Watching Yorkshire chef Tim Bilton cooking delicious recipes on Channel 5’s On the Farm it is hard to believe he is living with terminal cancer.
It is more than two years since Tim was told unless he had ground-breaking immunotherapy he had less than a year to live after his cancer returned for a third time.
That was in February 2019 and Tim has undergone two years of gruelling treatment sessions every four weeks at Sheffield’s Weston Park Hospital. He says at the beginning the treatment ‘nearly killed’ him but it has bought him the most precious gift: time.
The immunotherapy finished in the spring.
“I had mixed emotions,” he says. “I now have to have six-monthly scans rather than three-monthly scans and my next one is in January.”
He says the cancer has gone from his neck and eye, it hasn’t moved in his right leg and a spot on the gland above his kidney has gone. “This is really new treatment. If it comes back then we will go again. I don’t think too much about it. I trust my oncologist 100 per cent – he’s kept me on this earth far longer than people thought.”
Tim, 49, had just opened his Spiced Pear at Hepworth when he was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago after noticing a red spot on his eye and had to undergo radiotherapy.
The chef, who had appeared on BBC’s Great British Menu and was tipped for the top, had to shut his restaurant and concentrate on his health when the cancer spread to his saliva glands which robbed him of his sense of taste. He thought he had beaten the disease but then it returned in his leg and he was given the bleak prognosis.
By then he had started working for the Nicholson brothers at Cannon Hall Farm, now the setting of Channel 5’s hit On the Farm series presented by Helen Skelton. “I cannot just sit at home and do nothing,” says Tim, who has been supported throughout by his wife Adele and two sons, Henry, 16 and Charlie, ten.
“I started working for the brothers, overseeing their food offering. It really gave me a reason to get out of bed, I also had to provide for Adele and the boys.”
Celebrity chefs from Marco Pierre White to Jean Christophe Novelli have rallied round supporting Tim and his family with messages of goodwill and fund-raising drives to allow the family to make some memories.
Tim is a realist and knows one day it is likely the cancer will come back and ‘get’ him, although the speed with which a vaccine was created to fight Covid-19 has given him some hope.
“It shows just how quickly things can move when enough money is thrown at it. Just imagine if that amount of money was thrown at a cure for cancer.” But in the meantime he is determined to make the most of life with Adele and the boys..
“I do believe that I have been given this extra time for a purpose,” he says.
“Yes, the medical treatment has been amazing – I was a lucky one and was in the system when Covid struck but I do worry about those who weren’t and might have missed out on vital treatment. But I also think the mind is an amazing thing and I am not ready to give up yet.”
Although the restaurant at Cannon Hall Farm where Tim worked closed during lockdown he was desperate to return to the South Yorkshire attraction and as soon as possible.
“I know lockdown was hard for a lot of people but I actually enjoyed it. To start with I was petrified as I am high risk, but then as time went on we went for lots of walks close by our home and realised just how beautiful it is. We’d normally head up to the Lakes or somewhere like that, but Yorkshire is so beautiful. But I was ready to go back to work as soon as possible and so I started work in the deli kitchen as that was still open, making the fresh ready meals and things like that.”
“Rob (Nicholson) did regular Facebook Lives from the farm so that people who couldn’t get out of their homes could still see life on the farm. It went down so well.”
They have even brought out their own line of merchandise and last Christmas Tim’s wife Adele was called in to lend a hand and never left as the demand continued.
The Channel 5 show has made stars of the two brothers, but also of Tim who has his own cooking section, Tim’s Kitchen.
“I started doing a little bit of cooking in series two,” recalls Tim. “And then I got my own slot.”
He has also been filmed talking to producers as far afield as Jersey.
“It was amazing to see the work of the oyster producers in Jersey,” he says.
“And then going to a smokehouse in Grimsby that’s been there for 100 years. The produce was unbelievable. There used to be 80 or 90 smokehouses like that and now there are only three.”
Having appeared on the Great British Menu, Tim is no stranger to being in front of the camera, although he says he is a bit apprehensive about the return of the live show next week.
Following the success of their summer stint broadcasting live from South Yorkshire, presenters Helen Skelton and Jules Hudson are back at Cannon Hall Farm, as the nation’s farmers get ready for the most magical time of the year.
They’ll be joined for the seasonal fun by Nicholson brothers Rob and Dave, as they prepare their animals for a crucial season – one that can make or break their farm. They’ll be checking in on some farm favourites, making sure the reindeers are well-fed ahead of Christmas, and keeping the farm protected against the elements – by embarking on a fact-finding mission to the Arctic.
The team will also be joined by an all-star-cast of Channel 5 favourites.
Our Yorkshire Farm’s Amanda Owen goes wild winter swimming in order to fend off the winter blues, her son Reuben solves more mechanical mysteries and Dr Amir Khan will be helping the ‘Farmy Army’ stay healthy and happy through to the spring.
The team is also be joined by stars from the Yorkshire Vet and farm regular JB Gill.
And on December 23 Helen, who is expecting her third child, and Jules are again at Cannon Hall farm for a festive special. Tim shares his tips to prevent those last-minute Christmas dinner disasters.
And while he enjoys television work, he also likes the fact that it helps raise the profile of the cancer community, he is an avid fund-raiser for Weston Park.
While he knows many might tell him to feel content with what he has, Tim Bilton is never one to stand still.
“I live in the present but I do also look forward. Adele tells me I don’t realise how far I’ve come. But I don’t just want to exist. I need to have purpose.”
In 2019 Tim was named the Most Inspirational Person in the Yorkshire Choice awards.
“Due to Covid I haven’t been able to collect it soon. Hopefully I will be able to in 2022,” he says.
In 2018, Cannon Hall Farm was featured on television programme, called Springtime on the Farm, which was broadcast on Channel Five, from April 9, 2018 to April 13, 2018 and which was recommissioned as the weekly show This Week on the Farm in 2020.
In June 2020, it was announced that Cannon Hall Farm had received the Commonwealth Points of Light Award for their daily live broadcast on social media during coronavirus lockdown.
In July 2021, Princess Anne visited Cannon Hall Farm to formally open the farm’s new dog friendly café
Winter on the Farm live in on Channel 5 from tonight until Thursday at 8pm
Christmas on the Farm will air on December 23 on Channel 5 at 9pm