Martin Clunes: My Life in Dorset
10:18 07 June 2011
Martin Clunes meets Helen Fisher and tells her about Ferris Wheels, Dogs, Ponies and Dorset
The sight of a big ferris wheel lumbering its way up through the narrow Dorset lanes towards my piece of land was heart-stoppingly wonderful, says Martin Clunes, as he remembers one day last summer, when the fair came to town."
We are sitting at Martins kitchen table, which overlooks beautiful views of green and glorious rolling Dorset countryside. With his irrepressible enthusiasm, Martin proceeds to tell me just how he went about organising his very own country fair in Beaminster. Before we actually moved into this house, I took my dogs out for a run and to have a nose around the land we were hoping to buy, he recalls. There were these two huge fields on the top of the Down that were just so flat, which is unusual for West Dorset, and it was then that it struck me, and I just suddenly thought, wouldnt this be a great site for a fair? The idea really just suggested itself.
The first year that Martin and his wife Philippa organised Buckham Fair, it was a modest gymkhana and fun dog show. But the show was so popular and Martin himself had such a marvellous time, he decided to try and pull off a bigger and better event for the following year, hence the big wheel. When that big wheel finally trundled up the hill into my field, it was an utterly gleeful moment, he recalls. And once it was finally erected, you could see it all the way from Beaminster!
Growing up in Wimbledon Common meant that Martins previous experience of the fair coming to town was very different to a traditional country-style fair like Buckham. A proper fair used to come to Wimbledon Common every year, he says. But there was nothing rural about it all. In fact, it was urban in the extreme, full of dodgy, tax-avoiding, no-fixed-abode types who ran it, a really scary bunch. Still, it didnt put me off getting evening work with them, just for the fortnight that they were on the Common.
Martins job was running the Octopus Ride. I collected the money and tried to get a kiss off all the girls! he grins. Buckham Fair doesnt feature an Octopus Ride, but Martin does still kiss a lot of girls, a job that he nobly takes on, in the name of charity. Cluness Kisses can be bought with a donation because, first and foremost, Buckham Fair is a charitable event, and this year all the proceeds are being donated in support of the Weldmar Hospicecare. Philippa has been on the board of Weldmar for years now, he explains. Its a charity that is very close to our hearts. I help out whenever and wherever I can. I cant think how many ftes Ive opened for them in the summertime. Ive loved it and they are so deserving of all our efforts.
The Dorset landscape has definitely got under Martins skin. I remember thinking when we first moved here it was just going to be for weekends and holidays, he says. Our daughter Emily was still quite small, but it all changed when school became a big issue. We needed to make a decision as to whether she was going to start school in London or Dorset. I have to confess, it didnt take us long to decide.
The familys home is tucked up a winding hill, only a spit away from the pretty town of Beaminster. I cant believe anyone could be lucky enough to live somewhere as beautiful as this, let alone me, he says with obvious pride. Weve got 135 acres, which is a really good slice of Dorset, but because of the bridlepaths we regularly see the same walkers and riders most days, which is nice. And theres no question that this is now the Cluness permanent home and that Martin has become a permanent fixture of the community. When we first bought this place there was a fair amount of curiosity and I thought wed never be treated like locals, but slowly, without realising it, we have been accepted. Its truly a lovely place to live.
In recent years, Martins job as a TV presenter has taken him all over the world, from New Zealand to Mongolia, but even seeing the farthest corners of the globe only makes him appreciate his home in Dorset more. Id always rather be here than anywhere else, he says pointedly. I was coming home from working in America just before Christmas, and Id been away for nearly three weeks, staying in Aspen, having a really glorious time, but by the end I was thinking get me out of here! I was desperate to be back in Dorset and up to my wellie tops in mud.
Dogs and horses are an important part of the Cluness family life. Martin, his wife and daughter, Emily, all ride their own horses. And now, scrabbling around his kitchen is Martins Jack Russell puppy, James Henry, otherwise known as Jim, who is merrily wrestling with a string of toy sausages. It was on Martins homecoming from working in America that Philippa and Emily bought Jim as a surprise Christmas present for him.
Jim came to the Cluness home to help fill the furry hole that their beloved cocker spaniel, Mary Elisabeth, had left when she suddenly died. Martin draws a deep breath before he tells the sad tale. Wed all been away, as I was filming this thing about horses in Mongolia. It was half term, so Philippa and Emily were able to come with me, he says. While we were there we got this call from a friend who was house-sitting to say Mary had died. It was so tragic. She was completely deaf and during the two and a half years of building works that went on here, with Travis Perkins lorries arriving with loads of bricks and cement every day, somehow she survived. But the cruel irony was that on one of the very last days, she was accidentally run over by one of our builders.
Propped up on the kitchen windowsill is a large painting of Mary. When she was three months old we found out she had bad knees and hips and vowed that wed take care of her, and ease her passage through life however we could, remembers Martin sadly. The book on dogs I wrote was a eulogy to Mary. She was also famous; shed done three Radio Times covers, appeared on This Morning, GMTV, Loose Women and the Paul OGrady Show twice! She was such a special little dog, and I cant help thinking that if Id been here, it wouldnt have happened. But the reality is it was just rotten luck. It was awful.
Despite the absence of Mary, Martins kitchen is still brimming over with feline and canine paws. Theres Tina Audrey, another cocker spaniel, James Henry, a parson jack russell, and Arthur Colin a black labrador who, Martin proudly shows, will smile on command. And padding around the kitchen island, like she owns the place, is one of their two cats, Maisie Ann. Well, we thought she was a girl, explains Martin. So we dutifully named her Maisie. But then we later discovered she was in fact a he. So we did the only decent thing and took him in to have his knackers off. And so now he is a she again!
On the kitchen table next to an open copy of Gardens Illustrated is a completed childrens puzzle of a Shetland pony. Martins ten-year-old daughter, Emily, has been riding since she was two. Theres a lot of wish fulfilment for Philippa there, as she was pony mad as a little girl, but didnt ever get the chance to have one, he says. I went out riding with my daughter, with all the dogs at our side, last Sunday on the Buckham Fair site. Philippas horse is pregnant so she couldnt join us but Emily and I were able to just race along together. Its a dream come true not one I ever really had myself, says Martin thoughtfully. But its somebodys dream and I just grabbed it with both hands!
Martin is currently filming the second series of Reggie Perrin and hes also been filming a two-part series called Horse Power, which will be on ITV in the autumn. Philippas horse, Bee Louise, is due to have her foal in June, he says with a proud smile. Were just waiting for that big event so we can finish filming Horse Power; were determined to get our new arrival in the show.
The gardening magazine on the table is opened at a page about how to grow your own tomatoes. I ask if Martin is a grow-your-own veg man? He shakes his head. No, thats Philippa department, she does all the veg Im a grass-cutter, he says, pointing out the window to his bright orange Kubota mower, which is his pride and joy. I love cutting grass. We have a couple of acres of lawn and I cant explain it but I just love mowing. And Im really proud of my mowing. Im into all different techniques, sometimes stripes, sometimes diagonals, sometimes I just freestyle. I take grass cutting very seriously. When you cut grass at my level, you dont have time for any of the other gardening stuff.
If Im really lucky, says Britains best-loved comedy actor and TV presenter, Ill be remembered for my mowing.
The Buckham Fair Dog and Pony Show is on Sunday 22 August10am - 4pm, the Fair runs until 9pm.
If any local individuals or small businesses would like to run a stall on the day please contact Philippa Cluneson firstname.lastname@example.org
Meet the Buckham Fair Dog and Pony Show Committee
Bhavani Hogarty: Its been great fun and very rewarding working with Martin and Philippa on their annual Buckham Fair Dog and Pony Show. It is very generous of them not only to hold it at their home but give the enormous time and effort required to make the event a success and raise valuable funds for charity: this year being the Weldmar Hospicecare Trust. As a Director of Battens Solicitors I am delighted to confirm our support as main sponsor again this year, and would like to encourage other businesses to get involved too. Itll be good for your company, wonderful for the local community and great for Weldmar Hospicecare Trust.
Carolyn Bain: I became involved with the Show because I always liked the idea of Beaminster having its own horse show, especially one that is dedicated to children. Our aim is to create a fun, relaxing day, which also raises money for charities in the area.
Vanessa Voegele-Downing: Its great being involved with Buckham Fair from the beginning as it feels like I can make a difference; its like bringing up a baby and watching it grow! I hope I never have to use the charities that we support but theres a possibility that I will, or some of my friends will, and its good to be able to make a contribution.
Rosemary Young: Being part of the Buckham Fair team is great as we all get on wonderfully well together. Each year we have been able to enlarge the dog show and have rings suitable for every dog and owner. Martins favourite class last year was the Best Trick, so I advise everyone to get practising with their dogs for a good original trick for 2010!
Philippa Clunes: We are pleased to be holding the Fair for Weldmar Hospicecare this year. It is good to be able to help another wonderful local charity whilst having loads of fun at the same time! We are also thrilled that Battens Sollicitors are on board again as our main sponsor for the event.
Battens Solicitors Limited, with offices in Weymouth, Dorchester, Sherborne and Yeovil, has demonstrated a major commitment to the local community by agreeing to be the main sponsor of Buckham Fair, which will raise valuable funds for the Weldmar Hospicecare Trust. Additional sponsorship is warmly welcomed, either from local businesses or on a personal level. Please support Buckham Fair this year and demonstrate your involvement in this high profile and unique event for a wonderfully worthwhile local charity.
Become a Sponsor of Buckham Fair
1,000: Key association with the event in Dorset magazine coverage, with personal quote, ten free tickets to the event, a banner at the event, the opportunity to judge a dog or pony event, one photo with Martin on the day, photo in the post-event coverage in Dorset magazine Social Diary pages.
500: Five tickets to the event, a banner at the event, a photo with Martin, photo in the post-event coverage in Dorset magazine Social Diary pages
100: Corporate sponsorship two tickets to the event, one banner at the event plus one photo with Martin OR private sponsorship 2 tickets to the event, a photo with Martin and an invitation to lunch at the judges tent, which is kindly being provided by the Hive Beach Caf