The working farmer and Love Island star, Will Young, is bringing the countryside to life for a wider audience, using his substantial social media presence and a new book to share both the highs and lows of farming
Farmer Will Young is making the world a better place, one million or so social media followers at a time, with the help of his Tasmanian girlfriend, Jessie Wynter, plus two donkeys, two emus, many sheep, some pigs, goats, alpacas, more sheep and his family. Oh, and sheep – did I mention the sheep? Basically it is impossible to interview Young without also interviewing most of his family and other animals. As we settle down to chat, Auntie Pat pops round to get a look at Young’s new book, For the Love of Farming: Farmer Will’s Guide to Life in the Fields.
The book is well titled. Not only does Will Young love farming and animals but animals also love him. From the moment we set foot on the farm, animals of all species flock (literally) over to him. Young’s pigs, Timon and Pumbaa, stir themselves, and goats of all sizes climb about importantly before the two donkeys step up to their rightful place at the head of the queue. “We only got the donkeys recently and they are really big characters,” says Young. “I think the alpacas are rather suspicious of them.” All the same, the alpacas overcome their reservations to see what’s going on – and so far there isn’t a sniff of a carrot.
These waves of unconditional love shining around the higgledy-piggledy farm are at the heart of Young’s sensational social media success. At a time when farming and rural life are under constant attack, his videos and posts on social media have a guileless joy that wins fans everywhere just for fun. Since his first clip dropped on TikTok, Young’s following has grown to around two million and, along with his new book, he has done a stint on ITV reality show Love Island, where he met Wynter. Will Young set out with no agenda when he began posting his sheepy soundtracks a couple of years ago. “The whole social media thing wasn’t planned – I wish I was that organised – really it was just lucky the way it happened. I was posting photos for my mates of what I was doing on the farm and I posted a video during lambing time, and my friends said ‘You should do this’ and it blew up from there. It seemed like there was a real niche. I stopped and thought ‘There are people wanting to learn’, and then I sat back and said: ‘I want to raise awareness about farming.’”
Ironically, one of the triggers for Young’s developing mission was the flack he received at the beginning from the animal rights organisation PETA. He remembers: “PETA reposted a video of me lambing and claimed I was using the sheep to make entertainment and was exploiting it. I am a farmer and the animals’ welfare comes first. It was a learning curve; I was new to social media. But I am lucky that I have a strong sense of identity. At the end of the day, my family and I are working farmers and we are not hiding what we do. Farmers really do love their animals. You do everything for them. So then I realised I had the opportunity to portray farming in a positive light. It was actually very empowering. Farming and the countryside are seen in a negative light, so I wanted to show what I do.”
Wynter is fully on board with the idea, particularly as she is rather shocked by the poor image of the countryside in the UK. She explains: “I am Australian, and where I am from is literally the back of the world: it is 20 minutes’ drive to the local grocery store. In Australia farming is very important and farmers are respected. You know, farming is a school subject in Australia – it is mainstream. Will and I have got noticed on a pop-culture TV show and we want to use this as a way to bring farming to life for a wide audience.”
Young’s book, begun before his Love Island winter, is the first step. He explains: “I got the idea of outreach when the social media took off and I was approached to do a book. I knew immediately that I wanted it to be simply written and to get across my love for the farm, and just to tell in a straightforward way what I do in a year, including going into my personal experience and feelings. We had a horrendous experience – it was soul-destroying – when more than 100 of our lambs were killed in a dog attack and I write about that, about how the highs are high but you can’t gloss it over because the lows are low.
“I am not a big reader. I struggled in school and so I wanted to produce something for everyone to be able to learn from and feel involved in, and use terms that are completely understandable. I’m excited about it. I look at this book and it is something that I have achieved. I have written a note in the original copy detailing where I am at now, and will look back at that and remember how I was feeling at the time.”
But there is still a lot more to be done before that moment. “The next project is something that Jessie and I are very excited about,” says Will Young. “We want to invest in setting up glamping pods where people can come to stay and experience for themselves a day in the life of a farmer, getting involved with the different animals and the daily work of the farm. People can stay all year round, including the busy times such as lambing and shearing, and different points in the farming year. I mean, how many people now have ever set foot on a farm?” Wynter sums up: “We are living the dream, we are doing what we want to do and we want to share it.”
Will Young’s new book, For the Love of Farming: Farmer Will’s Guide to Life in the Fields, is available now (White Lion Publishing, £13.99).
For the Love of Farming: Farmer Will’s Guide to Life in the Fields by Will Young, £13.99