Interview featured in Feast Issue 37 – June 2019
The new Show Director of the Royal Norfolk Show, James Hill, may not be Norfolk born and bred but he does have a strong childhood connection to the county.
Originally from Hertfordshire, James recalls: ‘When I was about 12 years old I started to volunteer for the North Norfolk Railway, at Sheringham. I spent a very large part of my teenage years working as a volunteer and maintained that throughout my adult life.’
As a result of all this, he says: ‘I’ve spent a lot of time in North Norfolk over the years, in all weathers and at all times of the year!’
His appointment as Show Director, and Deputy Chief Executive of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, was announced earlier this year and he has had to hit the ground running, as the UK’s largest two-day county show, which attracts around 80,000 visitors every year, is already upon us. ‘This is my first Show, in every respect. I’m already aware it’s an enormous privilege and opportunity to be Show Director. And I’m very conscious I’m managing an iconic institution, for want of a better word. It’s a shop window on Norfolk – the biggest event in the county – and it provides that wonderful opportunity to showcase food, farming and the countryside.’
James joins the RNAA after 33 years’ service in the RAF, where he specialised initially in education and training. Subsequently his career included operational postings in West Africa and the Middle East as a media and public relations specialist. He has also served in leadership roles in the Ministry of Defence; Afghanistan; the Defence Academy and, most recently, at the Royal Air Force Headquarters.
Undoubtedly, he has transferable skills in leadership and management. And he makes the point: ‘Effectively an air base is like a small town, or a large showground…’
The RNAA was founded in 1847 to promote the image, understanding and prosperity of agriculture and the countryside, primarily through its hosting of the Show.
This year, the themes are Wellbeing, Tourism and Volunteering, and the Grand Ring line up remains as impressive as ever, including a pageant portraying farming’s progress since 1919, to mark the centenary of the National Farmers Union in Norfolk. Other highlights across the showground include an even bigger Horticultural Area packed with gardeners, chefs and local producers, with James saying: ‘We’ve built and expanded on that – I think it will provide something of interest to everyone.’
The best of Norfolk produce will feature in the Adnams Food and Drink Experience and Flavours Food Hub, where visitors will have the opportunity to discover, taste and sample a huge range of products. James says of the latter: ‘We’ve enhanced that and relocated it next to the Norwich Gate.’ And, once again, Norfolk food producers will be making the most of an HSBC initiative which helps newly established businesses to attend the Show. ‘The majority of our producers come from Norfolk,
which is fantastic.’
He happens to be a foodie. ‘I particularly like seafood, and so have come to a great county. And I enjoy fish and chips if I’m in Sheringham. And, for me, another favourite is having roast beef with my family for Sunday lunch.’ His family is made up of wife Judy (‘she served at RAF Marham, many years ago, so is not a stranger to the county’), and two boys, aged 18 and 20.
Currently, they are renting a home near Reepham, but he adds: ‘We are in the process of finding somewhere more permanent.’
As for drink, he says: ‘I’m very much a real ale man. My parents retired to Suffolk – so you can’t beat a good pint of Adnams (but perhaps I shouldn’t be saying that; perhaps I should be saying Woodforde’s!).’ He and his wife also like gin and wine, and he jokes: ‘It sounds like we’re soaks! It’s fantastic to see the development of wine producers in the region.’
James is looking forward to his first Show, which promises to blend heritage and tradition with cutting edge technology and innovative ideas in farming and food production. ‘We have some strong messages about how important food and farming is to the county – and to the nation, quite frankly.’
The Royal Norfolk Show takes place on June 26 and 27 at the Norfolk Showground. Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex will attend the first day of the show and fulfil a series of engagements as part of her role as this year’s President. Online tickets for this year’s show are on sale now from the Royal Norfolk Show website.