I was born in Frankfield, Clarendon, Jamaica. In fact, I was registered as being born on the 7th November 1957 but my Mom insists I was born on the 8th! She says I was born with a single strand of grey hair which, according to folklore, is a lucky sign.
My parents decided to come to the UK, like many of their generation, to seek better opportunities for themselves and their families. They left me to be looked after by my Mom’s relatives and they came to England to earn enough money to send for me and my sister later. We didn’t arrive on HMS Windrush but by plane some two years later.
To this day I still remember the shock of arriving in the middle of winter in a strange country and, because of the time we spent apart, to come and live with strange people – who I was told were my parents. Back then my only reference point of familiarity was the Jamaican foods that my mother cooked, which were a reminder of home.
Although I had lived in this country since I was five, technically I was a foreigner because the British and Commonwealth passport that I arrived on was no longer valid. The only way I was able to claim permanent status was to go through the long and laborious process of becoming naturalised. I did so in my late 20s. If I hadn’t, I could have ended up in the same position as some of my contemporaries who came to this country at the same time as me and were threatened with deportation
Now in my mid 60’s I am very proud to be a British Jamaican. People often wonder why from such a small island extraordinary people arise and make a great impact on the world. Think of Bob Marley, Usain Bolt and many, many more. Well, we Jamaicans know the secret. It is down to the food we eat and love!
Every year in June there is a Windrush celebration day. I believe it is very important to celebrate as it gives us as a nation the opportunity to reflect on how we as a generation have contributed to the greater good of Britain.
I am the classic poor boy, done good! After my family came to the UK in the Windrush years in the 1950s, we settled in inner-city Birmingham. I’m from a family of 9 children, and we lived in poverty.
My dad had a much-prized allotment where he grew vegetables that supplemented the family food. As the eldest boy it was my job to help tend the allotment and it was there that I found some space away from the very crowded two up two down that we all lived in. It was on that allotment that I first dreamed of owning my own farm, a piece of the British countryside, and it was that dream that became my focus in everything I did.
I was a troublemaker at school. My dyslexia was then undiagnosed, and I left school with no qualifications. But I didn’t let that stand in my way.
I had a brief and unsuccessful stint in the Parachute Regiment (I have a Dishonourable Discharge to my name) after which I trained as a chef and spent some time flipping burgers.
Unqualified but ambitious and persistent, I talked my way into television, eventually becoming a producer/director for the BBC. I travelled the world making films about food and drink with the BBC Food & Drink programme and am credited with bringing many of the top celebrity chefs to the small screen including Gordon Ramsay, Antony Worrall-Thompson, Brian Turner and James Martin, before founding a food and drink marketing company in London.
It wasn’t until I was 40 years old that I fulfilled my dream to purchase a small farm on the Devon/Cornwall border. It was here that my Devon neighbours coined the term ‘The Black Farmer’ and this inspired me to launch my own brand – The Black Farmer.
Flavours without Frontiers – the promise offered by my products also goes some way to sum up my personality. I will not be confined by race, convention or tradition. I also have very strong opinions on issues such as rural affairs, justice for small producers and giving young people more opportunity. I launched a rural scholarship scheme through which young people from inner city communities are given the opportunity to experience what it is really like to live and work in the rural community.
My life and love of food spans both urban and rural ways of life and my The Black Farmer brand celebrates that passion. Everything I do is bold and possibly a little eccentric!
As with many things in life, you never expect the unexpected. In my late 50s the unexpected happened to me. I was taken ill with Leukaemia and nearly lost my life. Thanks to the very fast work of the Doctors and Nurses at UCHL I pulled through.
I now have to take very good care of my skin and can only use products that are for sensitive skin. During the first lockdown I was living in complete isolation and I decided to turn my hand to making soap and candles. I even created a brand name: Pause – Relax, Reflect, Rejuvenate. Of course, the lull didn’t last and I was back to putting my full energy into my business! I didn’t want to let Pause go, so I decided to source hand-made products that have been specifically developed for very sensitive skin and only use natural high-quality oils. Made by a small family company on Dartmoor, I hope you will agree that these are truly lovely products. There’s even something for your canine friend!
The only course of action open to me to prevent the Leukaemia returning was to have a stem cell transplant. The transplant certainly saved me but has left me with Graft versus Host disease (GVHD) which attacks many of my organs – including my skin.
I love all things British – particularly the eccentricities, like Morris Dancing! For some years I’ve worked with a wonderful troupe called the Dartmoor Border Morris, you can see me and Treggie in the photo below. I find the whole experience energising and really connects with the history of a local community.
Despite only being in the early days of my recovery after Leukaemia, I got out and about with Treggie and his troupe!
Morris dancing’s rich history and how each and every troupe has its own identity and story absolutely fascinates me – and I love being part of it and creating awareness of this wonderful dance tradition to a much wider and more diverse audience.
The vibrant movement, costumes, music and colour, really captivates my senses. I simply relish the camaraderie, unity and flamboyance of the sport and its British tradition. With the paraphernalia of bells and flowers there is something very beautiful about Morris dancing. It’s the way it unites a group of men and women for the simple enjoyment of dance and celebration of life. I consider myself a true Morris Man. Long live Morris Dancing!
If you’re new to Morris Dancing, it’s a tradition that dates back to as early as 1448, Morris Dancing really is an art and has long been enjoyed by Englishmen and women. Well known in England before the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot and even the Wars of the Roses, Morris Dancing boasts over 500 years of the evolution of a dance!
It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers. Dances are unique to each troupe, who often don bell pads on their shins and use other implements including sticks, handkerchiefs and swords as part of the dance and story-telling. Dancers clap their sticks, handkerchiefs or swords together to match with the dance. And, of course, the outfits! These reflect the history of the troupe – I hope you like my hat which I created. As usual, I wanted to stand out from the crowd!
While I was in hospital for the best part of a year recovering from Leukaemia and a stem cell transfer, I decided that when I got out I was going to travel to Spain and visit Jerez – the home of Flamenco dancing. It was there that I fell in love with everything Spanish – the food, the life, Flamenco!
I visited so often that I acquired the name Don Wilfred! It was irresistible to me not to create a brand – and so I did. My first product is Don Wilfred Rum which perfectly combines my love of Spain with my Caribbean heritage, home of the finest spirits.
It has real personality and great flavour. Every sip lifts the spirits and takes you to the place where joy and contentment come together. It is perfect served on ice or a great base for a Cuba Libra (rum, coke and lime juice).
There is definitely more to come from Don Wilfred. First in line is Don Wilfred Brandy! It encapsulates all that I love about Spain – its warmth, colour and aromas.
Watch this space!
In my years of recovery after Leukaemia, it gave me some time to reflect on my life and the lessons I have learned as a businessman and entrepreneur – and to look at those things I could pass on to others to help them on their journey.
The result was my book Jeopardy – The Danger of Playing it Safe. In it I argue that our natural instinct for caution is one of the greatest barriers to making progress in life, and shows how embracing jeopardy is essential if you want to succeed.
Drawing on a life that has taken me from a deprived childhood in inner-city Birmingham to becoming one of the nation’s most famous farmers, I demonstrate how we can all go further in life by learning to escape the fears that stop us from achieving our ambitions.
In this book, I hope to show that only by embracing jeopardy, and liberating ourselves from the shackles of uncertainty and self-doubt, can we realise our full potential.
What could you achieve, if you decided to stop letting fear hold you back?
I am humbled and honoured to tell you that I can now add MBE to my title! On Thursday 24th June I was awarded an MBE for services to farming, which I will wear with pride. From a poverty-stricken member of the Windrush Generation living in inner city Birmingham, facing the racism and prejudice prevalent during my childhood in the ‘60s, to receiving an MBE… I truly cannot believe it.
It was an exceptional day at St James’ Palace with my daughter Scarlett at my side – I felt like I had stepped back in time as the architecture is phenomenal and the building historic. From my 2 up 2 down terrace with my 9 siblings, to my tiny allotment in Birmingham, to my own farm in Devon, to St James’ Palace… it goes to show that dreaming big can pay off.
But I shan’t stop there. It is my life’s mission to inspire people and to ensure that young people receive the opportunities I had. As Britain’s only Black farmer, I am passionate about taking action to address the lack of diversity in farming. My brand and motto ‘flavours without frontiers’ really sums up this philosophy – I feel at home on my farm and it is my hope that others can have the opportunity for the countryside to become a place they can also call home.