No Clarkson, no Kaleb and, by the time we left at 1.30pm last Saturday, no farm shop; Diddly Squat has been aptly named. “What’s the point, why are we even here?” one man was moaning. “We drove two hours for this shit?!”
Clarkson is Jeremy Clarkson — you know him, that’s why you’re reading this. Kaleb is Kaleb Cooper, the gloriously forthright and oft-frustrated 23-year-old farmer who gleefully bollocks the 61-year-old broadcaster on the Amazon Prime show they both star in, Clarkson’s Farm. And Diddly Squat is that very farm, a thousand-acre plot in Chipping Norton among the winding hills of the Cotswolds, so named as the one-time Top Gear man bought the place in 2008 and since has used it for...well, you get it.
The eight-episode show, released last month, largely sees Clarkson play the hopeless, hapless townie, much to Cooper’s exasperation (on a freshly ploughed furrow: “That’s as straight as a roundabout!”). Jezza does his slack-cheeked impression of Droopy rather a lot; we worry about Cooper’s blood pressure. No surprise, it has been an enormous hit — with reportedly the highest viewer ratings of any Amazon series so far — although apparently not enough of one for the green light on a second season. On Twitter this week, Clarkson denied more filming was under way, urging fans to “write to Amazon” to get it back. A cynic might praise his canny way with marketing.
As part of it all, the Diddly Squat farm shop opened, offering “a small barn full of good, no-nonsense things you’ll like. We do not, for example, sell kale”. Despite the boast of “literally the best hamburgers in the world” (incorrect), Clarkson and partner Lisa Hogan are hardly promising the world: “All the stuff we sell in the shop is produced either on Diddly Squat Farm or by our neighbours in the Cotswolds. Apart from the hats obviously, and the aprons. And the T-shirts.”
No matter. As soon as the straw was down for a car park, fans arrived: great snaking queues of cars sat for three hours to get in, reportedly infuriating the locals. Though Cooper barely recognised him, former PM David Cameron, a local, was among those to swing by.
Demand hasn’t eased. I turned up a little before 11am, to find a wait of three-and-a-half hours for the shop itself, 40 minutes for the pop-up shop (spoiler: sat next to its bigger brother, it’s a tent with tea towels), and 25 minutes for food and drink from a truck in a barn round the back. These times were lengthened on the chalkboard as the day passed. In the end, the wait too long, the main shop was listed as “closed”. Lunchtime wasn’t even over. “It’s a typical British thing to do, I reckon, to come somewhere to queue,” said Welshman Chris Shepherd, 30, dryly. Here with friends Mark Barber, also 30, and James Mugford, 27, the trio had driven two hours from Cardiff. Clarkson and the show, they say, are both “fantastic”, though Cooper is “the best bit, really”. What do they make of the shop? A pause. “I mean, it’s an adventure, a day out,” says Mugford, “Wish I’d bought a portable chair, though.”
After all that, did they get anything? “Well, you wait that long, you feel you have to,” says Barber. “We got some honey, bacon and milk — 20 quid!”
“It’s what we do on the weekend,” laughs Shepherd. “Try and figure out where we can spend the most money on bacon.”
£40 buys two candles that ‘smells like my bollocks’; it seems Clarkson was inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow
For Mugford, it’s a return visit: here a fortnight ago, he didn’t make the shop itself, put off by the queue (“I’d come around to the idea by today”); the saving grace was the sight of Cooper, following them into the farm aboard his tractor, “And then we found out, just after we’d left, that Clarkson did turn up, so we were just like ‘argh, f***’”. Here they hit on the success. The shop itself, even for fans of the show, cannot be that big of a draw. It doesn’t sell much, though with the prices, what’s there will swiftly top up the £144 profit the farm made last year. There’s “bee juice” — honey — for £12.50, the label complete with Clarkson’s mug. Gin in a 50cl jerrycan is £39. Tea-towels, one with the oversized Lamborghini tractor (Cooper, often: “It’s too bloody big!”), are £8.50. The same logo on a baseball cap is £20. £40 buys two candles that “smells like my bollocks” — Clarkson having been inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina candle. It actually smells like old leather, but then, it’s not for me to say Jezza’s balls don’t.
Milk, nauseatingly named “cow juice”, is £1 — but the bottle is charged for as well (someone tells me £3.20, another £4.20), and it doesn’t appear to be produced on Diddly Squat farm. “The cow juice vending machine’s got a note saying to call Emma if there’s any issues, so I’m assuming it’s hers, not even his,” says Shepherd.
The shop’s website says it’s from a “local dairy” — when pressed, Clarkson’s PA Lucinda McFarlane snippily refuses to clarify anything further. At the food truck, a Bloody Mary made with “wasabi vodka” is offered — having read that Clarkson called his attempts to cultivate the stuff “my biggest disaster”, I ask if the vodka is flavoured with what little he did manage to grow. I am met with a raised eyebrow and an amused soft shake of the head.
The set-up is built on Clarkson’s brand. The barn — viewers will recognise it from the lambing episode — is filled with benches and a food truck, and plays dad rock: Free, Tom Petty, the Eagles. The Jeep Wrangler from the Grand Tour’s Colombia episode sits beside picnicers, now functioning as a children’s climbing frame. Covid precautions appear fairly laissez-faire: after much searching, I find two half-full bottles of hand sanitiser stashed beside the truck, but that’s it. Clearly, the broadcaster and not the £12.50 honey is the pull; as Millie Taylor, 25, put it: “It would be good if he had been here. I think he was down last weekend. You kind of think, is he going to pop in, is he not?” She’s sunny, but there’s a note of disappointment. And, with everyone here hoping to spot him — I lose count of how often I hear people muttering about the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? filming schedule — it seems churlish not to put in an appearance. The crowds are here for him, they’re queuing for him and, really, they’re paying silly prices because of him.
The shop’s website says the milk is from a ‘local dairy’ — Clarkson’s PA snippily refuses to clarify any further
On the other hand, there’s the sense that were he too show his face, the chaos would only multiply. “You get the impression they weren’t really expecting it to get this big,” says Rachel Ashman, 34, looking around warily. She’s likely right, and maybe he needs to keep the locals happy. Says the parking attendant as we leave, gulping back a pint, as most of the staff seemed to be: “Come back on a Monday, Tuesday or a Wednesday, it’s quieter then.” He grins. “’Course, that’s cause it’s shut then.” But with queues this long, and so little to see — open or closed, there can’t be much difference.