an inspiration, although she’d never see herself like that, but for her to feel a bit of that love is a good thing. My dad really comes into his own this series, he’s hilarious in some of the builds we do. When they see it go out, they understand how what we did has turned into what’s on air. The whole family have never done anything like this before and I’m so proud of every single one of them. I absolutely love filming with them, I really do.

Can you give us any hints as to what Christmas is like with the Bakers?

Christmas is all about food, togetherness, games, fun and all very traditional. There’s a lot of feeding up, roaring fires, highlighting the Radio Times, fairy lights everywhere and a lot of decorations! Wherever we go, we try and buy a Christmas decoration, even when it’s not Christmas, so our tree tells our story so to speak. Christmas isn’t a day for us – I love having a Christmas Day round different relatives’ houses. There always was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing but I loved it.

As well as starring in, directing, and producing OFITD, you’ve also got your first book out and have several other projects on the go. Do you ever get any downtime?! And if so, how do you like to relax?

Painting! It’s the only thing that forces me to stop and sit down as you can’t really paint on the move. I like playing music – piano, guitar, that’s the fastest way for me to relax. We’ve got a piano in the hallway and as I walk past, I’ll sit down and play something. It’s not necessarily a recognisable piece of music, I’ll just make it up, play away and then head off to what I’m doing. I do that spontaneously quite a lot.

We can’t do an interview with you Matt without asking if you’re backing anyone in particular on Strictly this year?

Yes, Rose Ayling-Ellis from EastEnders! What a performance she gave in that first episode, she blew me away. She’d been dancing for about 30 seconds and I turned to Nicola and said, ‘there’s the winner, she is absolutely phenomenal.’ Just to witness the way she was feeling! I found it so emotive, so beautiful on so many levels – that’s what dance is about. It just seemed to transport me to another place. I hope she can keep it up, I just want her to keep doing what she’s doing.

And finally, can you tell us what you’re up to next? We’ve heard rumours about a pantomime…

There’s an arena panto! I’m going out around the country to some of the UK’s biggest venues and I’m the wizard in The Wizard of Oz… in green sequins! So yes, join us on the yellow brick road. I might be doing a bit of gymnastics. It’s going to be a lot of fun.