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Celebrity Health – Kate Humble

Image of Kate Humble © Clare Richardson

TV presenter Kate Humble speaks to Liz Parry about her new book which explores a more fulfilling way of living

As the presenter of shows such as Springwatch and Autumnwatch, Lambing Live and Back to the Land, Kate Humble is very much at home in the great outdoors. Kate lives with her husband Ludo on a smallholding in Wales, with their three dogs and a variety of livestock. Together the couple run Humble by Nature, a rural skills centre on a working farm near Monmouth in the Wye Valley. Kate’s latest book, A Year of Living Simply, explores the route to long-lasting happiness through simple pleasures like growing vegetables, baking bread and mending clothes. Throughout the book, Kate meets a variety of inspiring people who are living eco-friendly, sustainable, healthy and, most importantly, happy lives.

Q Do you think that since the Covid-19 pandemic more people have wanted to switch to living simpler lives with less stress?

Kate: Yes, I think they have. What was really interesting to me was our response, as a society, when lockdown took hold and what it was that we looked for as a kind of solace. It was simple things like walking, baking, making things, doing crafts and growing stuff. Suddenly social media was full of pictures of people's sourdough bread or their vegetable patches. People were going for walks and taking pictures of the blossom because they had time to do that. And although it was enforced, they had time in their lives to actually notice these things and try these things. I think a lot of people derived a huge amount of pleasure and satisfaction from that. I think people also developed a sense of worth and a sense of self-reliance that perhaps we didn’t have before because we would always look to external things like buying new clothes or going to restaurants. Suddenly, when we couldn’t do those things, we looked for affirmation elsewhere, and this came from those very earthy, comforting pastimes.

Q How was your own experience of lockdown?

Kate: One of the things that I appreciated more than anything, and probably one of the things that allowed me to feel relatively unaffected by lockdown, was the fact that I live in the countryside and I have livestock to look after. I still had to get up and feed my pigs, let the chickens out, collect the eggs, muck things out and get ready for lambing. All those things are very important in my life and I feel unbelievably lucky to have found a way of life that gives me so much joy.

Q In the book you talk about how you developed your own vegetable patch and the struggles to make it work. How is that going?

Kate: Well it’s still there! We’ve just planted out broad beans, peas, radishes and mangetout. The rhubarb is looking amazing. I’ve had mixed success with my veg. But it is one of my great pleasures to be able to pick something from the garden to use in my cooking. I just love that sense of achievement of sitting down to a meal that I have been partly responsible for, whether it’s a piece of meat that’s been produced on the farm or a vegetable that was grown in my garden or something that we’ve foraged. We’ve got lots of wild garlic in the woods at the moment so I used some to make some pesto a couple of days ago. I’m never going to be self-sufficient, I haven’t got the time or the skill, but there is something very lovely about being able to contribute a little bit to what you put on your dinner table.

Q You’ve always had a very outdoorsy and active lifestyle. Do you think it can be good for the soul to spend more time outdoors in nature?

Kate: There are more scientific papers about that subject than anyone seems to realise. The Romans were writing about how good it was for us to be in nature and in green spaces. So for roughly 2,000 years we have been writing about the benefits of being outdoors. For me it has always been a place of solace. If I feel anxious or stressed about something then I’ll go for a walk. It does something wonderful to your mind. It takes the focus away from the thing that is making you feel uneasy or unhappy or stressed, and somehow it seems to put things into perspective. I know I’m not alone in feeling like this.

Q Do you think the pandemic and the lockdowns made people realise how important it is to spend more time outdoors?

Kate: Yes, absolutely. We had a lot of silence during lockdown. We didn’t have the traffic, we didn’t have the aeroplanes going over. I remember talking to people who were living in cities and they were saying that they could hear birds. They had always been there, but people just couldn’t hear them, or they weren’t giving themselves the time and space to hear them.

People were getting great joy from hearing birdsong or noticing that the blossom was out on the trees and were being much more aware of seasonal changes. For me, just being able to spend a large part of every day outside, and particularly that first part of the day, that’s when I feel luckiest. If I’m working away and I’m staying somewhere where I can’t go and have an hour’s walk in the countryside before I start my day I really feel it. Today I got up at six o’clock and I was out for two and a half hours before breakfast. That’s how I start my day. It’s a great way for me to feel balanced, energised and at peace.

Q You say in the book that you find cooking therapeutic. What are some of your favourite dishes that you like to cook?

Kate: I do a mixture of things really. I love chilli so I cook quite a lot of curries. We have our wonderful chickens and ducks that produce eggs so I like to use them in my cooking. I make a lot of vegetarian food because I love vegetables. My cooking philosophy is to make healthy, simple food and give yourself time to eat and enjoy it. Enjoy it round the table – don’t eat in front of the telly.

Q Do you have any tips for how our readers could make steps towards living a simpler and more fulfilling life?

Kate: I think it is just a question of giving yourself time to understand what gives you real pleasure and what really makes you happy. Think about the things that you love. Do you like the idea of perhaps growing something? Don’t then try to grow half an acre of vegetable patch. Grow something on your kitchen windowsill. Just put a couple of seeds in a pot and watch them come up, and if you like that, go bigger. I think a lot of people don’t try things like growing or baking because they're worried that they’ll fail. I still make the worst bread in the world, but I’ve now discovered the joy of making soda bread. It’s really easy. It doesn’t need yeast and it doesn’t need endless proving and it turns out great every time. Don’t try to do something too big too quickly. Just try little things. Everything you do, you learn from, and if it doesn’t work, that’s not a failure; that’s just another bit of learning. There’s real joy in learning and discovering how to do things better. Don’t get downhearted but don’t take on something that’s too big and overwhelming that it makes you miserable. Life should be full of things that we just want to try for the sheer joy of it. And there is nothing self-indulgent about that. Happy people are much nicer people to be around, so if you can make yourself happier then you will make everyone else happier too.

A Year of Living Simply: The Joys of a Life Less Complicated by Kate Humble is published by Aster, priced at £9.99. Find out more about Kate at
Twitter: @katehumble Instagram: @kmhumble

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