After the COVID pandemic left any 'Grand Tours' impossible to film, Jeremy Clarkson and his partner, Lisa Hogan, turned their focus to the running of Diddly Squat Farm... with very little idea of just exactly what they're doing, for their new Amazon Prime Video series Clarkson's Farm.
The adventure has led to situations including Jeremy attempting to help out during lambing season, driving a Lamborghini tractor that seems like it can't quite fit anywhere, and for Lisa, running the Diddly Squat Farm shop. For much of the show, Lisa is as much behind the camera as she is in front, while filming her partner's attempts to become a dab hand as a farmer.
For our exclusive HELLO! Spotlight cover, the pair have opened up about pulling together to make the farm a success, their favourite thing about the countryside, and how the simple life has changed them both...
First things first. Jeremy, what made you want to run a farm?
Jeremy: I’ve actually lived on the farm for many years, we had it for all sorts of inheritance tax reasons, but I was very busy with writing newspaper columns, there was Top Gear to start with and then latterly The Grand Tour, as well as other projects and shows. The farm made no money, it didn’t cost any money, it was just a nice thing to have. It was run by a chap from the village who was a farmer, and then when he was retiring, I suddenly thought, 'I can do that.'
WATCH: Jeremy and Lisa on Clarkson's Farm
Diddly Squat Farm is such a great name. How did you choose it?
Lisa: It was called Diddly Squat Farm previously because that's how much it made! We thought it worked well and wanted to keep it. We played around with another couple of names, but everyone's eyes seemed to light up when you told them it was called Diddly Squat Farm.
How was it having Jeremy at home and working on the show together?
L: Next question! [Laughs]. I'm joking! You know what, it took a little bit of time to settle into. We were both a bit anxious about getting COVID and what would happen if we did, so there was that anxiety. But we got into a routine pretty quickly.
It probably took a few weeks of saying, 'Look, we're here now,' so I did think that that would be part of the challenge. It's always nice to look forward to someone coming home, but there was none of that, not even for a day! But we did get on pretty well, we do get on well, we're both quite feisty!
And how was it working with Lisa, Jeremy?
J: She does work her socks off, she’s there in the shop now. I think she’s really enjoying doing that, because she’s even less of a country girl than I am – though she’ll probably say different. She was born in Dublin and has lived in Switzerland, Majorca, and London ... and yet there she is with her filthy Doc Martens on, stomping around, running that farm shop and loving it.
Did the two of you have any doubts when committing to making the farm work?
J: Literally everybody told me not to do it! Because farming is a vocation. You either need to be born into it or you need to go to agricultural college and learn how to do it. You can’t just say, 'I’m going to do farming.' I think John Humphrys tried to do farming – it lasted a year, and by his own admission he hated it, couldn’t do it and it was too difficult - it is phenomenally difficult!
In the show, Jeremy is worried about catching COVID. Was it a major concern for you both to stay isolated?
L: Yes definitely, Jeremy's the death-by-corona poster boy! But then my son came down for Christmas and gave it to him then. The two of them just sat in the room watching football and Jeremy literally got a headache for a couple of hours and that was it. I caught it from my daughter afterwards and the rest of us felt a lot worse. It bounced off Jeremy! We haven't had any repercussions since, but we were really worried. Everyone was really worried, no one knew if you survived if you got it at first.
How did you end up filming a lot of the content Lisa?
L: Well, COVID happened and it suddenly was quite simple to spend time in the country and film, even though it just ended up being the two of us. I ended up being the camerawoman in a very wobbly production, which was sometimes disastrous. But, like with lambing, I could just run up with my camera and Jeremy could make some mistakes!
I do plenty of home videos and Jeremy was pretty good at saying, 'Do it from this angle, this angle,' so it was just about getting as much as I could. With lambing, I was on my knees getting up close and personal, so it was quite instinctive! But it was quite wobbly, you can certainly see when the wobble cam comes in!
Disastrous moments? Tell us more...
J: Where to begin… We were very lucky in a sense because if nothing had happened you’d end up with a quite a boring programme. However, we ended up with Brexit, five separate weather records, and Covid. That’s a treble whammy coming at us. Ordinarily, for the lambing, we would have had a number of people there to help, because I don’t know how to birth a sheep but because of Covid, we couldn’t have anybody. So, I had to do it all night long, and I had no idea what I was doing.
We had Ellen, but we had to stay two metres apart. I went in the wrong hole one night. Honestly, Ellen is going, 'Can you not feel anything?' I was going, 'No, there’s nothing up here.' She’s going, 'You must be able to feel its legs.' So, I’m going deeper, and the sheep was looking at me like, 'What are you doing?' So that was all very embarrassing. I had my hand up its bum.
L: When it was raining really badly and we were trying to get the dam and some of the more natural lake features going, that was just horrendous. Everything got stuck. We tried to build a dam for three weeks. We'd build it for half an afternoon, three days a week - it was fun and there were a lot of clay fights - but it was disaster after disaster.
How was it filming over the pandemic?
L: We started filming the show in 2019 where we'd spend the odd weekend down there and keep up with the farming, but when the pandemic hit, it was a crash course on how to run it... It was all hands on deck!
The hands we normally would have had for the summer just weren't around, so it really was just us. My daughter stayed with some of our friends and they lived in a mobile home so it was distanced, and they would let the chickens out and do some planting. But it really was hands-on and hard work - but we did have good weather, which made a huge difference!
It must have been nice to have her there!
L: I don't think she would have planned to have spent so much time with her mum but I think she really enjoyed it, because she had nowhere else to go! She wasn't flying off saying, 'It's not like I don't want to see you mum, but I want to see my friends,' she was really chilled and just hung out - I really enjoyed that part of it!
Did Jeremy help you out with filming tips?
L: Oh yes, he's incredibly bossy. All the time! It's what you want, but he's used to filming so quickly and so half of the time I wouldn't even have the camera on me, let alone standing to get it right, so he'd be like, 'Right! Next one!" and I'd say, 'I've just missed that entirely.' He's very speedy so you have to be on your feet the whole time. After a while, I got used to trying to anticipate what he'd do next which made life much easier - and there's more time for a drink at the end of the day!
Did you see a different side to Jeremy?
L: I think he relaxed, even though there was a lot to do, he really, really enjoyed it. When he's filming for the Ground Tour, he gets very - I wouldn't say anxious - but he cares a lot. There's that stress. But with the farming, he genuinely really enjoyed it and both of us were in it together. Some of the work was very instinctive and then he would have his 'brilliant ideas' where you are just thinking, 'No that's not gonna work.' He does have these fabulous ideas sometimes. You just think, 'It's not going to work,' but then one in ten will work perfectly and they're brilliant! The rest are just... not so great.
Like that moment where you're calling him out...
L: Oh! That's when he was destroying a part of the land with his massive tractor and there were rivets and holes and clumps out of the earth, and I was saying, 'You're really hurting the ground!' My language is appalling on the show, I got a call from my mother about that!
It's hilarious! It's fun to see your reaction to Jeremy.
L: It's weird because we spend so much time together so when we're on camera, he's probably more professional but I just speak to him as I would normally. I might have been able to be more professional if I kept it sweeter!
What the most important thing you've learned about farming?
J: Farming is just an immensely complex business, there are idyllic evenings when you find yourself leaning on a fence looking at your sheep, or stopping for a ploughman’s when you’ve been on a tractor all morning – but sitting and filling in your EU paperwork, or running an accident book isn’t great – especially not with Kaleb on the farm! Like with many jobs, you have to be so many things in order to do it.
Lisa, have you ever run a shop before?
L: I used to help out in a farm shop when I was about 11 growing up in Ireland - I loved it! It's not too difficult from there, it's getting the orders in that we think people will like, and they seem to have! [The online shop] was probably a bigger mountain to climb because I couldn't get anyone to come around and show me how the systems worked with the online stuff but luckily my daughter, who is very savvy like that, would show me everything incredibly quickly - then look at me like I was a grandmother!
What have been your favourite moments making the show?
L: I really enjoyed the perimeter walk around the farm. I think we walked for seven hours - I actually had a new pair of Doc Martens so I had to pull out early - but it was a stunning day. I really enjoyed all the lambing, I thought it was incredibly rewarding, and I loved the shop! My sister is a graphic design artist and we would chat and she helped design the logo - it was so nice to work with her on it.
Would you say you're more of a country girl at heart?
L: I keep on trying to move to London and I always end up in the country! I love London, I love it with a passion, and I try to take advantage of what it has to offer like theatres and museums, but I must be a country girl at heart because I always seem to end up there! And that's where I seem to be happiest. I have a studio in London that I try to go to once a week, and Jeremy calls it 'pavement-itis' where I just need the pavement under my feet.
Now that things are hopefully getting more back to normal, will you move back to London?
L: We're definitely committed to staying with the farm. We come to London for a day off and we'd come to the country for the weekend, so now it's reversed, and London is now like a little mini-break. There is constantly something to do on the farm, and the list gets longer and longer.
What tips do you have for others wanting to run a farm?
L: I would say to enjoy it and be prepared for a lot of hard work and a little bit of heartbreak. So much depends on the weather. And you always hear farmers talking about the weather and it really is - it really does make such a huge difference.
Where does heartbreak come into it?
L: When it doesn't stop raining and you can't get the crops in on time, and you've spent all of this money on speed, and we're high up and we couldn't do it - and just seeing other parts of the country under metres of flood, it's just heartbreaking. It's slap after slap in the face - and then we had a heatwave. It was a good year to film as it showed so many different ways of how things can go wrong.
What are you thinking about for season two?
L: We'll see if people like it and they want more! I don't know... but I think [I'd be up for it]. It depends what it was, I wouldn't say yes one hundred per cent, but it depends on what form it takes. But I love it there, I love our lives up there.
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