Our Yorkshire Farm, now in its fifth series, has been a surprise hit for Channel 5: it’s the broadcaster’s most popular show since 2016. It follows the adventures of 47-year-old Amanda Owen and her husband, Clive, on their 800-hectare (2,000-acre) hill farm, Ravenseat, overseeing a flock of 1,000 sheep (plus ponies, cows and dogs) and nine children. The no-nonsense Owen – who, according to legend, once gave birth at home without waking anyone up – has become the breakout star: she has amassed 183,000 followers on Twitter and has written four bestselling books. Her latest, Celebrating the Seasons With the Yorkshire Shepherdess, is a collection of stories, photographs and recipes.
You didn’t grow up on a farm. Were there many teenagers in Huddersfield in the late 1980s who dreamed of being a shepherd?
No. There was an element of rebellion, I suppose. It’s quite hard to rebel: you had the 80s, when you could do punk, and, in my time, it was being a goth. But when everybody’s doing it, it doesn’t really make that much of a statement. So I guess it was a way of ruffling a few feathers and upsetting everybody. Head off, go and live in a caravan in a farmyard somewhere and become a shepherd! So that’s what I did.
What’s even weirder is that you have become famous as a shepherd. Would that have ever occurred to you?
Absolutely never. Put it this way, if I was the life and soul of the party, and really enjoyed the company of lots of people, I wouldn’t have chosen to be [a shepherd]. So it absolutely is a turnaround like you would not believe.
But all the things that you said – “famous” and all the rest of it, which makes me cringe – is farm diversification. The sheep make me a living, on a number of different levels.
What’s behind the success of the show and your books?
I can’t say that there was ever a moment I thought: “Right, this is how we’re going to get Ravenseat to make money.” It began with making cups of tea. A simple, simple thing. What do people want who come to visit us? They’re coming on foot, they’re on the coast-to-coast footpath, there’s 16,000 of them walking through the farm every year. They want a cup of tea and a conversation. So from that conversation comes the opportunity, when one of them happens to be scouting for a TV programme.
That’s where it all began. And guess what I’ve been doing this morning? I’ve been baking scones and I’m leaving my daughter, who’s going back to university next week, making cups of tea. If they come to Ravenseat and there’s a great big sign up saying, “Sorry, I’m in Marbella,” that’s a problem, isn’t it?
I’ve always listened to music, and the best thing is at Ravenseat you can turn that volume right up and nobody’s going to complain
Your children all seem very unfazed by the cameras. It’s hardly the Yorkshire version of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, is it?
They are so not bothered, but do you not think that we’re very mindful of that? The other day I bought a pair of Dr Martens and Raven, our eldest, noted that when she was a child, hers were secondhand and came off eBay. So she thought that that was maybe a difference that has happened post-programme. But honestly, that is how it is: they are very, very unaffected.
In the book, you note that for 20 years you were either pregnant or breastfeeding.
I’m really proud of that fact. When it comes to birth plans, there wasn’t a plan because you can’t make plans when you live where I do, as far away from the hospital. When it comes to breastfeeding, it wasn’t because I was being some kind of Earth mother, it was because I was lazy. Any thought of trying to sterilise anything just filled me with total horror. And if I was going to be out and about going around the fields, it made far more sense to have baby with me and a constant supply of warm milk that basically was under my jumper.
What do you do to unwind?
Swimming and going on the horse. I don’t head off for a spa day. The only kind of spa I know about is a Spar shop, so there you go.
What about cultural things: TV, film or music?
I’ve always listened to music, and the best thing is at Ravenseat you can turn that volume right up and nobody’s going to complain. I love Goldfrapp, electronica, a bit of trance. God, I sound like I’m so stuck in the past now. I don’t watch any TV at all. I just never think to switch the telly on.
Even Clarkson’s Farm?
I haven’t seen a single one of those. Not for any reason; it’s just because I don’t watch TV. But it must have been all right, because farmers liked it.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by what you have to fit into a day?
Always. Every day, I look at an ideal world of how I’d quite like it to go and then I have a reality check and prioritise. There are certain things that have to happen, certain things that you’d quite like to happen, and certain things that you dream of happening, but never will, such as using the Hoover, tidying up, that kind of thing.
You got an E in English GCSE, and now you write bestselling books. Is there a lesson there?
Absolutely. Maybe if we go right back to the very beginning, it was a little two fingers up at stereotyping and telling people what they can’t do and what they can’t be. Whatever you do, there’s always going to be somebody who says: “That’s impossible. You can’t do that. You shouldn’t do that.” Whether that’s, I don’t know, wearing a pair of earrings while shepherding your sheep or committing the heinous crime of wearing mascara while trudging through the snow. Do it your way. As long as you’re doing a good job, and you’re true to yourself, it doesn’t matter.
Celebrating the Seasons With the Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen is published by Pan Macmillan (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply
Watch: Shepherdess Amanda Owen leads procession of sheep over Southwark Bridge