Guy Singh-Watson on Desert Island Discs – what did he pick?

Guy Singh-Watson (photo – BBC & Amanda Benson)

This Sunday, our very own Guy Singh-Watson, Riverford founder, was the castaway on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Guy spoke to host Kirsty Young about his life in food, organic farming, and his quest for a more ethical way of doing business. In case you missed it, it’s available to listen again here – or read about his choices below.

1) Kenny Rogers, Lucille
For all that Guy is prone to a good rant, he can also be rather ‘soppy’; a trait that the emotional directness of country music appeals to. This first track Guy recalled singing sadly to himself, alone in his tractor, while his first marriage was hitting the rocks. At the time, he really did have four children (although they weren’t hungry) and crops in the fields!

2) Tofu Love Frogs, Vegetable Attack
One of the major perks of working at Riverford is the parties; we have two big ones a year, and they’re always a night to remember! Back in the day, they used to be even wilder. This track took Guy back to one of the best: a Halloween knees-up featuring magic mushrooms (nowadays we stick to pints of Prosecco), and memorable live music from Tofu Love Frogs.

3) Harry Belafonté, Chickens
Guy’s mother Gillian played a huge role in shaping Riverford: she passed her irrepressible enthusiasm for food and cooking on to her five children, all of whom now work in food and farming. Gillian grew up in Trinidad, and always loved calypso music – especially the devilishly handsome Harry Belafonté.
Throughout Guy’s childhood, the farm was always on the brink of bankruptcy. John Watson was years ahead of his time, determined to do things his own way, such as giving his beloved pigs a remarkably high standard of welfare. His way was often right, but it wasn’t often profitable. Belafonté’s line ‘This isn’t funny, we’re losing money…’ rang true.

4) The Sex Pistols, Anarchy in the UK
A ‘proper little farm boy’, Guy spent his youth outside, clambering up trees, catching rabbits, rearing his own pig and selling manure from the farm gate. This left him a little out of step with his generation… something that was brought home to him with particular punch when he was taken by friends to see The Sex Pistols. With no idea what to expect, he found himself, ‘probably wearing a tweed jacket’, in a crowd of spitting, pogoing Plymothians.

5) Jimmy Somerville & Bronski Beat, Smalltown Boy
After studying Agriculture and Forestry Science at Oxford and a brief return to the farm, Guy left for London to try something new. He bought himself a snappy suit, got a job in management consultancy – and much to his surprise, was such a success that he was asked to open an office in Manhattan. Those heady days, in London and New York, were when he ‘started living life a bit’ – and the gay clubs were where the music was always best.

This track, by the brave and highly principled Jimmy Somerville, was Guy’s #1 pick of the show.

6) Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime
Management consultancy was ‘stimulating but morally bankrupt’. Eventually Guy gave up, chucked his office keys into the Hudson River, and moved up to a remote island in Maine to teach kids sailing. No drink, no drugs; just lots of sailing, swimming, running and rowing. He also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, listening to Talking Heads with the chef while they cooked up macrobiotic meals. Eventually Guy got his head screwed back on straight… and came to the conclusion that he needed to start his own business.

7) Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man
In 2014, Guy married fellow organic entrepreneur Geetie Singh. This song – the epitome of Cohen’s coolness, sexiness and humour – played at their wedding.

8) Grace Jones, Pull Up to the Bumper
Guy’s final choice was the one and only Grace Jones: her originality, sass and strength, streaks ahead of her time, take him right back to the wild streets of New York.

Book choice: Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd. Guy has always admired the character of Gabriel Oak as a role model.

Luxury: A surfboard – Kirsty says he’s allowed it as long as he doesn’t use it to paddle to another island!

11 responses to “Guy Singh-Watson on Desert Island Discs – what did he pick?

  1. Yvonne Dumsday

    I listened and thought it a great programme. Well done to Guy.

  2. Out in the Med. at the mo! But determined to listen to this, so found it on catch up and also found a shady spot to listen to it! Have always found his weekly newsletters amusing, brave (aka don’t give a ….) and brutally honest! Now I know why…brilliant listening!

  3. Sandra Meadows

    Great programme. Sometimes your heroes prove to be a disappointment, but Guy lives up to his achievements. Keep up the good work.

  4. Always find Desert Island Discs a really good listen so delighted that Guy was the castaway. A great interview.

  5. Margaret smith

    Desert Island discs is a superb programme and I did enjoy listening to Guys disc choice. I liked chickens by Harry Belafonte I can remember him singing “Island in the Sun ” amongst others, he had a lovely voice.
    I think that mothers of Guys generation were hard working , I know my mother was. Mum had five children and went to work full time which meant standing all day, then came home to cook a dinner from scratch.
    It was lovely to hear about Guys father and his pigs welfare .
    Guy has obviously got his work ethic and organic principles from both parents.

  6. Elizabeth Lewis

    I really admire all that Guy is doing and we are Riverford customers. I think Riverford is a wonderful example of ethical, organic production and long may it last.
    Really wouldn’t like to share a desert island with Guy with his taste in music though!!

  7. Elizabeth Aveline

    Listened to this while trying to get to Portugal. Laughed out loud at some of it. Always good to hear Guy’s views. Well done. Lizzie

  8. Michelle Bohlaender

    I’d quite forgotten to listen to DID at the appointed hour, focussed as we were to get to Brum on time that morning, after the crazy night before, of strings of unexpected delays on a routine, low-cost flight from Germany to Manchester, causing an exceedingly late arrival at our Airb&b on the Wirral, a struggle to get enough sleep to cope with possible week-end traffic congestion hindering our intent to help a young woman, our daughter, on the last possible “Moving-from-digs Day”, to clear the last of her possessions, off-load much of it at charity drop-off points around Selly Oak & pack the remainder into the car for the return to where we’ll mark time before the graduation ceremony after which she’ll start building the walls of her life upon the foundations laid & which include a third continental move into a Grad Scheme placement in the high tech industry… “Whew!”

    I’m so grateful, therefore, to read of Guy’s disc selections which seem to reflect & pay homage to a common life trajectory for many baby boomers like myself- jumping onto the bandwagon of obligatory university education to gild up lifestyles by qualifying for better jobs than the preceding War generations could ever dream of & attracting the means to upgrade the usual trappings of successful Middle Class life in the 60s & 70s. Instead, we were lured into eminently unsuitable jobs in Law & Medicine particularly, High Finance & ‘Management’ & living the 90s’ “high life” on ill-gotten gains for a decade or so until, suddenly, the “bubbles burst” due to the “moral bankruptcy” Guy spoke of, infiltrating the practising of those ostensibly ‘respectable’, Middle Class jobs. Lives dissolved instantly, due to insolvency, theft & high level corruption. The proliferation of ‘self-help/spiritual guidance books flowing from mostly self-styled & mostly Oprah’s, gurus, helped some to re-calibrate, find their “true selves”, or re-invent themselves entirely as Guy did & for a brief moment, I believed we were finally on “the Way” to entrenching personal & moral integrity. But a second wave of chaos has crashed, in the form of WMD-spin-off wars, Brexit, Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Putin, plastic overload, displaced, starving, migrating souls & “Love Island”-style reality TV, confusing & dividing us all over again. I’m hoping that surviving baby boomers have enough energy left to help our children recognise that Millennials are currently merely re-packaging, via newly researched & formulated, frighteningly crafty & equally proscriptive Marketing schemes, which are simply renovating mouldy, old values into meditative, ‘cleanly-eaten’, pared down & pastel-toned, Hygge versions, throwing, somewhat disingenuously, the metaphors of ‘yogic- & karmic-authenticity’ into the provenance of these newly made-over, ‘must-have!’ consumables. A wisened-up, post-Millennial generation our freshly minted graduates constitute, might however be the more desperately needed, astute, ‘chimera-resilient’ seeds that surviving baby boomers have sown inadvertently, along with the honestly pure seeds on Guy’s farm, who can fashion a truly new, beautiful world of highly principled, empathic social, political & economic rectitude, essential to the survival of this fading, formerly intensely “Blue-Green Planet”. There’s a lot more to come until my Utopia is fully realised, undoubtedly & greatly dependent upon baby boomers’ having learnt, well enough, the lessons implicit in past & current turbulence, to be able to teach their children to think carefully about the pathways they should choose in order to find their “true selves” & follow their own sustainable dreams.

  9. I came into the programme afer it had started and thought who is this guy? who would be playing the chicken song? Checked it out on line it was Guy Watson, a treat to hear about his life, his values and choice of music. Great programme.

  10. John & Judy Beveridge

    As longtime vegbox customers we have grown to look forward to reading Guy’s ‘weekly rant’ every Friday and feel we now know him pretty well after 20 years… …so we thoroughly enjoyed listening to him share more of his life and Desert Island Disc selections. Of which we were delighted to have correctly guessed the Sex Pistols!

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