INTERVIEW: Countryfile presenter Julia Bradbury

BBC presenter Julia Bradbury entertains the crowd at Boat and Caravan Show

Meeting a television or film star in the flesh can sometimes result in disappointment. The phrase “larger than life” often comes to mind as presenters or actors appear vulnerable when interviewed, shorn of the lighting and editing which burnishes their image. Not so when meeting Julia Bradbury, the new star of BBC’s Countryfile and a guest of the Camping and Caravanning Club at Boat and Caravan Show. After a Q & A session on the Club’s New To Camping stand (where she deftly entertained the assembled crowd with anecdotes from her adventures) she proved herself to be as naturally engaging and charismatic as her television persona. We caught up with her after the session and met a presenter who is fiercely passionate about the outdoors.

“Shall we do the interview on the baby seats?” she laughs, as we make our way to the plastic mushrooms of the children’s play area. A member of the Camping and Caravanning Club since last year, Julia Bradbury is a vociferous advocate of exploring the countryside. And her interest in the outdoors goes beyond her professional committment, for it turns out Bradbury has been touring the UK “since right back when I was a nipper”. Her face lights up as she recalls being introduced to country walks by her father. “My dad is a Derbyshire lad and someone who appreciates the outdoors in all its form – landscape, flora and fauna – so he brought me up to appreciate it in the same way. I’ve been walking with my dad since I was six years old, I remember getting my first pair of walking boots and striding out with him”.

Encouraging women to explore the outdoors

Originally known for her work on consumer advice programmes such as Watchdog and Are We Being Served, Bradbury rose to fame when presenting a programme about the outdoors. BBC Four’s Wainwright Walks saw her retrace the mountain walks of renowned fell walker Alfred Wainwright, author of the standard guide to walking in the Lake District. From this and her work on Railway Walks she soon found herself tagged with the bizarre title of “Walking Man’s Totty”. However Bradbury is more keen to focus on the female audience who tune in. “Sure, I think those programmes really engaged the audience, but I think people quite like seeing a woman enjoying the outdoors in a non gung-ho way. I know a lot of women watch it and say ‘I like seeing you do that, because it means we can have a go’…it encourages them. And the guys? Well, you know…” she chuckles.

With such an avowed love of exploring, was Countryfile her dream job from the outset? “I’m afraid there was no grand master plan – a few years ago nobody could have expected or would have known Countryfile would have been in it’s current form. It’s changed and it’s moved with the times and I know it’s my work on the walking series which helped me here.” Having joined Countryfile in April 2009 as part of a revamp which saw the programme move from 11am to 7pm on a Sunday, she was eager to respond to criticisms levelled at the relaunch. “The programme has been on air for twenty years, and at its heart are rural affairs and rural issues. What’s good is that we are embracing and participating in all the activities in the UK that there are to do. As a result we’re getting an incredible number of viewers, more than the BBC had originally expected, and that’s just indicative of people’s interests right now”.

From husky racing to wild swimming

In under a year Bradbury has travelled the length and width of the UK participating in outdoor challenges from wild swimming in Oxfordshire to husky racing in the Caingorns. The latter amazed her as “for the first time in thirty years there was enough snow for it – the event takes place every year but on a tricyle-type contraption. They hated me calling it that but it’s a buggy that gets pulled along by the huskies. However this year for the first time we were actually able to race in the snow, and against the backdrop of the Caingorns. Week in, week out I am surprised at what we can do.”

So has she ever been caravanning? “As a family we’d never been on a caravanning holiday. My mum wasn’t a big caravanner and I think there’s a thing about caravanning and camping, as anyone who’s an enthusiast will know, is that whether it’s a family or a partnership affair, all parties must be willing. Otherwise there’s a lot of room for arguments.” She has however travelled in motorhomes to explore the UK. “My friends are surfers who like to follow the waves, so I go with a friend who has a VW camper and it’s all about going to find the best beaches!”

Her commitment to UK tourism even extends to family holidays, which are always taken at Crieff in the Scottish Highlands. “We enjoy spending a lot of time there as a family, so personally Scotland is my favourite UK destination. As you said, I’m lucky enough to go to just about every other corner of the UK with Countryfile, but I think if I had to choose another, Cornwall is a favourite personal destination of mine”.

Walking through Africa

Filled with seemingly boundless energy, Bradbury is looking forward to another year of wild adventures. She revealed to us that the latest will see her explore walks in Africa “as part of a tranche of programmes ahead of the World Cup. The Drachenburg Mountain range was wonderful, and we also take a walk through the Kruger National Park.” However fans of the UK will not be disappointed as she is off around the country again in April, though she couldn’t tell us details. “We’re filming another UK walking series but the location of them is so secret that not even the editors know yet! I’ve been told England, Scotland or Wales” she laughs heartily.

One of those in life fortunate enough to follow her passion as her daily work, Julia Bradbury leaves us with an exciting prospect ahead of her year of touring the UK: “I’ll let you know when I find somewhere completely new and unspoilt!”

Interview by Marcus Dubois. Julia Bradbury was a guest of the Camping and Caravanning Club and promotes their “New To Camping” initiative. For more information please click here.