Set in the heart of the British countryside, the show sees TV stars including former Corrie actress Wendi Peters, Strictly dance star Brendan Cole, Birds of a Feather’s Lesley Joseph and DJ Tony Blackburn, each paired with an experienced sheepdog and filmed undergoing intense training.
There follows a knockout contest in front of an audience where, with the help of their new four-legged friends, they have to guide their flocks round a tricky competition course.
Dressed in waterproofs and wellies, I meet former Corrie actress Wendi Peters striding around a muddy field shouting instructions to nine-year-old sheepdog Bill. It’s not quite the showbiz world Wendi (47) is used to, but she loved every minute.
“Herding sheep is not something you do every day. When I first heard about it, I giggled a bit and thought, this isn’t real. And then I thought what fun it sounded! I’d spent four months on tour doing a musical being cooped up in a theatre and thought how lovely to be out in the fresh air trying to learn something so new.”
But the actress didn’t realise quite how the old saying, ‘Never work with children or animals’ would come into play as she was introduced to her nine-year-old dog, Bill.
The problem was that from being a puppy, Bill was only used to one voice. That of his owner, shepherd Ed Hawkins, whose experience in national sheepdog trials helped him to mentor Wendi through her training.“Although I was lucky enough to have an older dog, it also meant that the only voice that Bill had ever known or recognised was Ed’s. Suddenly he had a woman shouting commands at him and he didn’t know what to do!
“Bill is probably the most experienced dog in the show. He is very calm and relaxed and takes everything in his stride. It was me who had to learn what to do.
“So it’s that thing of trying to teach an old dog new tricks. I had to adjust my voice, and there are lots of clips of me trying to sound like a man because that’s what Bill was used to.”
Wendi, who lives in Hertfordshire with husband Kenny, and 15-year-old daughter Gracie, has two dogs – a springer spaniel called Stanley and Sid who is a ‘sproodle’ a cross between a springer and a poodle. And by the end of the two months working on the eight-week show, she had really bonded with Bill – making it very hard to say goodbye to him.
She’d also bonded with her fellow shepherds including Lesley Joseph, best known for her role as Dorien in the BBC sitcom, Birds of a Feather. Not surprisingly, she turned up for her sheepdog training in leopard-print wellies.
Lesley says she jumped at the chance to take part. “I get asked to do this kind of show all the time but the thing about this one was that it was spending time in an idyllic farm in Kent, which was heaven to me. Plus it was learning a new skill. It was really an extraordinary challenge and quite a privilege.
“It’s a family show, too, so you can watch it with everyone from your 90-year-old grandma to your four-year-old daughter.”
Lesley is teamed with sheepdog Gyp and admits he was quite feisty. “There was lots of high drama,” she laughs. “But everyone had a great time.”
Another competitor, Brendan Cole, bemused his herd of sheep by dancing for them. He was encouraged by his trainer to stop being so animated and calm down to stop the animals being
More used to doing the Cha cha cha than the baa baa baa, Brendan was teamed with Hoggy, short for Hogmanay. “It was definitely easier than training someone to dance,” he laughs, “but I was a bit too animated at the beginning, so that was a bit of a challenge to calm it down.”
Legendary DJ Tony Blackburn, teamed with Bess, admitted he found the training hard. “I treated Bess like a pet and she thinks she knows better than I do, so she brings the sheep to me which is not necessarily what I want her to do. But I adored her.”
Wendi adds: “Although we were all up against each other to win the Flockstars Champion Shield, we were all there cheering each other on, because we knew it was a really tricky thing to do, herding the sheep and the geese around the course. And that it could go wrong at any point… which it often did!”
- The show, presented by Gabby Logan, is on Thursday nights on ITV 1.