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The Great Yorkshire Show: Interview with Charles Mills and Rachel Coates

rachel coates show director charles mills

This year’s event marks the last of Charles Mills’ tenure as Show Director. He looks back over nine years in charge and explains why the farming industry needs a show like this before we meet his replacement, Rachel Coates, and find out what the role means to her.

160th great yorkshire show

Charles Mills

Early Memories of Farming

Q: What are your earliest memories of farming?
Well, it’s fair to say things were a little different. Tractors were smaller, there were far more staff, and everything seemed to involve hard, physical graft! But it was fun because of the people.

Highs and Lows in Farming

Q: Looking back over your life in farming, have there been plenty of highs and lows?
There have been plenty of both. Working with the land and livestock is very satisfying. Planting a small seed and seeing it flourish to helping calve a cow successfully is a great thrill. The lows have revolved around what farmers talk about so much: the weather!

Changes in the Farming Industry

Q: What have been the biggest changes in the farming industry in your lifetime?
Technology has come on leaps and bounds for both the better and the worse. I miss the camaraderie of working alongside a great team on the farm, but I don’t miss having to carry 16 stone bags of grain up the stairs and into the grain store.

Current Challenges for Farmers

Q: How tough is it for farmers currently?
I have personally found the last 12 months as tough as I remember, the weather being just one of those challenges.

charles mills show director

Importance of the Great Yorkshire Show

Q: Given the above, how important is the Great Yorkshire Show to the industry?
Hugely. It’s our shop window where the general public can come and learn about everything to do with farming and the wider countryside. For many who live and work in that countryside, it’s a hugely important opportunity to get away and see those people you otherwise wouldn’t have a chat with and forget about the challenges of everyday life, which has perhaps never been as important.

First Involvement with the Show

Q: What was the first year you were involved in the show – pre-Show Director – and what did you make of it then?
I’m guessing a little as to how long ago it was, but I began as a Council Member, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure what the Society did other than what I’d seen as a punter at the Great Yorkshire Show. There’s so much more, from the Countryside Days in the education section to the hugely important Future Farmers.

Becoming Show Director

Q: How honoured were you to become Show Director?
It’s pretty tough to quantify. It’s never something I planned or could have dreamed of doing. I know just how fortunate I’ve been.

main ring general view

Looking Back

Q: How do you look back on your first one in 2016?
I was so nervous, but the team was terrific, and those nerves were soon replaced with excitement.

Q: What has changed with the show under your stewardship over the years?
The obvious one is the move from a three- to a four-day show, with limited visitor numbers each day to hopefully ensure visitors have an even better experience. However, hopefully, everything the Show does has moved forward, from the Food Hall to the Innovation Zone and incredible sheepdog trials.

Responsibilities as Show Director

Q: What exactly are your responsibilities as Show Director?
The first is to work alongside the brilliant Great Yorkshire Show team and volunteers. From there, it’s anything from hosting Royal visits to presenting trophies to the winners of numerous classes and, of course, sampling some of the brilliant Yorkshire food on offer!

Balancing Farming and Show Directorship

Q: How does the role fit in with your day-to-day life?
At times it’s been tough. I’m still a hands-on farmer, so there have had to be some early starts and late finishes to get things done, but my family has always been there to back me up.

Excitement for This Year’s Show

Q: What are you most excited about with this year’s show?
I’m a traditionalist at heart. The same thing has excited me about the show every year since I first visited as a little boy in short trousers: everything. As a countryman, I love wandering through the cattle lines, listening to the pithy sheep shearing commentary, the oohs and ahhs of the Cock of the North, totting up the value of the machines I can’t afford to buy… the list really is one of endless excitement.

Emotions on the Last Day

Q: Will you be emotional on the last day?
I’m not sure I could have done the role for nine years and come away feeling nothing. However, as it’s something I never expected to get the chance to do, it will be a comforting sense of pride and gratitude.

rachel coates show director charles mills

Reflections and Tips

Q: Do you have any regrets looking back over the last nine years?
Time has flown. I just wish I had more time to step back and really appreciate what I have been involved in.

Q: Any tips for Rachel Coates?
Smile and be yourself.

What’s Next

Q: What’s next for you?
Heck! My family has asked the same question regularly, and I don’t know why they’re possibly asking that…

First things first, I need an ankle operation. Once that small discomfort is out of the way, I will be back enjoying everything the Great Yorkshire Show celebrates in the glorious Yorkshire countryside.

Rachel Coates

Early Memories of Farming

Q: What are your earliest memories of farming?
I grew up on a smallholding near Skipton, and my late father, Robin Addyman, was a livestock auctioneer at Clitheroe Mart. I used to go to the market with my dad and help out with the smallholding, so I grew up around farming. It just clicked, and I was never comfortable working in an office or being inside.

Changes in Farming

Q: How has farming changed in your lifetime?
It’s a lot more technological and innovative. Farmers have to be much more computer savvy and understand technology. It isn’t just physical work now and I think that is the biggest change.

Current Challenges

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the industry?
From economic pressures to the terrible weather, it has been a very challenging time for the industry. The Great Yorkshire Show is that point in the calendar where we can come together and recalibrate. We look to the Great Yorkshire Show as a place for positivity, to socialise and celebrate, as well as compete.

Importance to Family

Q: How key has the Great Yorkshire Show been to you and your family?
Very important! The highlight of our year. Since they were tiny, we’ve brought the children and began competing with our Holsteins. We were delighted to win the supreme dairy champion with a Holstein in 2022, while another Holstein was awarded first prize last year.

First Visit and Impressions

Q: What did you make of the show the first time you visited?
When I first came to the show at 18 years old, if you had said then, ‘You will be Show Director,’ I would have never believed you! I was hooked from that first visit.

new show director rachel coates

Evolution and Strengths

Q: How has it evolved since then, and what is it getting very right?
The Great Yorkshire Show was set up to bring farmers and rural communities together, to share innovations and meet socially. It is also the bridge between the general public and the farming industry, helping to show where food comes from and why the countryside looks as stunning as it does. I think the show continues to do a terrific job of this.

Becoming Show Director

Q: When did you first hear of the opportunity to take over as Show Director?
Charles Mills announced the opportunity at a Yorkshire Agricultural Society council meeting, and when I looked at the job spec, I thought I could do that!

Enthusiasm for the Role

Q: Why were you keen on the role?
I am from a farming background and am on the YAS council. I would love to take on the role at the Great Yorkshire Show. I have the attributes the team sought, the passion and the time to commit to the role.

Reaction to Being Announced

Q: How did it feel when you were announced as Show Director?
I was absolutely ecstatic and a little overwhelmed, and I don’t think it’s sunk in yet!

Responsibility and Gender

Q: Do you feel a degree of responsibility being the first female Show Director?
I think it’s the same level of responsibility whether you’re male or female. My remit when I take up my new position as Show Director is to ensure that the GYS remains relevant and showcases the best farming offers to the wider public. I feel honoured to be taking on the role.

Following Charles Mills

Q: Will it be tough following in Charles Mills’ footsteps?
Charles has done a terrific job and leaves a very successful legacy. I aim to build on this while bringing my own experiences to the Show to encourage it to evolve.

soldiers helping at gys

Excitements for This Year’s Show

Q: What are you looking forward to at this year’s show?
I always try to get around the show, but I usually help with Holsteins, so this year, I am really looking forward to spending more time in each section and looking at them with fresh eyes.

Encouraging Younger Generations

Q: How will you encourage younger generations to watch the show in the future?
I am really keen to make sure we keep the show relevant to younger generations, and I believe the younger generation is now taking a bigger role in farming families. In previous generations, families would not let go, but the middle generations are keen for their sons and daughters to start having a say in running the family business. The Great Yorkshire Show is not just important for socialising, it is also important to showcase the latest innovations and provide a platform for debate and support. I am keen to develop this.

Balancing Roles

Q: How will this new role fit in with your day-to-day life?
I will still work on the family farm, but in a lesser capacity, so I can devote some time to the Show Director’s role.

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Mark Kebble

Mark's career in journalism started in 2001 when he landed a role on a small lifestyle magazine in Angel, North London. Soon enough, the magazine was purchased by a larger organisation and Mark found himself promoted to editor at the tender age of 23. He later became group editor, working on magazines for Angel, Crouch End, Muswell Hill and Highgate. He was also involved in a launch in Hadley Wood and a major new group website, later becoming Group Hub Editor. In 2021, Mark joined Zest Media Group and oversaw the launch of many Absolutely titles across the UK. To date, Mark has launched in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Sussex, Essex, Yorkshire and Cheshire. When he does have some free time, Mark is also the Chairman of an amateur football club in Surrey and is also a fully qualified FA football coach.
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