New voice brings a tear as sun smiles on show

Soprano Lizzie Jones sings on day one at the Great Yorkshire Show.  Picture: Tony Johnson.
Soprano Lizzie Jones sings on day one at the Great Yorkshire Show. Picture: Tony Johnson.
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It was the first time for as long as anyone in Harrogate could remember that there had been no need to keep one eye on the weather forecast.

The long dry spell had shown no sign of ending, and under dappled cloud, with the temperature pleasantly in the low 20s and a gentle breeze blowing, the 160th Great Yorkshire Show began.

The fundamentals had not changed in the intervening century and a half. Farmers still bring their animals to be seen and be judged, and competitions still take place.

But there are incremental innovations, and few of the sunseekers gathered around the bandstand outside the president’s lawn appeared prepared for this year’s.

“That quite moved me to tears,” said a man in a Panama hat and striped blazer, as Lizzie Jones and the Band of the Royal Armoured Corps brought Jerusalem to a close.

The Halifax soprano, who performed an emotional rendition of Abide With Me at the 2015 Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, following the death of her husband, the Keighley Cougars player Danny Jones, three months earlier, was the first vocalist to perform in the show’s main ring. She punctuated the ridden hunter championships and the show jumping, and did double duty by appearing on the catwalk in the fashion pavilion.

In an event that is as diverse as the countryside itself, the giant shed in which the catwalk is built stands to one side of the forestry demonstration area and next to the small animals show. This is given over to rabbits on the first day, pigeons on the second and poultry on the third.

Around 260 rabbits were in their cages yesterday, preened and perfect and ready to be inspected by the judges.

“It’s a bad time for rabbits,” said Bernard Welford, a steward at the show for 25 years.

The worry of Viral Haemorrhagic Disease, or VHD, had made some fanciers stay away, he said. “The animals can be vaccinated, but it’s £20 a rabbit and with the way they breed, it soon adds up.”

Further across the showground – through the food hall and over the country pursuits enclave – rabbits were also the centre of attraction, although they were in pans, not pens.

The game cookery theatre was where the TV chef Rosemary Shrager was serving up her signature lapine cuisine, which, she said, she “absolutely adored”.

“I love the Great Yorkshire Show and the game cookery is my favourite part,” she said.

Esther Veerman, a chef from Thirsk who specialises in game, was also demonstrating on an afternoon that saw wild rocket and rabbit rarebit being promoted by the Countryside Alliance.

As the day wore on and the temperature gradually rose, the crowd spread itself, as Nigel Pulling, chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society put it, over every inch of the ground. “It’s been hot but not too hot, full but not too full,” he said.

“It’s also the first year I haven’t had a zillion conversations about contingencies if it rains.”

The dry spell is expected to last through the second and third days, and Mr Pulling said: “Farmers could do with some rain, and I hope they get it on Friday.