At Emley Show next Saturday last year’s beef cattle champion handler won’t be there to retain her title. Nor will she be around at 17 of this year’s agricultural shows throughout the region, which last year she had departed in triumph as the champion.
Renowned cattle show woman Becky Seels of Brodsworth, near Doncaster, died of cancer in March this year.
She was 34 years old but had been showing since she was four, having started out with her father, Willie Seels, and his brother Michael at Snaith Show in 1981. Last year she competed at 18 shows and won at all but one of them with her British Blonde cattle. She also competed with Belgian Blues and in the commercial cattle classes.
Her father Willie is back showing his cattle again this year in memory of Becky. He was going to take a year off, but Becky’s last wish was that he should carry on their showing, which saw her win the Supreme Beef Championship at last year’s Great Yorkshire Show.
“She told me never to let it get to me and that she wanted me to carry on,” says Willie. “When we went to Lincolnshire Show in June I didn’t crack up, I managed to hold it together. But at Harrogate everyone kept coming up to me saying such kind words about Becky and offering their support. I just kept filling up and had to keep walking away.
“She won her first championship at the Notts and Newark Show when she was 12 years old and she never tired of winning. But she learned how to accept defeat too. She never liked losing but was also well known for helping out other show people who had forgotten either equipment or a show coat and she had a wicked sense of humour.”
At the Housewives Choice competition at this year’s Great Yorkshire Show the British Blondes team of handlers and cattle appeared in pink – Becky’s favourite colour – in her memory.
They also raised £500 for a cancer charity and StJohn’s Hospice. Anita Jackson, wife of fellow cattle showman, Ken Jackson, understood what it meant to each of those taking part. “It was a very emotional time for everyone involved in the team because they all knew Becky so well. She wasn’t a gushing sort of person but she was always the first to offer help.
“When our daughter Kate was upset last year because we couldn’t show our cattle at Harrogate, it was Becky who was first to offer her a comforting arm. They grew up together competing against each other, but it was always a friendship as well as great rivalry.
“Her cattle were always turned out perfectly and her eyes would never leave the judges while they were making their decisions, always holding the head of her animal up high. She was very professional.”
Becky had fought a tough battle against the illness that eventually took her life. Five years earlier she had radiation treatment and chemotherapy for cancer of the womb.
She had been married to Richard “Jolly” Berry, but they had split up. She thought she had beaten the disease, but midway through last year’s show season began suffering terrible back pains. By the end of the season she was worse and by the autumn, just after the Countryside Live show in Harrogate, it was confirmed that the cancer had returned.
Typifying her attitude to life she did not go quietly. She planned her own funeral and made sure that all of those attending wore something pink. Ken Jackson, who has also competed with Becky in the show ring many times, knew where she was coming from in the way she had arranged everything.
“Becky didn’t want anyone to feel sad. She had this wonderful love of life and she still wanted people to enjoy themselves as a celebration of her life. The cattle show people who attended her funeral gave her coffin a guard of honour with their show sticks, all with pink ribbons attached. The church at Hooton Pagnell was packed with many listening to the service from outside.”
Becky’s father adds, “She told things as they were. What you saw is what you got. This year I gave a trophy in memory of Becky at the Great Yorkshire Show. It’s for the best female British Blonde. The reason why I’ve given it is all down to what Becky told me. She had said to me that the best female winner always got a crappy little cup, so I told her before she died that I’d buy a new cup this year. It’s now the Rebecca Seels Memorial Trophy.”
Becky wasn’t just a cattle show woman. She was regarded by those in the showing world as one of the elite, showing cattle at all of the major UK events such as the Birmingham Primestock and Royal Smithfield.
She had studied at Harper Adams Agricultural College and had been a member of both Doncaster and Thorne YFC. She was taken under the wing of some of the greats in the showing world, including top showmen such as Joe Hutchinson, Lawrie Hood and Bert Verity.
Veteran Bert is in the process of writing a book which honours the great cattle and sheep showmen and women who have appeared at the Great Yorkshire Show and many others throughout the county. As a mark of just how Becky is regarded, he has spoken with Willie about including her in the book. It’s another major source of pride for Willie.
“She would have been very proud to have been in the company of the other people Bert is writing about. She took the showing of cattle very seriously and had recently started judging at shows such as Aldborough and Boroughbridge.
“I miss her every day. She always had a ready smile. It’s very hard for me at the moment. I would just like to thank everyone who I’ve met at all the shows this year for their kind words.”
If anyone wishes to make a charitable donation at a show, Ken and Anita Jackson and Willie will pass these on.