Kaleb Cooper on farm life, sheep and his new book
13th October 2023
Oxfordshire farmer Kaleb Cooper, 25, has had a busy few years since teaming up with Jeremy Clarkson and finding himself famous. Now, he has released his second book – which looks at British traditions such as cheese rolling and gravy wrestling. We caught up with Kaleb to find out more about the book, his upcoming tour, and his thoughts on the challenges facing farmers.
- What inspired the theme of your new book?
There are these British traditions that have been around for years and years, and loads of people are enjoying them every day. So I thought, why don’t I investigate and write a book about all these traditions, such as the cheese rolling, gravy wrestling and nettle eating competitions and agricultural shows?
The atmosphere at these shows – everyone’s in this bubble of excitement, all the farmers are chatting away, and it’s just amazing.
So I started – in the tractor cab, because that’s where I do my best thinking (I got a little recorder) – I started googling, asking my friends and family: “Have you ever been cheese rolling?”
I might be interested in taking part in gravy wrestling, who knows? I’m not sure about the nettle eating competition.
- What can readers expect from Britain According to Kaleb?
There’s lots of pictures in there, it’s very similar to the first book [The World According to Kaleb]. It’s basically going through regions and looking at the Scottish traditions coming down to Wales and the Midlands. It’s very much all over Britain.
I’m known for not travelling, not going very far from home, because I get a nosebleed and a little bit scared, but more importantly, I like where I live. I sat looking at all these different places and thought, I’m missing out on some of the most amazing places in Britain. And the farmland and different people, everything, so I thought, why don’t I go on tour?
- You don’t come from a farming background – what attracted you to the industry?
I got into farming by selling eggs. So, age 13, my mum bought me three chickens for my birthday. I didn’t get an Xbox, I didn’t get a PlayStation, I didn’t get an iPad, I got three chickens. I thought, I can make a business out of this, and I sold the chicken eggs and paid back my food costs, and paid myself a wage, and that’s how I started.
- What does the countryside and farming life mean to you?
I wouldn’t say [farming] is a job, for me. I think I speak for every farmer out there saying that. I don’t wake up in the morning and go “Ahh, I’ve got to go and jump on a power harrow today” or “I’ve got to go and feed the cows”. I never wake up and think that. The day I did wake up and think that is the day that I’m in the wrong job.
I’ve always said that the thing that I do, as a “job” is a way of life. As a farmer, you very much stay in the countryside all your life and witness the most amazing view I think.
- Have you been surprised by the fame you’ve experienced since Clarkson’s Farm?
I never expected it, but I think the best things happen in life when you don’t expect them.
- What are your thoughts on the challenges the industry is facing?
The weather’s very much a big part of every farmer’s life, but I think as the climate changes, it’s going to be a big challenge for farmers to adapt. But equally, farmers are the best people at adapting.
I think every farmer out there is thinking right, the weather’s gonna be bad this year, next year might be worse. I mean, we’re in October, and [seeing temperatures of] 25 degrees, it’s mad isn’t it?
So I’m just trying to think ahead now, thinking right, what am I gonna do to try and survive this winter? Who knows what’s gonna happen?
- What would your advice be to someone who wants to get into farming but is not from a farming background?
I’m not from a farming background – my mum is a dog groomer and my dad’s a carpenter. They own their own businesses, do very well and work very hard.
Getting into farming… it was really hard and I was very lucky to have that one farmer go yeah, do you want a job? I think the best bit of advice I’d give to any young person is, have a bit of courage and go and speak to that local farmer and ask him how his day is going. While he’s there, he’ll probably be working because he’s so busy, so just give him a hand lifting them gates while you’re talking to him and see if you can get a job, or just chat generally about what you’re interested in and be interested in what he/she is doing.
I think what got me [my first] job was the willingness to graft, but, more importantly, learn what the industry is all about.
I’ve always remembered, at the back of your head you can set a goal or a dream, and just remember, dreams don’t work unless you do. That’s the advice I’d give to any young farmer.
- Can you tell us about your bursary to help young farmers?
The application is open now, and it’s giving them £3,000 over three years, to help them with travel expenses and pay for courses. Luckily this year, I was thinking I’m only going be able to get one candidate, but we’ve actually got two people we can put through.
The good thing is, it doesn’t matter what grades you get – if you get straight As, brilliant; if you get Us, if you get Cs, it doesn’t matter. That’s what I like about farming, it’s open for everybody.
An apprenticeship for me worked really well. And I started doing much better in school when I started farming and working out hectares and acres and how much money I’m gonna make each week selling eggs.
- Finally, how are you feeling about your upcoming tour?
As a whole, I haven’t really thought a great deal about it, I’ve just come out of harvest. But I’m actually really excited. Of course, I’m gonna be nervous flying around but I think nerves are a good thing, because it makes you want to improve who you are as a person.
The show itself is a really fun way to put farming centre stage in the theatre; that is how I’m describing the show. Hopefully I can have a good chinwag about farmers, and if there’s any sheep farmers, I’m gonna bow to them because how do you sheep farm? Sheep are just awful creatures. Cows are just amazing, they’ve got personalities; the hairstyles are normally better than mine which is very annoying.
But, more importantly, if the general public come along to this, I hope they come out of there going, I know how milk is made, I know how wheat is done. And I hope they come out saying, “I’m gonna buy local bread actually because of all the food miles”.
Britain According to Kaleb: The Wonderful World of Country Life (published by Quercus) is available now in hardback, ebook & audio. (Hardback £20).
Information on his 2024 tour can be found here: https://www.nlp-ltd.com/kaleb/