BBC’s Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace
"We’ve also got the world’s largest ice cream parlour, where you’ll see around 60 different ice cream makers!"
BBC’s Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace will be brought to life through a huge variety of hands-on activities, talks, interactive features and technology displays. Thousands of visitors are expected to attend the inaugural event at Oxfordshire’s greatest country house, so we thought it was only right that we spoke to show director Tim Etchells to get some insider knowledge on what’s in store.
What sort of things can we look forward to seeing at the show?
Well, first of all there’ll be a big arena that will accommodate 5,000 people, and we’ll create a special Countryfile live show which will feature the presenters and have a journey and a storyline.
The show will repeat throughout the day and our guests will get access to that as part of the entry price. There will be country show favourites like gun dogs, ferrets and falconry, and we’ve also got some fun new things, like the world’s largest ice cream parlour, where you’ll see around 60 different ice cream makers!
The food area will focus very much on what we call ‘food heroes’ which are your small, specialist producers, and we’re trying to create the largest gathering of those ever seen. Likewise with crafts, we’re focusing on those who design and create in the UK, and there’ll be a big ‘crafts in action’ area where you can see crafts happening live. There’ll also be the opportunity to explore Blenheim’s great woodlands either on a bike or on foot. We’ll be creating a massive village green where there’ll be tugs-of-war and Morris dancing, and we’re really trying to pull in as many elements of village life as we can.
Countryfile the show is obviously very much about countryside, and villages are a key part of that, so we’re working with as many villages as we can to try and get them involved with those activities and shows. On the catering side, you might see some pubs from all around the country who are doing pop-up pubs or ‘pub-ups’ as we’re going to call them, and we also have the opportunity to do really interesting things with the catering, so we’ll be avoiding your classic hot dog vans and going for some more interesting food providers. Also, lots of livestock will be there, and Adam Henson who is a presenter on the show will be creating Adam’s Farm. One of the great things about the programme is how photography and art play a part, so we’re looking to build a big tower which you can go up and take pictures of Blenheim Palace, as well as hosting art classes. We’re trying to look at all the different elements you see in the programme and bring them to life at the show.
Why have you chosen Blenheim Palace for the show?
It’s the stunning setting that Blenheim is. It’s also fit for purpose in that it successfully hosted the CLA Game Fair, and managed to get in around 150,000 people over 3 days. I took the view that our guests will be both urban and rural and very family-oriented, and after looking at our audience I discovered that within a 90-minute drive of Blenheim Palace there were around 10 million viewers or people in the same target market that view Countryfile, so it’s the perfect location.
Countryfile is based in a certain area each edition, so what have the challenges been for you in terms of adapting the show to a more venue-based format?
I think one of the challenges is that Countryfile does cover so many aspects of rural life. I’ve created numerous shows over the years, and it’s very easy to say ‘yes we’ll do a bit of that, a bit of this’ and suddenly you lose the focus of the event.
Shows based on a magazine or any publication need to have some kind of core focus and stick to core values. The challenge has really been trying to work out what the core activities will be within the event whilst being mindful that we need to develop in future years.
Countryfile is the nation’s most watched factual show. Do you feel like the pressures on your team to adapt such a popular institution?
Yes, absolutely. We have regular meetings with the production team in Bristol, and Bill Lyons, who is the executive producer, is very much involved in making sure that we create a show that maintains the values of the program. So yes, the pressure is certainly on, but it’s a challenge that I’m very excited about. We’ve been working on this project for a year and it’s still on until next August. I’ve got a team of 10 people, and I’m the event director for this show. It really is a very exciting project.
It certainly is. To keep up to date with the show’s developments, sign up to Countryfile’s newsletter at countryfilelive.com/newsletter
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