What happened when Jeremy Clarkson swapped fast lane for farm life?

From Top Gear to top of the crops! What happened when Jeremy Clarkson swapped the fast lane for farm life? He planted the seeds of a new TV triumph, thanks to an even ruder sidekick, a long-suffering girlfriend… and a tractor bigger than his ego

This has to be the worst elevator pitch for a TV show… in the world. Slightly decomposing, 61-year-old petrolhead buys farm in 2008, parties hard with Chipping Norton Set, and 11 years later has a road-to-Damascus conversion on the M4 about his direction in life.

After years of burning rubber, he hears the call of the wild, and when his farm manager retires in 2019 he takes the objectively mad decision to farm the 1,000 acres of arable land on his own, just ahead of the wettest winter for a century, despite knowing zip about agriculture and having renamed his farm ‘Diddly Squat’ in reflection of the land’s main feature — it’s total lack of productivity.

The result? A ruddy, muddy triumph!

Every word that comes out of Jeremy Clarkson’s mouth is funny, and our appealingly cack-handed leading man has a dream supporting cast of everyday countryfolk

Every man and his dog tells Clarkson that the monster tractor, an over-engineered Lamborghini, is too big

After years of burning rubber, he hears the call of the wild, and when his farm manager retires in 2019 he takes the objectively mad decision to farm the 1,000 acres of arable land on his own

Clarkson’s Farm is perfect telly: educational, entertaining, funny, even moving. I can see why Amazon Prime commissioned eight episodes and viewers are already begging for a second series.

Every word that comes out of Jeremy Clarkson’s mouth is funny, and our appealingly cack-handed leading man has a dream supporting cast of everyday countryfolk: there’s bleach-blond farm boy Kaleb Cooper, a son of the soil who knows all the fields by name, and who went to London once and didn’t like it (too many people).

Charlie Ireland, the reliably measured farm manager who sits Clarkson down and tells him his farmer’s starter pack of tractor, cultivator, trailer, new drill and sprayer will cost a cool quarter of a million, leading to our anti-hero ‘firing up his chequebook’ and heading to a sale of lethal rigs that looks like a ‘medieval funfair’.

Not to mention Clarkson’s leggy Irish girlfriend Lisa Hogan.

I can’t explain how gripping it is watching Clarkson drill seed in field after field, cutting corners and being yelled at by a composed young man a third his age. Or how pleasurable it is seeing him in his new habitat, poring over sprouting seed and Farmer’s Weekly in his man-shed. Or the drama when every man and his dog tells Clarkson that the monster tractor, an over-engineered Lamborghini, is too big.

There’s just one problem. So popular is the programme that fans are now queuing for miles to visit the farm shop, with police called to ease the congestion.

As the granddaughter and daughter of farmers, I found Clarkson’s Farm utterly compulsive, and inspiring, and sad — because part of me knows how this movie ends.

At his side is his girlfriend Lisa Hogan, the beauty to his craggy, weather-beaten charm. The Irish mother-of-three, 51, started off as an actress, and now works as a sculptor

The farm’s name, Diddly Squat, is, he says, a reference to how much money it makes

I know how the struggle for British farmers too often availeth all too little; my grandfather held a farm sale in 1969 and described it as ‘the saddest day of his life’ — and the family farm in Exmoor is managed by my father but tenant-farmed.

There’s no end of jeopardy and tragedy among the gambolling lambs and rolling fields. With this farm, Clarkson has taken on the challenge of his lifetime; biblical deluges, a stroppy girlfriend, and a predatory invasion of flea beetle (and that’s only episode one).

Frankly, Clarkson’s Farm-ageddon has more character, incident and plot than most box sets and I’m here for it till the cows (and his escaped sheep) come home.

So just what is Clarkson’s Farm, what does he sell in that besieged shop — and how can a man more used to handling a gear stick find his way around a sheep? BETH HALE has the farming lowdown . . .

MEETING HIS MATCH in salt-of-the-earth Kaleb 

When Kaleb returns to discover Clarkson has not planted the seeds in the correct order, it’s comedy gold

The breakout star has to be farmhand Kaleb Cooper, pictured, a straight-talking 22-year-old who looks like a young Boris Johnson.

With Clarkson facing potential ruin running his own farm, it is Kaleb, who worked on the farm with the previous farmer, who puts him in his place. He spends six hours teaching Clarkson how to drill seeds into a field to ensure a bumper harvest of wheat and barley. But, typically, Clarkson ignores his instructions.

When Kaleb returns to discover Clarkson has not planted the seeds in the correct order, it’s comedy gold. ‘What have you done?’ he cries. ‘When I come to spray it and fertilise how do I know where to drive? That’s as straight as a roundabout.’ ‘I’ll do it properly now or is it too late?’ asks a cowed Clarkson. ‘Oh, it’s too late. You’re pretty much screwed,’ states Kaleb.

In another memorable scene, Clarkson begins: ‘I’ve got a choice. I could either go back to London and resume my new life…’

Before he has a chance to finish, Kaleb says: ‘Yeah, do that.’

His new-found fame has seen Kaleb gain 80,000 followers on Instagram, and he gets stopped for pictures in the street. Clarkson says of him: ‘He’s an absolute superstar . . . He dresses like a 60-year-old, and he’s the least woke person I’ve ever met — he tells me I’ve f***ed up on an hourly basis. His wife gave birth to a baby boy in March and I’m really glad because it was a day off from being shouted at for me.’

SO, WHAT IS CLARKSON’S FARM?

The premise of the show lays in Clarkson’s valiant efforts to prove he can become a farmer — a profession of which he has pitifully little experience. Cue battles galore with an abundance of mud, a flock of errant (and costly) sheep, and a sharp-shooting farmhand. The first five minutes of episode one sees him declare: ‘The most important job of all is planting wheat and barley in all these big fields. How do you do that? No idea. Honestly. I have absolutely no clue.’ Countryfile it is not.

Clarkson has actually owned his 1,000-acre patch of prime Cotswolds land — sandwiched between Chipping Norton and Chadlington, and just down the road from David Cameron’s country pad — since 2008, but the farming bit was done by a farmer from the nearby village, until he announced he was retiring in 2019.

And so Clarkson, with the braggadocio of the best part of quarter of a century wrestling cars over miscellaneous terrain, took over.

The farm’s name, Diddly Squat, is, he says, a reference to how much money it makes. It’s a fairly typical arable farm, but viewers also get to witness Clarkson taking on a flock of sheep and building his own farm shop.

Celebrity fans include Kirstie Allsopp, who says: ‘I thought he would be making a mockery of farming and generally a**ing about but he is really passionate about it. Clarkson’s Farm has done more to explain how hard work farming is than Countryfile has managed in 33 years. It should be required viewing for every Year 8 child.’

THE RIGHT-HAND WOMAN

It’s not just Clarkson turning his hand to farming. At his side is his girlfriend Lisa Hogan, the beauty to his craggy, weather-beaten charm. The Irish mother-of-three, 51, started off as an actress, and now works as a sculptor.

The pair’s relationship went public in early 2017, coming after his break up with his former mistress Phillipa Sage. Phillipa was accused of having an affair with the broadcaster — then married to second wife Frances Cain — in 2011 while working alongside him on Top Gear. Clarkson and Frances went on to split in 2014.

Like the show’s farmhands, Lisa is not one to be cowed by the bombastic presenter. In one scene she gives him short shrift when she discovers that rather than a pond to attract more animal life to the farm, Clarkson has, in fact, created a muddy quagmire.

‘What the f*** are you doing up here?’ she erupts. ‘It’s a wetland area,’ retorts Clarkson.

‘Holy s***, Jeremy! What are you gonna do with all this soil? Nothing’s going to come and live here!’ she responds.

And she’s vital to the show for more than just her camera presence. Thanks to the pandemic, for much of the series she had to become camerawoman. She also witnessed both the moment Clarkson gets stung on the bottom by a bee, and when a truculent sheep catches him with a well-aimed kick to the groin. Singing her praises, Clarkson says she has ‘worked her socks off’ in the farm shop. ‘I think she’s really enjoying doing that, because she’s even less of a country girl than I am . . . and yet there she is with her filthy Doc Martens on, stomping around, running that farm shop and loving it’.

THE REST OF THE FLOCK

There’s also adviser ‘cheerful’ Charlie Ireland — who helps Clarkson negotiate the apparently endless red tape that comes with farming — and shepherdess Ellen Helliwell, who educates him as to getting to grips with his flock of 75 sheep (including two rams Wayne Rooney and Leonardo DiCaprio). Or at least she tries.

‘Ordinarily, for the lambing, we would have had a number of people there to help . . . but because of Covid, we couldn’t have anybody,’ said Clarkson in a recent interview. ‘So, I had to do it all night long, and I had no idea what I was doing. 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.’

Completing the line-up is dry-stone wall whizz Gerald Cooper, 72, who has been working on the farm for 50 years and whose thick country accent often confounds his co-star.

ONCE A PETROLHEAD…

He may have had to forgo his supercars, but what’s a petrolhead going to do when looking for wheels at an agricultural auction? Splash out on a Lamborghini tractor, of course.

‘I have 40 forward gears and 40 reverse gears,’ he chirrups excitably of the ten-ton monster. The problem is, the European hitch is not compatible with British farming equipment and Jeremy cannot understand the onscreen instructions (it’s come from Germany). Plus, as Lisa points out, it’s so big it doesn’t fit in the barn. Rather than ditch his new toy, Clarkson builds a bigger barn. Kaleb’s view? ‘It is the worst tractor anyone could have. It is in the shed now where it should stay and rot.’

SHOWING HIS SOFTER SIDE

His screen presence might typically be larger than life, but what captures viewers is Clarkson’s surprisingly heart-on-sleeve approach to the task at hand.

There’s no faking his worry as the autumn floods of 2019 threaten his crops and then, eight months into filming, coronavirus brings lockdown. Most of the crew had to depart, leaving Clarkson and Lisa filming themselves.

Clarkson offers a glimpse of just how much this project matters when it won’t stop raining for six days, which means less time to sow seed.

Each day he’s late costs him tons and tons of yield from each field — which in turns costs him tens of thousands of pounds.

‘The situation now, I’d call it desperate,’ he says, as he prays for the rain to stop.

Then there’s the moment when the tough guy persona crumbles as he takes three sheep to the abattoir, and we see him crying in his car. ‘They’d been ruinously expensive. But these belligerent, sex-mad, illness machines had brought a lot of joy to the farm,’ he says. ‘I’d grown to love having them around.’ What a softie. Well, at least until he ate them in a hearty shepherd’s pie . . .

WHAT ABOUT THE CASH?

It doesn’t look like Diddly Squat will be growing Jezza’s millions any time soon; it’s not giving too much away to reveal that in episode eight, Clarkson is told his profit for the year is £144.

He does know how to spend though, splurging £40,000 on that tractor, then tens of thousands more on other equipment. On a whim he spends £11,000 on 78 sheep, then £2,000 on a fence to keep them in.

Yet Amazon did strike a £160 million production deal for The Grand Tour (with Clarkson and his co-presenters rumoured to have made £8 million in profits from the company they set up together, following the first season) so they are presumably paying him handsomely for this, too.

The series is Clarkson’s first solo TV venture for Amazon Prime Video, which he joined after his Top Gear stint came to an ignominious end in 2015 when he was sacked for hitting a producer.

Meanwhile, the Diddly Squat Farm Shop opened last year and has apparently been doing a roaring trade. An ’emporium of edible delights. And potatoes’, declares the website.

However, it didn’t have a smooth start. In March, Clarkson wrote: ‘My shop had only been open a few days when we received a stern letter warning us that our rather lovely ice cream had been made from the juice of cows that lived eight miles away, in Gloucestershire, and that this contravened a clause that said that we could only sell produce from West Oxfordshire.

‘Since then we’ve been told that the roof is the wrong colour, that the sign is 0.3 of a metre too wide, that we aren’t allowed to sell teas and coffees, that the gingham covering on the straw bales contravenes Covid regulations, that the car park is a road safety hazard, that the sausage rolls are wrong in some unfathomable way, and that if we were allowed to sell beer, yobbos would come and urinate in the graveyard.’

As well as the usual farm shop fare — which comes from the farm and ‘our neighbours in the Cotswolds’ — it sells hamburgers and draught beer. Not to mention a candle inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow’s infamous vagina candle called ‘This smells like my b******s’. Some things are forever Clarkson.

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