Cast into the spotlight two years ago when the first episode of The Yorkshire Vet aired, co-stars and working vets, Julian Norton and Peter Wright are now recognisable faces across the country.
They have been on screen for 44 episodes and counting, but this weekend was a whole new experience for the veterinarians whose working life at Skeldale Veterinary Centre in Thirsk - the original James Herriot practice - is shared with around two million viewers each week on Channel 5.
As headline acts at the rebranded Yorkshire Vet at Countryside Live in Harrogate, they met their legions of fans, posed for selfies, faced questions from the public and live show host Georgey Spanswick on stage in the main ring and even helped host a pub quiz in the show’s newly added pop-up pub, The Drovers Arms.
During the live shows, clips from the TV series were shown but Peter admitted he was sceptical about the idea for the programme back in 2015, saying: “I said to Paul (Stead, the show’s executive producer) ‘It’s all been done before, it’s a complete waste of time’.”
But the programme’s popularity speaks for itself, with a fifth series currently being broadcast and more to come.
Kasi Morris of Farnham near Knaresborough and daughter Lucy were among those who joined long queues to have photographs taken with Peter and Julian. Lucy, clutching their signed pictures afterwards, was moved to tears.
“My brother-in-law, Bobby, is a massive fan but has learning difficulties and was too poorly to come so I had to get these signed,” she said. “They are so down to earth and seemed so pleased to meet their fans, it’s touching.
“With all the rubbish on TV that’s actually quite depressing, this show lightens my heart.”
Some of the programme’s regulars, including elderly farming clients Steve and Jeanie Green, joined Peter and Julian on stage and were given a hugely warm reception in their own right.
During one moving moment, Mrs Green cried as footage was shown of her saying goodbye to her dairy herd, a hard decision prompted by Mr Green’s health issues. However she responded to host Mrs Spanswick’s gentle touch and, to cheers from the audience, went on to reveal a t-shirt she was wearing which carried the slogan: ‘On the eighth day the Good Lord created farmers’.
Peter and Julian, who is a columnist in Country Week, spoke to The Yorkshire Post about on their experience at the show.
Peter said: “It’s beyond our comprehension from when we first started. To get to the point where we are today, being a Yorkshireman, I’m full of pride for Thirsk, proud of the practice, proud to be respected by fellow Yorkshiremen and proud to be at the Yorkshire Showground.
“It’s a surreal experience. We are just two ordinary country vets but it’s an experience that makes me very proud to be a Yorkshireman.”
Peter is a former trainee of Alf Wainright - the Skeldale vet and writer who wrote semi-autobiographical works under the pen name James Herriot.
Asked what his late mentor would have made of the Yorkshire Vet at Countryside Live, Peter said: “Alf Wainwright was a very private man and shunned publicity. Whether he would have enjoyed a day like today, I doubt it, but I think he would be amused by what we have done and also have been proud that we are maintaining his way and that’s very important to me.”
For Julian too, Countryside Live has been a powerful experience.
He said: Julian said: “We never quite knew how it was going to go and personally it is the first time we were promoted as the reason to come to an event. It’s one thing if you’re doing a book signing in front of 150 people but when there are hundreds it’s rather daunting, but it’s been fun.
“What’s been most amazing is the distance people have come from - Aberdeenshire, Ireland - and I even met a family from New Zealand, who I’m sure hadn’t come over to specifically see us, but who watch our programme over there.”
Reflecting on his and Peter’s elevation into the spotlight, Julian continued: “It is weird that we find ourselves in this position. We didn’t go looking for exposure but it came quite gradually as we have been doing the show and it’s amazing how you adapt, how the human condition adapts to circumstances. If we’d have gone from where we were two years ago to now, we’d have had nervous breakdowns, but as it’s evolved we have got used to it.
“I get a lot of contact with this kind of thing with doing book signings but this is to a greater extent and it’s great to get a personal connection with people who watch the programme.
“There was a guy from Warrington who we met today who is terminally ill. His family brought him here and it was kind of his dying wish to come and see us. We had a chat, had some photos taken together. You can really just sense for whatever reason, it’s touching people’s lives.
“When you hear parents saying that when their children come home from school and instead of putting CBeebies on they want to watch the show over and over again, and that children have focussed their lives on becoming a vet from a programme on TV, it’s amazing, and it’s kind of why I’m a vet, because of the James Herriot programme being on TV.”