After the spectacle that has been Rio 2016 – and I accept the destination of nine gold medals will still be undecided – Sunday evening will have seen around six million viewers who have probably watched some element of events in Brazil put the world on hold for an hour to take in the BBC’s Countryfile programme.
That level of audience is nothing new for the show since it was moved to a prime time slot, but the material for this weekend’s programme all came from the first “Countryfile Live” show at Blenheim Palace earlier this month. Compared to the Olympic Games it was a dot on the landscape, although for a new event interest from the public was way above expectations.
The show was put together by a company called SME Ltd, an independent organisation working with the BBC under a licence agreement. Pre event estimates suggested crowds of 20,000 a day over the four days were to be expected, however figures after a week where the venue basked in a heatwave put attendances nearer to 125,000 rather than the budgeted 80,000.
There were a few reported delays getting off site from the crowded car parks but the inaugural year of an event on such a scale is never without a glitch, and plans are already underway for 2017. Next year’s dates (August 3-6) were being advertised over the exits on the final afternoon.
My interest in Sunday’s programme comes from having been on site for the whole show but seen very little of it outside the equine arena, where I was asked to compere a varied daily schedule lasting from mid morning until late afternoon. Commentating on team sports like cricket, football and rugby has some transferable skills, but this was a different ball game with props such as enamel mugs, cones and lettered bricks.
The most striking thread across all four phases on show – from the 33″ Shetland ponies competing in the Scurry and Trials to the familiar frame of the one tonne Shire horse displaying their role through history – was the enthusiasm of everyone involved. The care for their animals was matched by a relentless attitude to get things done.
People to build and dismantle courses, inform, officiate and remove the inevitable manure swarmed over the site in the short breaks, from the Army’s Director of Polo to community nurses and a former director at Bristol City FC. Competitors spoke of frequently driving long distances with their horses or ponies to take part in similar but smaller events across the country. This wasn’t about what you won, but whether you did, and there was an honest innocence about it all, as I experienced first hand after being asked to present some of the prizes on the final day.
As I left the site on the Sunday evening with thousands of others, just as many were eating and drinking in a leisurely fashion before the massive packing up operation kicked into gear. Welcoming the public for four days had taken two years of planning, but it had flashed by in the blink of an eye. 60 minutes on Sunday recorded a flavour of it for the future.
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