Five minutes with Desmond MacCarthy of Normal for Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 16:21 18 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:37 18 July 2017
Desmond MacCarthy, the eccentric tweed-clad gentleman farmer with some of the most recognisable eyebrows in Britain, is back for series two of Normal For Norfolk bringing the spotlight back to East Anglia.
We caught up with Desmond after the first episode of the new series on BBC2 to see what viewers have to look forward to.
Q: You’ve been running Wiveton Hall in North Norfolk since your early 30s. Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
A: Well, it’s a lovely place and I’ve always been rather busy here, yes, so I have been happy doing what I am doing. But of course there are always moments when you dream of doing something else, but quite quickly you become unemployable.
Q: Do your two children hope to follow in your footsteps?
A: Up to a point, up to a point, it’s quite a question of... nowadays farms have to be diversified and they often need to be on quite a larger scale than mine are, so following on is - well, up to a point - is a marvellous thing, but an awful lot of young people decide they don’t want to do it.
Q: Part of your show is about the financial struggles of running Wiveton, so you’re looking to diversify and modernise a bit?
A: The latest thing we’re doing is a maize maze and we’re also doing glamping because we are lucky to be right on the coast. We’re not trying to be overly clever but we’re doing what seems sensible. We’re trying to make a quite an expensive to run property economically viable. You’ve got to be sensible. So, a little bit of glamping, yes. I mean if you’ve got several things bringing in five or ten thousand pounds, five things bringing in £10,000, that’s £50,000, quite a lot of money. As long as it’s all profit. A lot of things aren’t, quite easy to lose money.
Q: You’re doing yoga retreats as well?
A: Well, that’s a sort of add-on to our holiday lettings. I don’t run the yoga retreats. I’ve done it once or twice but I haven’t got the patience. I fall asleep.
Q: The Wiveton Hall Cafe is a successful venture which Delia Smith praised as having some of the best food in Britain - do you help at all in the kitchen there?
A: I used to help out on the cook’s day off when we started and it was a good experience, it was a bit like an episode out of a film called Ratatouille.
Q: What are your thoughts on the second-home brigade, people buying second homes in the country and only using them at weekends?
A: I think essential really but I mean it’s really to do with choice. I wish it wasn’t quite so top heavy and I wish property prices weren’t so high. I don’t judge people on being second home owners but there’s the fact of all over rural England, well rural England has changed dramatically, there aren’t jobs in rural England any more because everyone’s become more mechanised and supposedly more sophisticated, so a cottage where a forester or a game keeper of a gardener or farm worker lived have all now got a BMW or Mercedes outside. The farmer, or the owner of the cottage who rents it out, if he does rent it, is very pleased with the high rent he can charge or the vast amount he’s sold the cottage for.
Q: What about those bringing in money from the city to the country?
A: They do go to pubs, they do go to shops but... It’s all a bit fad, and it’s sad. But it’s changing ways. I mean, a lot of people show interest having come from a town they then actually enjoy the beauty and changing seasons of the country and then get involved in country ways. They may start by going walking and then go fishing or pursue other more interesting country sports, which is very nice. There’s no point going somewhere, whether it’s the Alps or Norfolk, it’s nice to get involved. Some people are perhaps too tired after their hard work in the city number crunching or whatever they do. But other people have got energy and want to get involved.
Q: You mentioned the maize maze and glamping - they sound like a lot of hard work?
A: The maize maze we have pondered for many years, but Kim who works here has bullied me into it. I don’t really like change, but we’ve been growing fruit for a long time and we grow crops, Barley, which I have to say hasn’t made any money for the last few years because the price is so poor, so it’s not a great loss to try a different crop. The maize maze concept, we’re in a good position. It’s extraordinary the technology, someone designs it, it’s superimposed onto some sat-nav, satellite, they mark it out with some device and you spray a mark on the ground and you chop out the plant. It’s growing now, we are in the hands of the Gods, but it’s growing nicely and we’re going to try it for the first time tomorrow.
Q: So you haven’t had a go, then?
A: No I don’t want to - I find there’s a lot to do, I don’t want to waste too much time. There’s a tower in the middle, where you’ll get a bit of a view out across the land. And then in winter it will be shared by pheasants. Some of it will cut down and silage will be made of it for feeding cattle and some will be left to grow to be a lovely habitat for pheasants until they’re rudely disturbed one afternoon.
Q: Do you have any reservations about people getting to see you on screen?
A: If there were things that... if you couldn’t cope with being seen, then I shouldn’t have done it. There’s nothing particularly outlandish that has gone on and I wanted to show and share some of the things we have to do to keep a big house going and that’s very interesting. It’s a beautiful house architecturally and you have to make these places work and I don’t mind showing that. And also I’ve got views on how we need to manage nature - we can’t leave it to nature any more. Things need to be done, managed. Also I want to show the fun that you can have - we try and create a bit of fun. I get bored quite quickly. I like to move onto something that’s more interesting.
* Normal For Norfolk is on BBC2 on Mondays at 10pm.