Photo: Guy Singh-Watson/BBC & Amanda Benson
This Sunday, our very own Guy Singh-Watson, Riverford founder, was the castaway on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Guy spoke to host Kirsty Young about his life in food, organic farming, and his quest for a more ethical way of doing business. In case you missed it, it’s available to listen again here – or read about his choices below.
1) Kenny Rogers, Lucille
For all that Guy is prone to a good rant, he can also be rather ‘soppy’; a trait that the emotional directness of country music appeals to. This first track Guy recalled singing sadly to himself, alone in his tractor, while his first marriage was hitting the rocks. At the time, he really did have four children (although they weren’t hungry) and crops in the fields!
2) Tofu Love Frogs, Vegetable Attack
One of the major perks of working at Riverford is the parties; we have two big ones a year, and they’re always a night to remember! Back in the day, they used to be even wilder. This track took Guy back to one of the best: a Halloween knees-up featuring magic mushrooms (nowadays we stick to pints of Prosecco), and memorable live music from Tofu Love Frogs.
3) Harry Belafonté, Chickens
Guy’s mother Gillian played a huge role in shaping Riverford: she passed her irrepressible enthusiasm for food and cooking on to her five children, all of whom now work in food and farming. Gillian grew up in Trinidad, and always loved calypso music – especially the devilishly handsome Harry Belafonté.
Throughout Guy’s childhood, the farm was always on the brink of bankruptcy. John Watson was years ahead of his time, determined to do things his own way, such as giving his beloved pigs a remarkably high standard of welfare. His way was often right, but it wasn’t often profitable. Belafonté’s line ‘This isn’t funny, we’re losing money…’ rang true.
4) The Sex Pistols, Anarchy in the UK
A ‘proper little farm boy’, Guy spent his youth outside, clambering up trees, catching rabbits, rearing his own pig and selling manure from the farm gate. This left him a little out of step with his generation… something that was brought home to him with particular punch when he was taken by friends to see The Sex Pistols. With no idea what to expect, he found himself, ‘probably wearing a tweed jacket’, in a crowd of spitting, pogoing Plymothians.
5) Jimmy Somerville & Bronski Beat, Smalltown Boy
After studying Agriculture and Forestry Science at Oxford and a brief return to the farm, Guy left for London to try something new. He bought himself a snappy suit, got a job in management consultancy – and much to his surprise, was such a success that he was asked to open an office in Manhattan. Those heady days, in London and New York, were when he ‘started living life a bit’ – and the gay clubs were where the music was always best.
This track, by the brave and highly principled Jimmy Somerville, was Guy’s #1 pick of the show.
6) Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime
Management consultancy was ‘stimulating but morally bankrupt’. Eventually Guy gave up, chucked his office keys into the Hudson River, and moved up to a remote island in Maine to teach kids sailing. No drink, no drugs; just lots of sailing, swimming, running and rowing. He also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, listening to Talking Heads with the chef while they cooked up macrobiotic meals. Eventually Guy got his head screwed back on straight… and came to the conclusion that he needed to start his own business.
7) Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man
In 2014, Guy married fellow organic entrepreneur Geetie Singh. This song – the epitome of Cohen’s coolness, sexiness and humour – played at their wedding.
8) Grace Jones, Pull Up to the Bumper
Guy’s final choice was the one and only Grace Jones: her originality, sass and strength, streaks ahead of her time, take him right back to the wild streets of New York.
Book choice: Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd. Guy has always admired the character of Gabriel Oak as a role model.
Luxury: A surfboard – Kirsty says he’s allowed it as long as he doesn’t use it to paddle to another island!