Clarissa Dickson Wright was known to millions as a cook, broadcaster, author, historian, countryside champion and no-nonsense campaigner. Her death in mid-March rocked us all and we will miss her warmth and wisdom more than we could ever express. (Read Clarissa's obituary in the Telegraph here.)
Another string to Clarissa's bow was her longstanding role as a national judge in the Countryside Alliance Awards. "The longest serving" she would tell her fellow judges sternly. In 2013 we felt we wanted to cement her role and her support and use some of her star power to help spread the word further about food and farming. She had spent many years cheering on the Awards finalists at our Parliamentary reception - how much nicer if she could be the one up there reading out the citations and adding her own touch to proceedings? After all, she never missed an awards ceremony and could not have been more generous in her support, praise and encouragement for those businesses in the running. Clarissa was touched by the idea and she readily agreed to allow us to inaugurate an annual award in her name. The perameters of the award would be set by Clarissa herself, she would choose the winner, and she would even have carte blanche to choose the colour of the winner's plaque (when I suggested a Fortnum & Mason-style duck-egg colour, she snorted in response "they wouldn't have me! A rich claret red please, with gold lettering.")
When Clarissa died in March 2014 we were broken hearted, but determined to carry on with her award. It will become her legacy. That she knew about the award before her death and had set the criteria that mattered to her means that her voice will continue to be heard.
Clarissa's great friend, Countryside Alliance President, Baroness Mallalieu, was honoured to present the inaugural Clarissa Dickson Wright Award in Clarissa's stead at Parliament in April 2014 as a special addition to the Countryside Alliance Awards. She paid tribute to her great friend - you can read her thoughts here. Her tribute ended with the presentation of a special award in Clarissa's name. She told the packed Parliamentary reception:
In conversation with Clarissa last year Jill and Sarah, who run the Countryside Alliance Awards, proposed starting up a dedicated Clarissa Dickson Wright Award, the criteria for which she herself would set.
Clarissa was touched and delighted with this idea. The Award would, she said, focus on strong animal husbandry, support for slow and artisan food and a platform for the efforts being made to foster our farming heritage through measures such as protecting rare breeds. She was also firm in saying that, because farmers and producers need to help the public connect with their food, we should also honour them when they get it right. That campaigning side of her, keen to educate, inform and ignite a passion for food, was powerful and forms the heart of her legacy.
We had hoped that she would be here to present the inaugural award. Tragically that was not to be, but she did select the winner, most vehemently, and I am honoured and humbled to present the Clarissa Dickson Wright Award in her stead today.
Peter Gott of Sillfield Farm describes himself as a “Man on a Mission”, so it is easy to see why he and Clarissa saw eye to eye.
Sillfield in the village of Gatebeck in the Lake District is home to Wild Boar, Rare Breed Pigs, Herdwick sheep and rare breed types of poultry, all of which are Free Range. The owners, Peter and Christine Gott, have been running the farm for twenty years and now their daughter and son in law are also involved in the business and are just as passionate.
Some of the finest products in the country are reared at Sillfield. Wild Boar production started in 1993, when Peter’s brother gave him four wild boar gilts as a joke. And it's just gone from there. The farm has about eighteen acres of coniferous woodland, which is ideal habitat for the 150 wild boar at the farm.
Jamie Oliver sends his students from his restaurant Fifteen to Sillfield Farm every year, where they are shown how the animals are reared and taught the importance of using quality ingredients in their cooking. Sillfield also supplies some of the best restaurants in London, including Fifteen Restaurant which receives 2 Sillfield pigs every week.
Peter Gott is a very well respected leader in Artisan Food Production and has spread the word on numerous television programmes, acting as a true ambassador for slow food but never forgetting that he is at heart a farmer with a family business.
Peter also has a weekly stall at Borough Market at London Bridge, a place close to the hearts of both Clarissa and her Two Fat Ladies partner, Jennifer Paterson. The pair of them
used to do cooking demonstrations at the market on the back of a flatbed truck, aware, as Peter is, how food tourism can give farming a real boost and help connect consumers and farmers.
Peter works hard to inspire and enthuse everyone he meets about the farm to fork tradition. His mantra is “Good food is one of the greatest pleasures in life.”
Peter is a richly deserving recipient of the inaugural Clarissa Dickson Wright Award. Clarissa was most particular that the colour of her Award plaque should be claret and gold. The idea of a Fortnum & Mason duck egg colour was rejected with a snort, Clarissa saying “they wouldn’t have me!”
I therefore have great pleasure in asking Peter, along with his wife Christine, to come and collect this special claret and gold plaque, given in tribute to an outstanding contribution from someone who truly knew the scale of your hard work and passion.
Peter and Christine's website is www.sillfield.co.uk