For Issue 7 of Chicken & Egg magazine in Spring 2014, we interviewed much loved ITN news anchor Alastair Stewart OBE, who, when not working on the front line of world news, relaxes at his home in Hampshire with his four children, horses, cats, hens and tortoise!
1. With your TV schedule and London based work, how do you have the time to keep hens and who looks after them?
I am well organised and have a loving family. So long as they are fed, watered and you shift the house regularly, they’re happy. That’s the chicken, not the family.
I think the main benefit of keeping hens is the placid beauty of the birds. They can get frisky, flighty and even funny; but, in the main, I just like their gentle pecking about and grooming. Very ‘chillaxing’ as the PM says. Looking after them is a collective effort. In fact, the current flock were a gift from our 20 year old son Freddie – an Orpington trio and a silkie trio.
2. Favourite breed – posh bird or ex-bat?
Buff Orpington. Beautiful, big birds and also reminiscent of an important by-election! My first was called Derek – my youngest son misheard me say ‘This is Eric!’ – for Eric Lubbock,who won the Oprington by-election all those years ago.
We have six at the moment. Over the years, and depending on the exertions of the foxes, it has varied…
3. What inspired your passion for hen-keeping?
I had an old uncle my parents used to take us to see and he and my aunt kept bantams at Mortimer, near Reading. I just loved watching them and see them run around; I think I always thought ‘one day…’. I now live on a farm and can indulge myself.
4. Your garden – hen-free or hen-pecked?
They live in a split level house with a reasonable area to roam free. We used to let the flock have the run of the farm but that made it too easy for foxes and we also have dogs. They do not mix too well.
5. Having been spoilt by fresh eggs at home, are you a free range fanatic?
No, I am not a fanatic but when they lay, it is one of the most satisfying and tasty breakfasts imaginable – runny eggs and ‘soldiers’. Can’t beat it; though Mrs S is more of a poacher and scrambler!
6. British farmers – good eggs or bad eggs?
Some of my best friends…etc! It is a tough life but vital to our national economy and to our glorious countryside. I do what I can to support them and British farming. We also have a brilliant agricultural college in Hampshire, Sparsholt, who do a terrific job and I do an interview session for the Dean at Winchester Cathedral’s Harvest Festival service. Farmers are always included.
7. The ITN canteen – eggciting or foul?!
We don’t have a canteen. Our local sandwich shop, The Larder on Gray’s Inn Road, Holborn, is good and I am pretty sure do free-range eggs.
8. Your favourite egg brekkie – full English or dainty egg soldiers?
The ‘full’ and I often do it for the massed ranks of Stewarts and visiting guests. We’ve a passion for Irish breakfast breads, learned from our dear Ulster friend Zandra Watts; I am also very partial to black-pudding with a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
9. The British Hen Welfare Trust – mother hen or cock of the roost?
I’m not familiar with the trust until now but I am making myself so. My friend Paul O’Grady is great on ex-battery chickens and I think it is an important campaign.
10. Guilty pleasure – Creme Egg or fried egg?
Savoury – a poached egg on a piece of smoked haddock takes an awful lot of beating but the egg must be perfectly runny and the fish, steaming. My son and I were guest of the Fishmongers Company, years ago, at Billingsgate and, after a 4am start, that is what they served us at the end of their day – 9.30am!
11. What would be your top tips for someone considering keeping their own hens?
Do it! I gave my lovely friend Katie Derham a couple of chicks when she, her husband and two daughters moved to the country. Never looked back. You can buy a small hen-house, even those igloo type things. But be prepared to get the bug and you’ll end up with a couple of lovely houses like us.
12. And finally…you have interviewed many interesting people in your time. But if you could interview anyone, alive or dead, real or fictional, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Henry VIII – was it really about religion or was it about that Boleyn woman???
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