A few surprised friends have asked how the whole thing came about, so I thought I’d recap the story from the beginning. Back in October last year I spotted a River Cottage competition on Twitter. The competition was promoting Hugh’s new book and the #Fruitshare initiative.
We are fans of River Cottage and rather fancied the idea of a trip to the West Country. As luck would have it we also happened to have the perfect fruit related photo to enter. I’d taken it a few weeks earlier at our local Apple Day event that I was helping to organise.
I’d posed Theo on top of a pile of apples and used a huge amount of persuasion to coax him to look up towards the camera. It wasn’t an easy shot to get and took quite a bit of time to achieve. It also helped that I knew the image I was aiming for. My elderly neighbour Harry took this photo of me trying to take the picture (I was at it long enough to become a spectacle for the neighbours) and when you see the final shot it shows that angle is everything!
This twenty year break from farming meant the site was granted almost instant organic status when it became River Cottage HQ and now is farmed at a very low intensity. In fact the whole place was much less developed than I was expecting. We saw four pigs and a couple of other animals at a distance. A not enormous kitchen garden, one polytunnel, some areas of open meadow and some small plots of farmed land (the size you might have in your garden) that are used for teaching.
As we passed by a window he popped his head out and said Hello. We had shown Theo a few episodes of River Cottage before we went down to Devon and so when we jabbed him in the ribs and asked “Who’s this?” he responded with “Mr Fernley-Whittingstall!” (you’ll go far boy!)Leaving Hugh alone for a minute (and desperately resisting the urge to take a great photo of him hanging out of the window) we went over to meet chef Gill Meller who had laid out a table outside for us to make pizzas with their stone oven. As long-time homemade pizza devotees and wannabe stone oven owners this was right up our street.
If I’m entirely honest this was the part of the day I had been looking forward to least. Celebrities have a terrible habit of disappointing. I had feared Hugh might be very busy and consequently spend the time with us clock watching, looking distracted and like he rather be anywhere other than stuck with some prizewinners. But I was very wrong.We sat in the garden on benches with Gill, Hugh and his PA Jess, like a group of old friends enjoying one of the last days of the summer. Hugh hoovered up the last of Jim’s pizzas with almost indecent enthusiasm whilst Gill brought out salty caramel millionaire’s shortbread (as utterly amazing as it sounds!) and plum tray bake.
Jim had brought Hugh a bottle of the champagne cider we made with the apples last year as a gift and he seemed genuinely appreciative of it and interested in the story of the community land we made it on.
At one point one of the chefs appeared to get some books signed for course participants and spotting the photo on the book, Theo (oblivious to the real star in our presence) pointed to the cover and exclaimed “Mr Fernley Whittingstall!” As we all laughed, Hugh turned to Theo and said “Where is he, have you seen this man anywhere?”
Theo knew the answer immediately and pointed back to the window we had seen him at earlier “Over there!” he said. More laughter from everyone and then the penny dropped and suddenly he realised “It’s you!!” he exclaimed.