TV’s Kate Humble heading for Norfolk
- Credit: Archant
The Springwatch star is appearing online with Jarrold this month, talking about her new book – A Year of Living Simply.
Back in January, when coronavirus was still a little-known disease half a world away, Kate Humble went into a lockdown. As self-confessed master of the art of procrastination, it was time for the TV presenter to knuckle down and get her next book written.
“I get myself into a terrible state,” she laughs down the phone from her smallholding on the Welsh/English border. “At the moment I’ve got three articles I’m supposed to have written. The dogs start begging not to be walked and I clean the chickens out. I find endless distractions....”
So she holed up at a studio at a remote farm in west Wales “and wrote and wrote.”
“What I tend to do is remove myself from polite society,” she says. “My husband was allowed to visit for one night and that was it. If I wake up at 4am, I write. I eat at weird times. I go a bit feral.”
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The result was A Year of Living Simply, which explores how a more back to basics approach to life can make us feel happier and more fulfilled. And when she was writing, without an inkling of the year had in store, little did Kate know just how apposite her words would be.
As Kate, known for her appearances on nature programmes including Springwatch and Autumnwatch, explains, the catalyst for the book was a series of bereavements.
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“I think it was more of a creeping realisation that snuck up on me. I was conscious of wanting to make, not a really big change, but a subtle shift in my priorities. And then the real impetus came at the beginning of last year when four very special people in my life died in quick succession: my Dad, my Father in Law and the mothers of two really good friends who I knew and was really fond of. You realise that life is finite and you have one crack at it and the one thing we should all try and do is be happy and fuflilled. And for me that meant acting on my feeling that my priorities were not quite in order.”
Like with a lot of things in her life, Kate started out by making a list.
“Life felt more complicated than it needed to be,” she says. “I started out thinking about what I would change, but I realised that a better question to ask is ‘why’ change. When you have the why, it makes the how easier.”
Materially, many of us have more possessions than our ancestors could have imagined. Thanks to technology we are more connected than ever. And yet numerous surveys have found that it doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness.
So in the book Kate started to think about what she really enjoyed, but never seemed to spend enough time doing. A keen environmentalist, one of the other areas she considered was how she could reduce her impact on the planet and the amount of resources she was using by learning to repair and repurpose items like previous generations might have done.
“I have a garden and we spent a long time creating a vegetable patch, but I didn’t spend enough time in it. I looked at the resources around me and thought ‘how can I use them better in a way that will make me fully happy’? You can feel a bit disconnected and that we are like flotsam and jetsam being cast around.”
And, just as many people discovered during lockdown, spending time in nature, was a huge source of joy for Kate.
“During lockdown, people felt that they wanted to do solid, fundamentally life affirming things that made them feel like they had some semblance of control. And the things people turned to during lockdown are things that I turned to to feel a better sense of purpose and contentment, such as baking.
“Being in green spaces is very healing and I have got three dogs who need walking and I am very, very, very lucky. There wasn’t a moment of the day during lockdown when I didn’t say a silent thank you for allowing me to be in the circumstances I was in.
“I can stand in my greenhouse and look at the seedlings for an unnatural amount of time and know I had been a part of bringing them to life and it’s a fantastic feeling. I can go out and pick flowers from my garden and put them in a jam jar. I’ve got friends coming this weekend and I still feel a little bit nervous about making proper bread, but the woman who taught me gave me the recipe for a totally idiot proof loaf I know I can make in 45 minutes. I get the pleasure of making it, it requires a little bit of mixing, it doesn’t matter if it looks like a cowpat, and I get such a sense of pride when I put it on the table and people say ‘oh my goodness, I want the recipe’.”
And Kate is keen to build on those life-affirming habits.
“There are some things I need more practice with. I’m not good a fixing things – I’m good with heavy jobs, like mucking out and cutting logs and although I learned to be less scared of power tools, that’s a work in progress. And sewing, I have a pathological fear of sewing, which I forced myself to address. I had a really happy afternoon in a sewing group repairing a favourite jumper that had holes in. Top of my list is to make a patchwork quilt – a shop near me does courses.
“So there are some things I’ve absolutely adopted, and some things I want to keep learning and some things that I’m not doing that often, like washing by hand.”
Kate began her television career as a researcher and her CV also includes Animal Park, which is returning to Longleat for a Christmas special, Lambing Live and Back to the Land.
During lockdown she was busy with several TV projects, including a show which put her fledgling repair skills to the test.
“Unexpectedly I was very busy doing five different series. My husband is a cameraman and director and we ended up doing a lot of work and I was very grateful to get to do some lovely projects, including Weekend Workshop for Discovery, which was about upcycling.
“I had to get over my fear of power tools,” she laughs. “It was a programme so in tune with the book I had just written, about repairing, recycling and finding a new purpose for things.”
And alongside the launch of her book, which includes an online event with Jarrold on September 28, she will also shortly be filming a new series of the Channel 5 show A Country Life for Half the Price, which will include a trip to Norfolk, a county which she knows well.
“I did Springwatch at Pensthorpe, I’ve done lots of filming on the coast. It is a very beautiful part of the world. My husband also has good friends who farm there and I find myself there fairly often. And I’ve never seen mad March hares boxing anywhere better than Norfolk.”
An Evening With Kate Humble at Jarrold is being held online on Monday, September 28 at 6.30pm. Tickets cost £20 and include a signed hardback copy of A Year of Living Simply, special discounts on Kate’s previous titles and a chance to put questions to her online during the event.
See jarrold.co.uk for more information.
A Year of Living Simply is out now.