How Kate Humble’s Hertfordshire beginnings influenced her career
PUBLISHED: 10:55 15 May 2017 | UPDATED: 10:56 15 May 2017
She’s made her name as one of the BBC’s best-loved wildlife presenters and has just fronted BBC2’s rural business show Back to the Land. With a book now out on our relationship with dogs, Kate Humble tells that her love of nature began young in Hertfordshire, with the smell of tomatoes
It’s not long into a conversation with Kate Humble that you realise the passion and enthusiasm that made her such a popular part of nature shows Springwatch and Animal Park isn’t just a TV persona. It materialises in almost every sentence, be it one about the benefits of walking – ‘I love it!’ or the merits of everyday British wildlife – ‘Nobody gets bored of a blue tit!’
It’s an eagerness that has made Humble a veteran of BBC science and nature programming and one of the country’s most treasured presenters. And right now, as she discusses her new book, Friend for Life: The Extraordinary Partnership Between Humans and Dogs, that infectious excitement is being served up in spades.
‘It’s a book that truly celebrates an extraordinary partnership, and an extraordinary relationship, that we humans have with an entirely different species,’ Humble explains. ‘It’s partly my personal journey of going on a real emotional rollercoaster of getting my first puppy, who happened to be a working dog, and trying to learn how to be the perfect partner to this animal.’
She says that through this journey she became more and more fascinated with how dogs have taken a role that no other animal has in human society.
‘I wanted to dig a bit deeper into that and I started looking into all the ways in which dogs have actually made themselves invaluable. Through that process I came to the realisation that as a species I don’t think we can live without dogs now.’
Humble certainly couldn’t live without her own pup – a Welsh sheepdog called Teg – but it may come as a surprise that a woman who has worked with a vast range of wildlife was daunted by the responsibility of raising an animal.
‘When you get a little bundle, as I did, of ginger and white fluff with enormous paws and peculiar eyes and a long nose, you suddenly realise that the responsibility and the future of this dog lies solely with you. If that dog doesn’t turn out right, I would bear the full brunt of that responsibility. And very quickly, within the first few months of Teg’s life, that hit me like a ton of bricks!’
Thankfully for the 48-year-old, she was not only supported by the head of the Welsh Sheepdog Society, Adelaide Jones – ‘an amazing woman’ – but she could draw on a wealth of experience working with animals during her decades-long TV career.
Way before she first gained recognition on the box, however, Humble fell in love with the English countryside during visits to her grandparents’ home in the ‘beautiful county of Hertfordshire’.
‘My grandparents lived in a rented cottage on the Ashridge estate, and in those days there was this manor house with these wonderful grounds and wonderful greenhouses,’ she recalls. ‘I remember fantastic games of hide and seek. There were these great clipped yew hedges on the estate, with tunnels, and I don’t know if they were official mazes, but when I was little they certainly felt like it!’
She also loved joining her grandfather in the greenhouses.
‘One of my favourite smells of all is tomato leaf, and it absolutely comes from that time in the greenhouses with my grandfather picking tomatoes. We also used to go out into his vegetable patch – I think the people who rented places there had an area – and pick peas and then shell them with my grandmother.’
Although Humble’s grandparents have both now passed away, Hertfordshire still holds a special place in her heart, and not just because of that life-long love of the smell of tomatoes. She credits the county with inspiring a love of and connection to nature.
‘Of growing your own food, of being aware of the seasons and the changes in the seasons, and that visceral connection to a place in a way that driving through, or just going to a pub, doesn’t.’
It’s a connection to the British climate in all its capriciousness, Humble says, that made her decade alongside Bill Oddie and Simon King as presenters of Springwatch such a fulfilling experience for both her and the programme’s legions of fans across the nation.
‘Springwatch was an extraordinary phenomenon really, and still continues to be. What it does is encapsulate all that is celebratory and wonderful about spring. Things like the daffodils coming up, the wild flowers coming out, the birds singing and chicks on branches. What Springwatch does for three weeks every year is to allow people to completely immerse themselves – wherever they live, whoever they are, whatever age they are – in this wonderful, natural event. It’s everything that people really need at that time of year. It’s life-affirming. Life is coming back and new life is appearing – it’s three weeks of joy.’
It is through programmes like Springwatch – and Humble’s current online project of allowing fans to follow her and Teg’s country walks on social media – that the presenter hopes the future of our wild spaces can be preserved and protected.
‘What became very obvious over the 10 years that I did Springwatch was that people almost felt ownership of those creatures that we followed. And I’m hoping that Walking with Teg, our little Instagram page, is my way of – I know it sounds a bit daft – connecting with the world. It is still a wonderful way of giving people that sense of connection, even if they don’t live nearby. That will help ensure the future of our countryside by making people love it.’
Friend for Life: The Extraordinary Partnership Between Humans and Dogs by Kate Humble is published by Headline, priced £9.99.