As the host of some of the U.K.’s most popular and loved television programmes, presenter and journalist Helen Skelton is known to millions for her work hosting a variety of entertainment shows including Blue Peter, Countryfile and Channel 5’s This Week On The Farm.
Having risen through the ranks, and worked diligently throughout the course of her 20 year career in broadcasting, Skelton is held in high regard with t.v. audiences, who find themselves drawn to her her natural charm, down to earth demeanour and candid approach to storytelling.
This summer however, the former Newsround reporter steps away from our screens and adds businesswoman and designer to her resume, with the launch of her brand new kidswear line, Toy Breaker, which she will unveil to the public for the first time at this weekends 5 On The Farm Festival…
Channel 5 Presents… 5 On The Farm!
Set to take place over the course of 3 days at the idyllic Cannon Hall Farm in Barnsley, the outdoor event is to feature a huge line up of some of the channels most favourite stars including JB Gill from JLS, Ben Fogle, Amanda Owen and Graeme Hall, along with an exclusive appearance from Peppa Pig and the cast and crew of All Creatures Great and Small.
As well as having the opportunity to mingle with some of Britain’s most famous faces, attendees will also have the opportunity to play with animals, participate in workshops, watch live panels, Q&As and demonstrations, and hear exclusive behind the scenes tales from some of Channel 5’s biggest shows.
Spread over 7 areas, the festival promises to be an action packed extravaganza, full of fun activities that the whole family can enjoy!
As we settle down to chat with Helen about the inaugural event, she’s keen to tell us that whilst she is now super excited about spending the Bank Holiday weekend in Yorkshire, initially she was a little apprehensive about the timing, and possibility of being able to host such a large scale event.
“I’m a really superstitious person, so I’ll be honest with you, when they first told me the idea and concept behind this festival, I was a bit like like ‘guys, come on now, do you really think this is a good time to be planning such a big social gathering? Don’t do you think we just should wait a bit to see how things pan out with the pandemic?’“ And I said that because there’s so much ground work and logistical planning that goes into preparing for an event like this, the team have been beavering away behind the scenes for months now, so I would hate for all of that hard work to have been in vain, because let’s be honest, everything has been so up in the air and unpredictable this past year hasn’t it? And nobody has been able to host big get togethers or properly commit to anything so… yeah, I was a bit unsure about the timing to begin with (laughs).”
“But as this years gone on, and things have unfolded the way they have, I think what’s been really nice to see is that people are now starting to feel excited to be going out again! Everyone’s still being cautious and sensible, which is great because we all know now that COVID isn’t going anywhere, but I think there’s been in a shift in people’s minds where they feel ready to get back back out there and enjoy themselves; which is lovely!”
Reflecting further, Helen adds: “It will be a different experience for me being there with the Toy Breaker, but I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to get there now!”
Introducing… Toy Breaker!
Made up of super stylish, interchangeable pieces, that can be mixed and matched within the collection to create a variety of different looks, for a variety of different occasions, Toy Breaker is a unisex clothing brand made from organic cotton.
“It was back at the start of the pandemic that I first had the idea of doing a kids range.” Helen says as she details the brands origins. “One of my best friends was working for a fast fashion brand at the time, but was looking to change what she was doing, so whilst we were talking one day and I was telling her how I can never get my kids to wear anything other than a football kit, the idea to do a kids line came to us and we just thought ‘why not?’ It’s funny to think about it now, because everything that’s followed after and where we find ourselves now, all came from that initial conversation.”
“We’ve basically designed and made things our kids want to wear.” Skelton explains further. “Sometimes what little boys want to wear, and what their Mums want them to wear are two very different things (laughs) so we felt like it was really important to create a collection that would strike that balance between meeting both the parents and child’s needs.”
Never one to shy away from any of the harsh realities she has faced in life, Helen readily admits that whilst starting a new business from scratch has overall been an incredibly rewarding experience, it’s not been without its challenges.
“It’s been good (starting Toy Breaker) but I’m not going to lie, there have been some difficult moments along the way because at the end of the day, this is totally a new territory for me… I mean, I knew absolutely nothing about retail!” Helen laughs. “Somedays you don’t get any orders and you think ‘oh goodness this is a flop’ but then on a morning when my kids pick out pieces from the range and want to wear them, I think to myself ‘ok, this is what I did it for’.”
“I’ve always been a believer that it’s good to try new things, and take on projects that will take you out of your comfort zone, because it’s the only way you really get to test yourself and learn new things, and I’ve honestly learnt a lot throughout this whole process… so yeah it’s been a massive learning curve for me, but also a lot of fun at the same time!”
As she prepares to meet new and existing customers face-to-face for the first time, we wonder from a business perspective, how does Helen feel ahead of her weekend at Cannon Hall Farm?
“Up to this point we’ve only done online retail, so as you say, this will be the first time that members of the public can see the clothes up close, touch and feel the fabrics and ask us questions live and direct, but I think that’s a really good think, because it will enable people to get a really good sense of what we’re trying to do with this line.” Helen muses before adding “But do you know what though, more than that, I think what’s going to be really lovely about this weekend and the festival, is that it’s a wonderful way to celebrate our wonderful British countryside!”
“And I say that because during lockdown, all people could really do was head outside into nature and explore the great outdoors… or depending on where they lived, whatever happened to be on their doorstep! So whilst we would normally maybe head off somewhere abroad or to a big city for a weekend or a holiday, the pandemic sort of left us with no other choice but to explore our local towns and villages. And so it’s my hope that people now really start to appreciate the beauty this country has to offer and all of the wonder places we can explore not too far from home.”
“Ok, we might be a tiny little island but when you really think about it – we’ve got everything! We’ve coasts, we’ve got lakes, mountains, feels, canals, beaches; we’re very lucky in terms of what we have so near to us. I’m a pretty down to earth, outdoorsy sort of person, so I must admit, I love this whole ‘staycation’ style of living (laughs).”
“I’ve always been a believer that it’s good to try new things, and take on projects that will take you out of your comfort zone, because it’s the only way you really get to test yourself and learn new things.”Helen on her quest to always challenge herself and try new things.
As a young woman who has spent the majority of her life in the public eye, Helen finds herself in the unique position of becoming so much more than just another face on our television screens. Through her years of broadcasting, Skelton has managed to forge a rather special connection and relationship with the British public, to where audiences of her shows no longer view her as being a “celebrity”, but rather more of a friend, or extended member of their family.
Although, this is a concept that Helen recognises and understands, it’s clear she find it’s tricky to view herself in that way.
“Do you know what…” Helen says before pausing. “I don’t quite know how to articulate it, because in many ways it’s hard for me to think of myself as ‘famous’, because I’m just me (laughs) I’m just Helen.”
“I don’t sit in a glass house, I don’t drink cocktails in Soho House all day – I live and lead a very normal life, which I think can come as a surprise to people, because in some ways we’re still living in an age where people really do believe that anybody working in television leads this super glamorous life, and whilst it’s a brilliant job and it does have it’s perks, it’s far from being as glam as everyone thinks.”
Reflecting further on her career and relationship with the public, Skelton adds: “I’m grateful and I feel lucky that I’ve been able to work on shows that are quite interactive and cover events and subject matters that bring people together. So programmes like Blue Peter, On The Farm or even when I’ve done coverage at the Olympics, those programmes spark conversation and debate, so when people do see me out and about, they feel like they can come up and talk to me about what they’ve seen and I love that! I would have hated to have been an actress (laughs) I always feel really sorry for Tracy Barlow on Corrie, because she’s quite a troublesome lady isn’t she, and a lot of people don’t seem to be able to dis-connect from the character an actor is playing, which I imagine at times can be quite tricky when you’re out and about in public.”
“I must tell you this story though, before COVID I was in the airport and this lady came up to me and said ‘can you just watch my kids for 5 minutes?’ And I panicked because I’d never seen her before in my life! When she came back and realised she’d left her kids with an absolute stranger, she was like ‘oh my God I’m so sorry, I thought you were a teaching assistant at my daughters school – you just looked so familiar!’ It was hilarious but to me, but that also felt like the biggest compliment because it showed, in a way that people do feel comfortable around me and they do enjoy the work I do.”
Life on the go…
As we near the end of summer 2021, and autumn creeps ever closer, we’re intrigued to know what plans Helen has for the rest of the year…
“We’ve got loads more On The Farm shows lined up!” Helen says with a sense of excitement. “As well as that, we’ll also be doing some autumn/winter specials and then hopefully something at Christmas, which will be fun. Aside from that I’m doing a load of consumer affairs stuff for Channel 4, and work on the Toy Breaker will continue to run alongside that so yeah, I’m busy, busy for the rest of the year which I’m very grateful for!”
As avid followers of Helen’s social media accounts will know, the former Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins contestant makes no pretence that her personal or professional life is sunshine and smiles all of the time, and often acknowledges the challenges of working as a freelancer broadcaster.
“As a lot of people will tell you, being self employed can be hard at the best of times, but it’s been especially hard over the course of this past year. But for me as a Mum, with two young children, I just think it’s the best thing ever! Ok, I don’t get sick pay, I don’t get maternity pay and it can be a bit unpredictable at times but, it helps and allows me to become the master of my own destiny, which I think is really important.”
“I’ve been making telly for 20 years now, that’s half my life, so as I look to the future and about what I want to do next, and I feel like I’m in a place where I just want to test myself and push myself to grow. As I said to you earlier, I’m a firm believer that it’s always good to try new things, and to do work that will take you out of your comfort zone, because ultimately that’s what helps you evolve as a person. I know it’s not always easy, and at times it can push you to your limits, but when you get to that place where you’ve always wanted to be, it’s all worth it.”