PUBLISHED: 10:38 26 April 2011 | UPDATED: 12:01 28 February 2013
Martin Clunes talks to Helen Stiles about a chronic case of equinitus, his 6ft-plus 'babies' and why Buckham Fair will be better than ever.
At the last count there were 96 legs in the Clunes household: 12 horses, 3 dogs, 2 cats, 2 guinea pigs, 7 chickens, Martin, wife Philippa and daughter Emily. Weve got some fish as well but they havent grown legs yet, chuckles Martin as he stretches out his long legs in the kitchen of his farmhouse just outside Beaminster. Three dogs are sprawled on the floor and, outside on the lawn in a palatial guinea pig duplex, the two newest family members, Lucky and Clover, munch happily on a cabbage leaf. They were discovered abandoned in a box in the snow by Arthur, he nods towards a sagacious-looking black Labrador. Philippa and Emily rushed them down to our heavenly vets, Girling and Bowditch, in Beaminster. Three survived, one has gone to friends in London and the other two enjoy winding up Jim, the Jack Russell, who thinks they are an exotic form of rat.
Things are busy in the Clunes household, where Martin and Philippa are planning their annual charity event, the Buckham Fair Pony and Dog Show, before they go off to Cornwall to film the latest series of Doc Martin, which Philippa produces. This years fair, says Martin, is going to be bigger and better than ever. The popularity of last years event took us by surprise. He estimates that it attracted 3-4,000 people from across the county and country. The roads clogged up and the car parking went wrong, which was my fault, but this year we have the police and the highways people on board, so we will operate a one-way system, and a kind neighbour has lent us an extra field for the overflow car park.
Its obvious when talking to Martin that he is mad about animals but, as a child growing up in Wimbledon, the paw count was relatively modest. My mother never really liked dogs but, to her credit, she let us have one anyway, he recalls. The family acquired Jemima, a rescue whippet/Jack Russell cross. Initially she was my sisters dog but she lost interest when boys came along, not having a pony to distract her. So Jemima became my dog; she slept on my bed and was a real buddy. I even took her on a trip to Harrods! Dogs like to be included, so I always take mine on the school run, he says, ruffling the head of Tina Audrey, the golden cocker spaniel quietly worshipping at his feet.
Martins passion for horses is more recent. His introduction came through his daughter, Emily. We started her riding at two years old in Richmond Park, where she would be placed on the back of a grumpy old Shetland called Scooby Doo, who has launched a million horsey careers, laughs Martin. When she sat on Scooby she just lit up, and it went from there.
When the family moved to their first Dorset home in Powerstock, they bought Emily her first pony, Tiny. Philippa, who had longed for a pony as a child but never got one, also took up riding. Martin was very happy to be part of what he terms the support group, helping Emily brush her pony, even making a fancy dress costume for it. Emily has a little chain mail outfit, so Mum and I set about making a suitably knightly getup for the pony. We cut and sewed a sheet and I found a heraldic symbol which I printed onto an iron-on thing so we could create the ponys armour. It was really rather good.
Martin had his own equine epiphany while filming a drama in New Zealand a few years later. The character he was playing had to ride a horse. He had ridden as a child but wanted a trial ride to see how he would get on with the horse they had selected. Emily and Philippa had come out to join me, so we went on a two-hour trek on horseback, along deserted beaches and up remote forest tracks. We were chatting away the whole time and I was thinking doing this together as a family is just the best thing ever.
On returning to the UK, Martin bought Chester, a magnificent hunter, standing at an impressive 17.2 hands, which he rides regularly. The family has since acquired a stableful of horsey friends. They have help with the stables six days a week but on Sunday they keep it real and the whole family mucks in. Im on the breakfast round at the moment, so I feed seven of them and they all have different dietary requirements of course, he says, rolling his eyes but my Clydesdales, Ronnie and Bruce, are my babies. These are pretty large babies, standing taller than Martin even before their first birthday, which they are about to celebrate. Were thinking of a small do in a marquee on the lawn, chuckles Martin. He fell in love with the breed when he was filming the ITV series Horse Power. So he went to meet prize-winning Clydesdale breeder Ronnie Black on his farm in Scotland. He had earmarked a foal for me. When I saw him he was with his half brother they share the same sire, a champion stud called American Ben Franklin and I couldnt bear to split them up. They are great company for each other and double the fun.
Ronnie and Bruce have already let themselves out of the paddock, preferring to hang out with the sheep and, like a couple of teenagers, swing by the stable for breakfast and tea. I want to get them working pulling carts and carriages but chiefly I am going to ride them. So, if you see a strange couple riding around the lanes of Beaminster on a pair of massive red Clydesdales it will be Philippa and me!
Its clear that Martin has a serious case of equinitus as he calls it, and this condition has been recognised by the British Horse Society, who have invited him to become their next president, a post he takes up in June. Martin is thrilled to bits. I am not an expert but I am an enthusiast and they see me as a good ambassador for spreading the word about what fun horses are. I love meeting people and their horses.
Martins new babies will be on show at Buckham Fair (Sunday 21 August), which this year features heavy horses as well as the usual pony gymkhana and dog show. Ronnie and Bruce will be groomed to within an inch of their lives, says Martin proudly. This years fair is raising money for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, which has its own equine connection, as Martin discovered when he contacted them. The boss there said is it because of the horses? It hadnt dawned on me until then that the Air Ambulance are often the only people who can get to a riding accident because of the remote off-road locations these things can happen in.
Buckham Fair, says Martin, is his chance to give something back to the county and raise money for much-cherished local charities. Last year they raised an impressive 22,000 for Weldmar Hospicecare Trust, where Philippa is on the board; the previous year it was for Julias House, which Martin is involved with.
For Martin, part of the perks of running the fair is judging the fun dog show. Its predominantly children with the family mutt. They are just so thrilled when they get a rosette. There are all sorts of classes to enter, waggiest tail, best six legs, dog most like the judge actually thats one we havent had yet but maybe we should? Poor dog though, can you imagine! he laughs.
Meet the Buckham Fair Committee
This years Buckham Fair on Sunday 21 August is going to be bigger and better than ever and we hope to raise a large amount for the Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance. As well as our increasingly popular Pony and Dog Show, we have the Fair with its dodgems, helter skelter and carousel, Vintage Cars, Vintage Scooters, a Heavy Horse Show and dog displays given by the Police.
This year we are joined by many new stallholders, as well as welcoming back many loyal ones who have supported us before. The Food Section is going to be mouth-watering, with a fantastic array of gourmet foods from around the county. There are still some spaces available so do contact us if you would like to apply for a Trade Stand. New attractions are being added to the Fair each week so keep checking our new website buckhamfair.co.uk or dorset.greatbritishlife.co.uk for regular updates.
We couldnt put Buckham Fair on without our incredibly generous Sponsors, which as well as local business and individuals, now extends to sponsors from as far afield as the USA and Australia! You can be a sponsor for as little as 25. This year we are printing a glossy Programme of Events and each sponsor will have the opportunity to advertise in it and almost 100% of the profits go to our chosen charity.
There will be a one-way traffic system in operation this year and plenty of additional parking and the police and the AA will be on hand to help with this. So please do come along and support us and enjoy all the fun of Buckham Fair. Philippa and Martin Clunes