‘I loved getting
to climb trees with Colin Farrell’

Down on the farm with Jo Scott
Down on the farm with Jo Scott

Spring has arrived, and as though a cosmic switch has been flicked on, snowdrops and daffodils are in bloom, oak and hazel buds are bursting and our hedgerows are resplendent with a beautiful palette of greens.

It is a perfect time, then, for the return of BBC Northern Ireland’s Home Ground, a series which celebrates the richness of Ulster’s rural life.

And for one of the show’s presenters, Jo Scott, it’s a time to ditch her smart newsreader’s wardrobe in favour of attire more suited to the mucky, mulchy Northern Ireland countryside.

‘‘You know we’re doing the Home Ground series when the car smells faintly of manure,’’ says the cheery 45-year-old. ‘‘It’s a brilliant series and so far removed from presenting the news in a studio. There are so many brilliant characters and fascinating stories out there.’’

And Jo, who is originally from Jordanstown and could be considered something of a ‘townie’, has no problem getting her hands dirty; in the last series viewers watched as she helped deliver a lamb.

‘‘I’ll never live it down,’’ she laughs, ‘‘everyone reminds me.”

Did she feel at all squeamish?

‘‘Not at all and I was struck by the fact that the sheep didn’t make a sound in comparison to us; we weep and wail and give off, the poor sheep just got on with the job. It was wonderful, new life, what’s not to like?’’

So, in an emergency could she deliver a baby?

‘‘I’d certainly give it a go,’’ she laughs.

However the realities of rural life aren’t that alien to Jo, whose mum, (also called Jo) grew up on a farm.

‘‘We were very lucky as kids growing up, that we spent all our summers in Donegal and would have been out and about a lot in the countryside,’’ she says.

For those of us who secretly harbour dreams of rural escapism, Home Ground is balm for our slate-grey urban souls. It reminds of the simpler pleasures in life, the part of us that just wants to breathe in fresh air, and drink in nature’s wonders.

In the first programme, to be aired this Monday night, Jo helps get the National Trust’s Castle Crom estate ready for visitors, and climbs a tree with Colin Farrell.

‘‘The Colin Farrell, the devilishly handsome Hollywood star?,’’ I ask, with more than a twinge of envy.

‘‘Well, I went along full of hope but it wasn’t the actor Colin Farrell, but he was a wonderful guy, a tree surgeon. We had a bit of a laugh trying to get me up a tree,’’ she says.

During the series Jo, along with Gavin Andrews and reporter Ruth Sanderson, will be looking at a variety of topical subjects.

‘‘I hope people enjoy it. It’s warm family viewing with a realistic edge - we’re covering topics like Brexit and its impact on farmers and fishermen and other political situations that we haven’t had to face before - things like the sea, the plastic crisis that we’re all walking into at the minute. I got an interesting statistic from Ruth who covered the story that there’s going to be a bigger weight of plastic than fish in our waters by 2050.

‘‘Gavin has been out tracking seals and looking at trout stocks in Ballinderry.

‘‘I’m going to be out horse ploughing next Friday in Ballycastle with a Spanish lady and I’ll also be foraging.’’

Jo can also be seen visiting an ethical taxidermist and stuffing a starling, which died after flying into a closed window.

‘‘I kind of thought it would be blood and guts and gory, but it was the most enlightening experience,’’ she says.

‘‘A lot of what Ingrid (the taxidermist) does is bringing nature back to life - particularly for children who are blind or children with learning difficulties, who may not ever get to be up close to wildlife or even ever able to in their mind visualise what a fox might feel like or look like, or a swan or a pheasant. A lot of what she does is incredibly useful.’’

Jo attended Whitehead High and then Belfast High School and studied Business at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.

She always felt drawn towards journalism: ‘‘I am a great reader and I was always fascinated by politics here,’’ but her career initially took her in a different direction.

‘‘I fell into a brilliant job with Marks and Spencer in Baker Street in London as a buyer and even though that was a peachy job and one that a lot of people my age would have jumped at, after a few years, it was like an itch I wanted to scratch, so I came home, studied journalism and have been incredibly lucky and blessed since.’’

She started off in Downtown, ‘‘making the tea and shadowing people’’, but then quickly started to read the news and go out and cover stories. She then moved across to Radio Ulster.

Her trajectory to the hallowed halls of Broadcasting House on Ormeau Avenue may initially have been a little skew-whiff; but after 20 years there, she’s become a firm favourite for her versatility and professionalism.

‘‘I do think what’s meant to be, is meant to be, I think that was my path and I am so delighted,’’ she says, all smiles.

Over the years, Jo has met a plethora of people, but one that stands out is meeting a ‘‘very camera shy’’ 14-year-old Rory McIlroy.

She reflects: ‘‘It was at the end of an early shift and I was exhausted and I was asked to go to Holywood Golf Club to speak to this young schoolboy who was quite good at golf and I thought ‘oh no, really, is there no one else can do this?, so begrudgingly I made my way to Holywood Golf Club and interviewed Rory McIlroy. I didn’t get his autograph at the time, I wish I had.

‘‘He was lovely, he was just a typical 14-year-old in his school uniform - we knew he was good, but we had no idea what the future held for him.’’

She can’t recall any embarrassing moments on screen, but says: ‘‘There’s always a good giggle off camera.’’

‘‘I work with a lovely crowd and I think all the recent election coverage really demonstrated the BBC at its best. I read the news that night at the table with Mark Carruthers, and a few politicians who were there. and I just had a real sense of pride to be part of the BBC and to watch all the people I’ve gone through the last 20 years with out in the field, doing what they are best at. I thought it was really impressive stuff.’’

She describes her Beeb colleagues as her ‘second family’.

‘‘We’ve known each other all the way through being single and having no responsibilities to now, when most of my peer group would have children.

‘‘When time allows we all go out, but when you are married with kids and shift work, it’s not so easy.’’

Jo is also really proud of another project she’s involved with, a six-part series called Real Lives Reunited - that will be aired on BBC Northern Ireland next month.

‘‘It’s a programme that I have loved, loved, loved working on.

‘‘It’s about people who have met through adversity being reunited many years on. We have covered some really cracking stories.

‘‘There’s a lovely story up in Castlerock where a little boy almost drowned when he was 12 on a family day out and he was reunited 26 years on with the men that pulled him from the water. That was an emotional day.

‘‘And we’ve had some lighter stories as well. We feature the Penthouse Poppets from the Europa. They are all grannies now so we bring them back to the Europa and revisit where they used to wait tables.’’

*Home Ground is on BBC One Northern Ireland, 7.30pm. March 20 and will return for a third series in the autumn. Real Lives Reunited will be aired on April 3 at 10.40pm