PUBLISHED: 11:54 16 May 2013 | UPDATED: 11:54 16 May 2013
As a child, Greg Smith longed to be a farmer. In his teens he had holiday jobs on farms, looked after his own rescue hen and went on to a degree involving agriculture, but he never actually farmed.
The new director of the Royal Norfolk Show is Julian Taylor
He was born at the family farm in Starston, near Harleston, which he now runs with his wife, Philippa, and parents Richard and Patricia Taylor.
The father of three is the sixth generation of his family to farm at Starston and first volunteered as an assistant steward for the Royal Norfolk Show in 1987.
He was educated at Harleston and Harrow and studied farm management at Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.
The Royal Norfolk Show will be held at the showground on 26 and 27 June.
Instead his career took him into market research and away from his home county of Norfolk. He was talking to farmers about the feed, machinery and chemicals they needed, but not farming himself.
Gradually he moved into management and research, and a corporate career in which he climbed to the very top of his field – but not the kind of bucolic field he had imagined as a child growing up on Constitution Hill, Norwich.
So, to find himself back in his beloved Norfolk, living in a farmhouse, and the new chief executive of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, is a delight.
Last summer, just before he took on his new job, he attended both days of the Royal Norfolk Show – and camped overnight alongside the farmers.
“I think that was my absolute favourite part, joining the farmers walking the livestock lines at 5am!” he says.
But he loves just about everything about this homecoming.
Greg, now 56, and his wife, Rebecca, who also grew up in the county, have always returned for holidays. Their three grown-up children learned to sail at Horning, where the family has a boat and a share in a holiday house.
Rebecca’s father, who ran Read’s Flour Mill, in Norwich, was also an Olympic sailor and Greg and Rebecca’s son, Henry, sailed with the British national squad.
Hidden Hoveton Little Broad, also known as Black Horse Broad, is one of Greg’s two favourite places in Norfolk.
“It’s a magical place, particularly on a summer’s evening, to sail in and sit with a can of beer or glass of wine.”
His other favourite place is Norwich Cathedral Close.
“You go through the Erpingham Gate and you have a great sense of history and sanctity – the beautiful buildings, the school playing fields, the statues of Nelson and Wellington, and the cathedral itself.”
Greg was a boy chorister from the age of nine, following a family tradition on his mother’s side, into the cathedral choir, and therefore the Norwich School. His grandfather, great uncles and great grandfather had all been choristers and Greg and Rebecca celebrated their wedding and their children’s baptisms in the Cathedral.
It was at the Norwich School that his ambition to become a farmer grew, but the family lived in the city, where his mother was a primary school teacher and his father an engineer with Boulton and Paul. There were no family acres, although Greg does vividly remember discovering a chick by the side of a road, as a teenager, and bringing it home in his pocket.
“It had obviously fallen from a poultry lorry. I announced we were going to become chicken farmers, and that hen stayed with us for years!”
By the time he went to university he realised that, without a family farm, he might have to diversify from his dream career, and studied agriculture and food marketing at Newcastle University. He got his first job in market research, talking to farmers about tractors, animal feed and chemicals.
Greg worked his way up through various companies to become managing director of leading market research and public opinion polling company, Ipsos MORI.
Here, he was working on an international stage, with some of the world’s biggest businesses. It was simultaneously ultra high-profile and highly confidential.
“For example, if something goes wrong for a major oil company, it can have a major effect on the reputation of the business and the people running it. I was working in reputation management for oil companies, big banks …”
Alongside his market research career, Greg has also had a stellar trajectory in the Territorial Army. He joined in his 30s, thinking it would be a couple of year’s commitment, and is now Major General Greg Smith and Britain’s most senior Reservist.
He is assistant chief of the defence staff (reserves and cadets) and deputy colonel commandant (TA and cadets) in charge of policy for the country’s 30,000 reserves across the Armed Forces, and for the youth cadet services. He was also deputy lieutenant in Buckinghamshire for 14 years until moving back to Norfolk.
“We have always come back to Norfolk for holidays and family visits. We just have Norfolk in our blood!” says Greg.
Rebecca came across their Buxton farmhouse for sale by chance and almost as soon as they had moved in, Greg saw the RNAA post – and was thrilled when he was offered the job.
“It’s here in Norfolk and I still have to pinch myself that I’m back in Norfolk. We are absolutely loving living back in Norfolk and now I’m working in an organisation that’s more Norfolk than Norfolk, it’s absolutely woven into the fabric of Norfolk life!” he enthuses.
“Everyone feels that they have a share in the association and the Royal Norfolk Show. I have already met so many people, from all walks of life, who want to help or give me their opinion.”
He said his job includes helping people understand the importance of agriculture to the economy, and the importance of Norfolk as a leading agricultural county.
He also hopes to encourage young people to consider careers in agriculture – saying there were more vacancies than qualified applicants in some sectors of the thriving industry.
“The show is obviously the biggest and most significant thing that we as an association do,” he says, “But it is two days out of 365.”
The RNAA is responsible for everything that happens at the Norfolk Showground, including music and sports events, trade shows, conventions, celebrations and more, and the biggest covered events space in East Anglia.
But Greg is quick to back tradition, explaining that the association was founded in the mid 19th century to spread good farming practice.
“We are still committed to education, information and influence,” he says.
And asked if people will notice many differences to this summer’s Royal Norfolk Show, he says: “Oh, I hope not! We run the biggest and best two-day show in the country!”
Visits to the show were part of his childhood. He attended most years and his mother was a WRVS volunteer, reuniting lost children with their parents.
Last year Greg was able to return, as chief executive in waiting, to take on the role from John Purling who retired after 18 years working on the Royal Norfolk Show.
“I had a brilliant time!” says Greg. “I camped out of my Landrover and when I was introduced as the new chief executive I think people thought I was mad, but seeing the whole show come to life was fascinating.”
“There literally is something for everyone, whether you are here with your animals, or to see the horses, or because you like to put on a big hat, or are a farmer or sell to farmers, or are the small child who is a bit like me,” he says.
Greg did not grow up to be a farmer, but he now has one of the biggest jobs in agriculture (and hens in the back garden of his Norfolk farmhouse.)