End of an era for Great Yorkshire show director

NADV 1410141AM3 Bill Cowling. Picture : Adrian Murray.  (1410141AM3)
NADV 1410141AM3 Bill Cowling. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1410141AM3)

He’s rubbed shoulders with Royalty and been credited with helping to take crowd figures at the Great Yorkshire Show to more than 100,000. As director Bill Cowling stands down after 10 years, RUBY KITCHEN reports.

Bill Cowling is to hang up his famous black bowler hat after more than a decade at the helm of the Great Yorkshire Show.

He’s played a part in the show for more than 40 years, building his way up from cattle steward to the top seat as director. But, as he looks to step down after next year’s July show, he says the time is right for moving on and letting someone else have the chance.

“I have been there longer than most,“ he said. “When I started the job, five years was more typically the norm for directors.”

The search for the new incumbent began this week with a small committee having been established to look at potential successors.

Mr Cowling, 71, who has two sons, a daughter, and two granddaughters, helps run the two family farms at North Rigton and Pannal.

He has an association with the Great Yorkshire Show that has lasted four decades.

Born in Leeds, Mr Cowling’s association with the Yorkshire Agricultural Society began in the 1960s when he successfully showed dairy cattle at the Great Yorkshire.

In 1978 he commenced stewarding the cattle section, going on to become Chief Cattle Steward in 1995.

During his time in charge the Great Yorkshire Show has enjoyed attendance figures routinely past the 100,000 mark and he played an instrumental role in the launch of the show’s autumnal sister event Countryside Live.

“In the early days, like a lot of boys, I would spend all my time looking at tractors,” he said.

“Everything I’ve done since has been interesting. It’s a great thing that I’ve had the chance to be a part of.

“It’s become a huge part of my life. The family do most of the farming now, they are worried that I might now spend a bit more time at home.”

In his time as show director, he has seen six Royal visits, welcoming Princess Anne twice, Prince Charles and Camilla twice, and the Countess of Wessex.

But his greatest moment of all was welcoming the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh to the showground in 2008.

“The highlight must be meeting the Queen,” he said. “I could never have imagined that I’d one day be in the back of a Range Rover, driving around with the Queen.

“It happens at every show that I sit back and think ‘I’m so proud to be here’. To be out watching the cattle parades.

“There’s been so many wonderful sights on this showground. I consider myself lucky to be a part of that.”

It hasn’t always been sunny days and Royal visits on the showground.

“The worst crisis was in 2012 when wet weather caused us to call of the last two days of the show,” he said. “That’s the worst day I can remember.

“It was quite late on, nearly 5pm, when we sat down for a meeting to decide. We couldn’t carry on. The showground was alright, but the car parks were impassable.

“It wasn’t a decision taken lightly I can assure you. We tried to do what was right. It was a hard decision, but it was made easier by the fact that really, we had no choice.

“We’ve spent well over £1m since, making sure that doesn’t happen again. There are challenges, it’s how you deal with them that counts.”

As he prepares to start tying up loose ends ahead of standing down next July, he says he will always look back fondly on his time with the GYS.

“I feel so privileged to have asked to do this job,” he said. “I will miss most the meetings where we plan it all, where everyone is having an input.

“And that first day of every show, first thing in the morning when I get there before it all opens, looking out over a pristine showground. It’s all laid out ahead of you, waiting to happen.”

And after next year, when he is no longer show director?

“I will be here,” he said. “It’s been a part of my life for a long time. I would never miss a show.”