Sarah Todd: Why the Great Yorkshire Show remains so special after 160 years

MY GRANDMOTHER died earlier this year and, as a result, next week's Great Yorkshire Show will be poignant.

For as long as she could, she attended and when it became impossible, she always wanted to hear ‘how did you go on at The Show?’

Like generations of farming families, our annual pilgrimage to ‘The Show’ runs deep within our DNA.

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Grandma would have been pleased to hear that, on Wednesday, the Princess Royal is visiting as part of the show’s 160th anniversary celebrations.

The Princess Royal, this year's special guest at the Great Yorkshire Show, has a special affinity with farming and the countryside.

Yes, she would have enjoyed watching the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but in spite of their celebrity status the new Duke 
and Duchess of Sussex can’t hold a candle to Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal.

She is a farmer in her own right in Gloucestershire, where she runs her Gatcombe Park estate very much as a working farm. Her efforts to promote White Park cattle have been credited with the fact the breed is no longer on the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s endangered list.

A patron of around 50 countryside organisations, everybody who meets this Royal comments on her sound grasp of farming issues. She’s used to the mucky end of the stick just like any farmer, losing some of her cattle to TB.

To help with the costs of running the 730-acre spread, she’s been selling Gatcombe-labelled meat. No supermarket outlet for this Royal. It’s sold through a butcher in her local town, Minchinhampton, in a deliberate effort to bring a knock-on boost to the rural economy.

While her brother, Prince Charles, is also very much a farmer (and good friend to the Great Yorkshire Show), there is no getting away from the fact the Princess Royal appears more of a realist and understands about the need for affordable food for all.

Daring to mention GM, genetically modified crops, in a BBC Radio 4 Farming Today interview last year landed her in hot water. But few who listened could fail to be impressed by her farming knowledge. still smarting from the loss of her own cattle, she dared to suggest that badgers should be gassed to reduce the instances of tuberculosis.

On a lighter note, it’s said that the back of her Range Rover is full of the odds and sods all farmers carry around “just in case”.

Of course, as a former Olympic event rider, Her Royal Highness will be interested in the horse classes at the show. She hasn’t shied away from the bottom end of the equestrian scale and, as president of World Horse Welfare, she’s worked tirelessly to promote and raise funds to help the many thousands of horses facing abuse, neglect and abandonment throughout the UK.

As patron of the Injured Jockeys Fund, she’s a regular visitor to the county; opening and attending 
events at the Jack Berry House rehabilitation centre in Malton, as well as supporting the town’s Racing Welfare which looks after stable staff.

Yes, Princess Anne will do very nicely as a special guest to this year’s show. She’s the right woman for the job.

But back to the show itself. While “the men” looked around the tractors and machinery, grandma always loved watching the fashion show. Helping to draw in the crowds this year will be Bradford-born Countryfile presenter Anita Rani who will be a catwalk 
model for the day.

There is a poster of main ring attraction Lorenzo, from his last 
visit to the show in 2014, hung in 
our tack room.

Coming out of the sea, atop his beautiful grey Camargue horses, there is definitely a certain something about the so-called “flying Frenchman”. The Husband won’t notice as he’ll doubtless be paying his annual pilgrimage to the Black Sheep Baar; especially if the heatwave continues. As an aside, Princess Anne last visited in 2014, so perhaps she is also a fan of Lorenzo…

The Daughter will be doing a stint volunteering on the Young Farmers’ Club (YFC) stand. No doubt her younger brother will take a turn at trying to tip her off the legendary show ducking stool. He’ll controversially miss a day of school. A subject of much debate over recent years and the Yorkshire Agricultural Society should be praised for being very vocal on the debate. It’s repeatedly urged the Government to relax rules, pointing out the proven educational value of attending the show; now England’s undisputed premier agricultural event.

Organisations like the YFC are symbolic of the show. Generations of members have sat on the ducking stool and talked to younger ones about joining-up. A recruiting exercise, but not a money-making one.

It’s a sign of the times that the show must always be looking at the bottom line, but the very essence of it is – in my opinion – a celebration of rural life rather than a commercial exercise. This correspondent isn’t naive enough to think that deals aren’t done at the show. If machinery wasn’t sold, for example, or stallholders supported nobody would turn up to exhibit 
and there would be no show.

But there are certain areas where a sharp Yorkshire eye should be kept 
on pricing.

Every year eating at the show feels more of a rip-off and nobody likes to feel they are being taken for a ride. With adult admission just a pound under £30 and £15 for children it’s not a cheap day out to then start handing over notes and getting no change at lunchtime. Oh yes, we should do a pack-up, but carting one around is 
no mean feat.

But to finish where we started, with my grandmother, if organisers could have bottled the happy memories of her visits, they’d have the magic ingredient that puts the ‘Great’ into the Yorkshire Show.

The 160th Great Yorkshire Show will be held from July 10-12 at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate. Visit www.greatyorkshireshow.co.uk.

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.