Interview: Selina Scott

Once, when Selina Scott was introduced to the late Princess of Wales backstage at a charity gala, Diana commented: ‘People say you look like me.’ Miss Scott considered this compliment, and then replied with just a touch of exaggerated politeness: ‘Well, your Highness, I was here first.’ At this, both women collapsed in giggles, but the signal being sent was serious. Miss Scott was the elder, an original and not in the business of mirroring anybody. Many times, she has been offered large amounts of money to star in I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, Celebrity Big Brother, and other television reality shows that humiliate celebrities, but all have been refused with a shudder.

‘The sight of Jenny Bond going into a coffin crawling with rats merely to keep her career going [in I’m a Celebrity]… a professional woman with all her experience, it’s so demeaning.’ Instead, Miss Scott followed her heart, resulting in endearing programmes about her two great loves: the countryside and animals. With a mongrel called Chump, she won BBC2’s The Underdog Show, in which cele-brities competed to see who was best at training strays. She is currently presenting Tales From the Country on ITV; a subject she knows rather well.

Five years ago, she bought a run down farmhouse near Ampleforth, Yorkshire, with 180 acres. ‘It was formerly the grange to a 15th-century abbey,’ she explains. ‘This is where I keep my 26 goats and my alsatian, Kiki, whom I found being beaten in Majorca. It’s also the place where I welcome the barn owls, curlews and lapwings that nest on my land. I want to create a two-acre lake and see what wildlife comes to it. ‘However, I’m heartbroken at the moment. My adored billy goat has just died. He was a terror, forever running away, and I would have to get in my car to chase him. When I eventually caught him, I would put him in the back seat to bring him home, but his horns and hooves would wreck the car.’

Miss Scott is passionate about countryside stewardship as well as animal welfare, working with Defra to plant hedges, ‘all with 20ft margins to encourage partridges and plover’. She campaigned against forestry exploitation to save a local bluebell wood, and even fought against intrusive public lights in her village, which she says have contributed to night pollution an issue that Country Life raised in its 2006 Manifesto.

The country matters to her because ‘it’s a place where I can breathe. Twice a year, we shear the goats and the wool goes off to make socks sold through Purdey. It’s great fun’. Clients include her friend Prince Charles she has been a guest at Highgrove many times. Following recent appearances on ITN’s 50th birthday show (she was one of its first female presenters) and on BBC Breakfast’s 25th anniversary show (she launched the service with Frank Bough), producers asked her to return full-time to the news business. They noticed that age has given her an authority that is missing from many of today’s presenters.

In the meantime, she will next be seen on ITV and Sky Arts presenting a programme about the painter Edward Seago. ‘I visited his Norfolk home, and the East Anglian landscapes he painted so evocatively. He was brilliant with skies, perhaps because he spent so much time as a boy ill in bed, looking up at the sky. ‘Seago was a friend of Prince Philip’s, whom I interviewed at Frogmore. Shortly after his marriage, Philip invited Seago to join him on the Britannia for a cruise to the Antarctic, where he painted 46 pictures, which he gave to Philip.

The Prince brought two of his favourites from Balmoral to show me. We’d met several times before, and, when the cameras stopped, Philip asked me what I thought of pheasant breeding and shooting. I told him I was against field sports, so we had quite a heated conversation about that.’ Prince Philip isn’t the only one she’s taken on in a shooting debate, as her brother edits Sporting Gun. However, Miss Scott, ever the diplomat, says they agree to disagree on that matter. Diana would be proud.