My North: Matt Baker

First published in Features

IWAS born in Easington village, actually in Thorpe Hospital, close to the village. We had a smallholding in Easington with horses and goats and I went to the local school. When I was about ten, my mum and dad bought a farm west of Durham so we moved up there and renovated the farmhouse ourselves.

Farming is a real passion of my mum’s. She studied at Houghall Agricultural College and I learnt alongside her as a young lad growing up. We tried all sorts of farming and used to have a large commercial flock of sheep and even cows at one point, but when I moved away mum wanted to cut the workload back a bit and decided to concentrate on a smaller pedigree flock of sheep and went organic. We still have goats and a Shetland pony.

I live down in Hertfordshire now, with my wife and two children, but we do get back up to the North-East whenever we can and we try to base ourselves at the farm for some parts of the year.

I’ve always been surrounded by animals but when I was 14 I went to sheepdog training classes run by Derek Bowmer, in Catterick, North Yorkshire, with my old dog Lace and I’ve never looked back. I now have Meg, who was on Blue Peter with me. She is a great sheepdog and works on the farm whenever we are back.

I actually wanted to be a physiotherapist but I did really badly in my exams. At college I was in a production of Grease and really enjoyed it. After that my teachers said I should do drama so I swapped and ended up at drama school in Edinburgh. I was there for 18 months when I heard about a presenting vacancy on Blue Peter and the rest, as they say, is history.

I also work for BBC Sport. I was a junior gymnastic champion and trained at Middlesbrough and over at the Sports Acrobatic centre, just west of Durham, in Ushaw Moor. I present Open Country on Radio 4, but my main job now is Countryfile which is doing really well since its move to Sunday evenings. It’s great to show people of all ages what the British countryside is like. It just shows you how keen people are to see grassroots Britain as Countryfile is now BBC1’s number one factual programme.

My favourite pastime

I don’t really have much time for hobbies, but I do enjoy drawing and taking photographs.

My favourite view/walk

I did a programme a while back called In Search Of England’s Green and Pleasant Land and I went all around the North-East from the back of our farm up to the Borders and there are some incredible views along the way. However, I think my favourite view is just as you turn off the A68 towards the farm. You can see right across the valley and I know I’m home.

My favourite walk is just walking around the farm.

We have 20 acres of ancient woodland and have been doing quite a lot of work to regenerate the woodland and provide an ideal habitat for some of the endangered woodland birds in the North-East. There’s nothing like going down there and seeing those birds, knowing that what you have done has given them a chance.

My North-East icon

My iconic North-East structure would have to be the Tyne Bridge at night, framing the regenerated Quayside, possibly surveying it from The Baltic restaurant with its beautiful food and unrivalled view from the loos!

My proudest achievement

I suppose it would have to be taking the bull by the horns and ringing up the editor of Blue Peter in the first place, leading to my first TV job. My life would have been very different if hadn’t made that phone call and I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m also proud of plucking up the courage to initially speak to my wife. My children would have to be my finest creation, but I can’t really class them as an achievement as they are not the finished product yet.

My greatest passion

My passion is my family and that is why I do what I do.

I work hard for them. I’m also passionate about our home and I like DIY and creating the best house I can to live in.

What I like most about the North-East

It has to be the people. With my own family now I would really like for them to grow up in the North-East and have the values of a North-Easterner… and even the accent. It’s a very different place to the south and somewhere I feel very comfortable. I really miss living here.

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