Whether it’s presenting a new TV show, writing a book or working on her farm, Kate Humble admits none of it compares to waking up to a trio of excited little faces waiting to go for a walk. Like all animal lovers her beloved dogs Bella, Badger and Teg are at the centre of her world, and she loves nothing more than taking them out for early morning walkies in the beautiful Wye Valley.
An animal-lover for as long as she can remember Kate, 46, has worked with almost every animal imaginable, from the fluffy and four-legged to the downright dangerous. But it’s much closer to home, to the canine companions she shares her house with, that she’s turned to for her latest project.
Friend For Life is Kate’s third book, all about our boundless affection for man’s best friend. Her interest in doggie relationships began on the set of the iconic sheepdog TV show, One Man and His Dog. “I became fascinated with the partnership human beings have with dogs and developed a dream of one day having a working dog and trying to make that partnership work myself.”
Three years ago, that dream came true when sheep dog puppy, Teg, joined the Humble family.
“What I learned with a dog like Teg, who’s been bred to work, is that they get this immense satisfaction out of it. And she’s far cleverer than me. I’ve had to work to be her partner, rather than the other way around. We don’t get it right all the time but when we do, it’s just the best feeling in the world.”
There's definitely a move for what I call a digital detox. People are very conscious we all spend too much time looking at screens and somtimes forget to look up
This got Kate thinking about the other ways dogs make a difference to our day-to-day lives. “I started with a question – could we live without dogs? I interviewed a whole range of people, from military personnel who work with dogs on the front line, to guide dogs trainers, to people with diabetes who have a support dog that can tell them when they’re about to have a hyperglycaemic attack. I concluded that even if you don’t like dogs or don’t have a dog, they’re so vital to our existence, I’m not sure we could live the life we know now without them.”
That’s certainly the case for Kate. Her rural lifestyle today revolves entirely around her animals – not just dogs, but also goats, the field of native breed sheep, the gaggle of poultry, three sows and two litters of new baby piglets she looks after on her Humble by Nature working farm in Monmouthshire. Having left behind her hectic London life, she moved here with her husband of 22 years, Ludo, in 2007, returning to the countryside roots of her childhood.
“I grew up in Berkshire in the countryside in an era before anyone thought about computers or mobile phones and I’m really, really grateful I grew up then, when climbing trees and falling out of them and getting scrapes and having plasters on your knees was considered a rite of passage.”
And while Kate’s rediscovered that joy of the countryside in her new home in Wales, she wants to encourage other people to fall in love with the great outdoors. That’s why, for the second year, she’s hosting the Big Day Out, a festival held on her farm that brings together music, comedy, great food and family fun in something that she says is a cross between a little agricultural show and a village fête.
“It’s about reconnecting people with the simple joy of being outside and rediscovering things like being able to light and cook on a fire. And that proper tiredness that comes from being in the fresh air all day. At last year’s festival, someone said to me, ‘We don’t know where our kids are but we know they’re having fun’. That was brilliant; I think every child should have the opportunity to basically go feral, try new things and get mucky without their parents worrying.”
Is this all part, I ask, of our growing interest in getting back to nature, given rural shows like Countryfile are now topping the TV viewing ratings? “Yes, I think so. There’s definitely a move for what I call a digital detox. People are very conscious that we all spend too much time looking at screens and sometimes forget to look up. There’s a phrase – ‘the head-down generation’ – and you can see it just walking down the street. Yes, there are lots of things going on on YouTube and Facebook but actually real life is much more exciting – or at least I think so!
“That’s what the Big Day Out is about. We want to make people aware of the simpler things in life and that simplicity can sometimes be all you need to make you very happy.”
As for Kate, she says she’s never felt happier – and busier! She has a new series called Choose The Right Puppy starting soon, featuring dog trainer and behaviourist Louise Glazebrook. The programmes will follow several households as they discover what they need to know about caring for different breeds of dog and include advice from leading canine experts.
Then there’s a new series of Animal Park returning later this summer, a documentary about Yellowstone, Wyoming out at Christmas, and an autumn stint at the Henley Literary Festival. “I am so lucky. I live in a beautiful part of the world, have an incredible family and my lovely dogs. I can’t really imagine what else I would want.”
- Friend For Life is out on May 26 (Headline, rrp, £16.99)
- The Big Day Out runs from July 1-3. Visit www.humblebynature.com/bigdayout for more information or tickets
- Choose the Right Puppy is due to start on BBC2 on May 16
- There's more celeb chat in every issue of Yours
Did you know...?
- Kate is the granddaughter of Bill Humble, a well-known pre-Second World War aviator
- After leaving school she travelled through Africa from Cape Town to Cairo, doing various jobs including waitressing, driving safari trucks and working on a crocodile farm
- Kate started her television career as a researcher, later transferring to presenting programmes such as Top Gear, Tomorrow's World and the 2001 series The Holiday Programme – You call the shots where the team travelled the world doing whatever viewers recommended using the then-novel media of text messaging and emailing the team as they travelled
- In 2009, she was the subject for the programme Who Do You Think You Are? where she discovered that she had family connections to the Hartley Colliery Disaster
- She is married to the television producer Ludo Graham. They first met when she was aged 16, and married in Newbury, Berkshire, in 1992, when she was 23
- She has a sheep called Humble, named after her, that currently lives with her friend and co-worker Adam Henson
- In 2009, she was appointed President of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. She's also a beekeeper and a member of the British Beekeepers Association