Great Yorkshire Show: Drizzle doesn’t deter crowd for long

Soprano Lizzie Jones
Soprano Lizzie Jones
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It began at the end of a week and a half of almost unbroken sunshine, but as one veteran observed, the 161st Great Yorkshire Show might as well have been staged in November.

As the early visitors made their way through the colour-coded gates that fringe the showground on the edge of Harrogate, a drizzle fell and a sea of umbrellas clouded the view.

The 161st Great Yorkshire Show.

The 161st Great Yorkshire Show.

In the bandstand outside the President’s Lawn, a temperance jazz orchestra played Zing Went the Strings to My Heart, to a syncopated patter of raindrops.

The beer tents, whose outdoor tables are an invitation to abandon any preconceived idea of conventional imbibing hours, lay wet and empty.

The weather forecast had foretold the worst, and, for a while, it had seemed well founded. But by mid-morning, it felt more pesky than persistent – certainly not wet enough to wash away the promise of a good day out.

By 10.30, the throng that defines the second week in July in this part of North Yorkshire had manifested itself in almost every available square foot, and the weatherman was put on the defensive.

The 161st Great Yorkshire Show.

The 161st Great Yorkshire Show.

It wasn’t his forecast, the BBC’s Paul Hudson insisted. Interrogated by a presenter and relayed to only slightly interested passers-by, Mr Hudson explained that the forecast on the BBC’s weather app had been the work of computers, not human beings.

It was a human, though, who had made evident the extent of the day’s north-south divide to listeners of the Today programme on Radio 4.

The northern half of the country would be cloudy and wet, she said; the south fine and dry.

As the drizzle subsided and gave way to what Mr Hudson’s colleagues like to call spits and spots, visitors who had taken shelter in the food hall, flooded outside, to be replaced by others.

A large audience had gathered early to watch Michael Wignall, chef proprietor of the Angel at Hetton in the Dales, arranging Yorkshire strawberries, garden pea set custard, olive oil cake and wild strawberry ice.

“The smaller they are, the sweeter they are,” he said of the strawberries, adding that he had no idea the show was so big.

Rosemary Shrager, a perennial at the show, followed him on to the stage, with advice on how to cook a rabbit. A few blocks away, luckier rabbits were being judged for awards,

But if the crowds turned up eventually, the pigs did not. The organisers had taken the decision at the weekend to cancel all the swine classes – usually a staple at the lower end of the showground – following reports of a pig at a show elsewhere betrying signs of illness. The tests came back this morning. They were negative, but it was too late to reinstate the competition.

Sir Gary Verity was another absentee. The former head of Welcome to Yorkshire had for a decade held court at the organisation’s rambling stand, near the big wheel. But, dethroned following allegations of bullying and expenses irregularities, his place was taken by a doppelganger.

In a show of continuity, Peter Dodd, the commercial director, hosted the presentation ceremony for Yorkshire’s favourite pub, in his old boss’s signature country jacket, yellow lapel badge and loosely-buttoned shirt. Sir Gary’s name was not mentioned.

The Halifax soprano Lizzie Jones provided a less discordant note of continuity, A hit at last year’s show, as the first vocalist to perform in the main ring, she mounted an encore performance of Jerusalem and a premiere of Nessun Dorma.

“This kind of event needs this kind of song,” she said.