GROWING up in Bradford, Anita Rani was never far from the countryside. “Fifteen minutes in any direction from Bradford and you can be on the moors. Every weekend we’d be out somewhere - Baildon Moor, Ilkley Moor, Whitby, which is still one of my favourite places,” she says. “Yorkshire has such diverse landscapes to explore.

“I had a very active childhood, filled with adventure. I did the Dales Way when I was 15, starting in beautiful Bolton Abbey. That was very memorable, especially waking up in the middle of the night in a flooded tent...”

Today Anita is one of TV’s most popular presenters, with an infectious enthusiasm and wide-ranging interests. Presenting live telly or filming international documentaries, she’s as at home chatting to a Dales farmer as she is with a tribal leader in Papua New Guinea.


As a presenter on Countryfile - BBC1’s flagship rural affairs programme which pulls in around six million viewers each week, making it the most watched factual programme year round on TV - Anita explores a range of rural issues, and this month she joins fellow presenters for Countryfile Live at Castle Howard.

It’s a chance to meet your Countryfile heroes - Anita, Matt Baker, Ellie Harrison, John Craven, Adam Henson, Tom Heap and Charlotte Smith - who will all be taking to the stage to share stories about one of the BBC’s best-loved TV shows.

“We’ll be interviewing each other on the main stage, and we’ll be out and about meeting everyone too. It’s the best date in the Countryfile calendar - meeting the people who love the show is always a highlight,” says Anita, 41. “I’m a big foodie so I’ll be spending four days trying to sample as much as possible.

“And because we rarely get together as presenters so it’s a brilliant opportunity for us all to hang out together.”

Countryfile Live celebrates the British countryside; offering a hands-on experience of everything the programme embodies over four days of live arena shows, debates, food, drink, farm-animal demonstrations and shopping from more than 500 independent retailers and lifestyle brands. And all in the beautiful setting of Castle Howard.

The Countryfile team will be giving talks and hosting demonstrations, and visitors can get involved in outdoor action at a Wildlife Zone, taking a journey from the coast to highlight marine life, pollution, and how healthy peatlands can help stop flooding; an Equine Arena, with races and demonstrations featuring sturdy Shires and Shetlands a Dog Lovers’ Arena, displaying tricks, agility and skills of working gun dogs and sheep dogs; and all the fun of the fair at the ‘Village Green’.

The Le Creuset Kitchen Theatre, hosted by Yorkshire chef Brian Turner, involves various celebrity chefs dishing up some culinary inspiration, and over at the Graze Inn, a lively food and entertainment experience offers a summertime bar and a stage packed with local musicians, comedians, entertainers and artisan food producers.

Castle Howard’s Big Top offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the production of Countryfile, and the presenters will be meeting some of the memorable guests, all heroes of the countryside, who have appeared on the show.

“People invite us into their living-rooms every Sunday evening, so now we’re inviting them to meet us in the great outdoors,” says Anita.

“It’s a huge country show, with something for everyone - including the dog.

“We’ve got brilliant food, country crafts, live bands, our very own pub, the Craven Arms, where John Craven will host a daily pub quiz, and kayaking and water sports on the lake.

“It’s a great family day out. For children, the National Trust’s 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11-and-three-quarters is a woodland adventure, allowing them to have some outdoor fun, doing things like tree climbing, den building and bug watching.

“There’s a chance to learn about nature in our own back gardens, and how we can all do our bit to attract bees, butterflies and wildlife, and there’s a whole section devoted to farming and rural businesses, with tractors and combine harvesters to get up close to.”

A big focus of the event is how the countryside can improve wellbeing. The National Trust Theatre will host debates and special guests, raising issues of mental health and nature, and a Mindfulness Zone offers a chance to take time out.

“There’s nothing quite like getting out into the countryside. It has a really positive effect on wellbeing,” says Anita. “Our visitors are 50 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban, so this event is tailored for everyone. It’s a great way of showing what the countryside has to offer.

“There are lots of reasons why people don’t visit the countryside; sometimes it’s about economics, or lifestyle. But we live on a small island, and 15 or 20 minutes away from most places you can be in the country. And there is so much to do that is free.”

Anita, who went to Bradford Girls Grammar School, started broadcasting aged 14, with her own show on the city’s Sunrise Radio. She hosted Sky Sports Cricket and Channel 4’s RTS award-winning antiques show Four Rooms and has since become a regular presenter on The One Show as well as Countryfile.

One of TV’s most in demand personalities, she has made an impression on a variety of shows, from Strictly Come Dancing, making it to the semi-final in 2015, to Who Do You Think You Are? which saw Anita travel from Bradford to the Punjab, where she made emotional discoveries about her grandparents, and the bigger story for other families caught up in Partition.

Anita, who lives with her husband in London, returned to India to present The World’s Busiest Railway Station, and has presented a range of programmes, for BBC2’s This World and Four Wheels series. In 2012 she was inaugural winner of Comic Relief’s Great British Bake Off. Closer to home, she presented Blue Planet II Live at Leeds Arena earlier this year, and last month she was at the Great Yorkshire Show, making a Channel 5 programme about the landmark event. In 2017 she joined the Board of Directors of Leeds-based Northern Ballet. As someone who had never danced on stage, or even went to the theatre as a child, Anita was a surprise hit on Strictly. “I love dancing, although I don’t need a dancefloor to bust out my moves - my kitchen floor is just as good,” she smiles.

She credits her Bradford childhood as a good grounding for her presenting career. “I was a lively child and loved talking to people and listening to their stories. I still do,” she says. “And I’m prepared to try pretty much anything. I think curiosity and a genuine interest in people’s stories are the main skills needed. I also now have quite a few fancy wellies!”

Is she most at home in muddy wellies, in a field with the Countryfile crew? “That does make me happy, but versatility is what it’s all about for me,” she says. “I’m happy in lots of different environments. It’s all about storytelling; as long as there are stories, and people to tell them, I’m there.”

She’s still a Bradford lass at heart, returning to visit her family here, and to enjoy a curry. “When I lived there the Kashmir was a firm fave: BYOB and the best keema with chapatis.”

Returning to Countryfile - any highlights of her four years on the show? “A cold, wet November in Malham. I climbed Malham Cove in freezing, drizzly, dangerous weather. All for TV... you are welcome.”

l Countryfile Live is at Castle Howard, near York, from August 15-18. Visit