ADAM HENSON, the farmer and Countryfile presenter, was driving Land Rovers around his father’s Gloucestershire farm from the age of eight. He graduated to tractors and other farm machinery at the age of 13 and by 17 was an accomplished driver — but it still took him four attempts to pass his test.
“I didn’t know the whole ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ thing,” says Henson, now breezily driving around his 1,600-acre farm in a brand new top-of-the-range Discovery. “I didn’t even have a lesson before my first test. I had to find my dad on the farm to take me to the test centre and he was covered in sheep shit and wearing wellies. I think the test guys failed me before I even got in the car.”
Henson, now 51, grew up on the farm he still runs today, although it has more than trebled in size over the years, and he is quick to point out that he is a tenant, not the owner. It was while “almost going bankrupt” during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in livestock in 2001 that Henson entered a contest to find a new Countryfile presenter. Then, the programme had about 2.5m viewers in its Sunday morning slot. Today, shown on BBC1 on Sunday evening, it regularly attracts between 8m and 9m: “Countryfile is bigger than X Factor, and John Craven is more famous than Simon Cowell,” says Henson, pausing the Discovery to point out a fluffy Highland heifer and a huge pile of “human biscuit” — dried-out, odourless excrement used for fertiliser.
Henson has had the seven-seater 4×4 — on loan from Land Rover — for only a couple of days but drives it as nonchalantly as if it were the battered family pick-up. He likes functional cars — “I don’t crave to own a Ferrari” — loathes traffic jams and could never live in London.
Funnily enough, it was in Northwood, on the northwestern edge of the capital, where his father, Joe, first caught the farming bug. The illegitimate son of Harriet Collins, a chorus girl known by the stage name Billie Dell, and Leslie Henson, then a star of stage and screen, Joe spent his childhood helping out at a local farm and fantasising about becoming a farmer.
He realised his dream in 1962, renting 450 acres that are still part of the farm today, and later opening the Cotswold Farm Park, a visitor attraction of rare British breeds.
“We tried hitching around New Zealand but we could never get a ride, so we bought a little Morris Minor”
As a child, Henson, who has three older sisters, idolised his father and “was just always following him out of the door pulling on my wellies”.
Aged 18, he bought an Austin Allegro to get him through agricultural college, then went travelling with a friend (now his business partner). “We tried hitching around New Zealand but we could never get a ride, so we bought a little Morris Minor — we had to tow a tanker behind it, it lost so much oil,” says Henson. “Then in Australia we bought a Ford Falcon (XB), a fantastic six-cylinder car; made a lovely noise.”
Then it was back home to a Toyota Carina and life on the farm, where he settled down with his childhood sweetheart, Charlotte, and had two children, Ella and Alfie, now aged 19 and 15.
When he was chosen as a television presenter, he was again following in the footsteps of his father, who, as a result of his passion for rare breeds, appeared on various animal-related TV shows, alongside the likes of Johnny Morris.
Joe died in 2015. “It was devastating,” says Henson. “It still is, but it is lovely having the farm. There are memories wherever I go. Sometimes I’ll sit and have a quiet cry somewhere.
Adam Henson: my life in cars
- 1985 Austin Allegro
- 1988 Morris Minor
- 1988 Ford Falcon (XB)
- 1989 Toyota Carina
- 1994 Subaru Impreza estate
- 2014 Range Rover Sport
- My dream car A brand new Land Rover Discovery — currently on loan from the car company: “I’m not just saying this. It really is my kind of car”