The Yorkshire Shepherdess: ‘Keeping our split a secret was like living in a pressure cooker’

Amanda and Clive met in 1996, when she was working as a contract shepherdess and visited his farm, Ravenseat, to collect a ram. He was in his 40s, she in her early 20s. They fell in love and married in 2000, although romance was never exactly high on the agenda; she recounts in one of her books how she proposed by asking if Clive thought they should get married. “Mebbe,” he replied. “Does that mean yes?” she asked. “I suppose so,” he said. There was no grand plan for nine children, but they just kept having them. Their youngest, Nancy, is now six; the others are Clemmie, seven, Annas, nine, Sidney, 10, Violet, 12, Edith, 14, Miles, 16, Reuben, 18, and Raven, 21.

Over time, she and Clive grew apart. “Obviously, if we got on like a house on fire, then we wouldn’t have split,” says Owen, who turned 48 this month (she mentions that nobody in the family remembered it was her birthday). Yet they are continuing to run the farm together. How does that work? “Well, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t,” she admits. But it’s not as if they’re awkwardly sharing an office cubicle. “There’s enough room, believe me.”

In their typically practical way, the couple are keeping everything as normal as possible for the kids. They still eat meals together as a family and this morning she was on the phone to Clive, discussing Clemmie’s sports day and Reuben’s driving lesson.

“We both are very committed to the family and the farm. That sounds so cheesy, like some bloody publishers’ statement, but it’s a fact. We speak every day about what’s going on,” she says. “Sometimes I’m there, sometimes he’s there, sometimes he’s working away, sometimes I’m working away. We just have to make it fit.”

It’s clear that there is still a mutual respect between them. Owen says that an acrimonious split involving warring lawyers is “not an option”. Although very open and chatty by nature, she doesn’t want to talk in detail about their split as she feels that would be unfair to Clive. “He said to me, ‘I’ll never say a bad word about you,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’ll do exactly the same.’”

“I’ve always reckoned that the best way to teach kids is to lead by example, right? Not, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ Therefore the best thing we can give them is just the sort of home life that they’ve always had. In essence, nothing’s changed. And people might say, ‘Well, I don’t believe that.’ But if it works for us, that’ll do.”

In a statement last year, Owen condemned media intrusion into the couple’s lives. She describes it as “hellish”. Ravenseat is on the Coast to Coast path, and anyone can walk right up to it, which meant they had photographers hanging around outside. At least the isolated nature of the farm means they weren’t difficult to spot, I say. “Oh, you can spot them. But you can’t exactly take them out with a rifle,” she deadpans, stressing that this is definitely a joke – she can see the headlines now.]

There is perhaps a telling scene in Owen’s most recent book, Celebrating the Seasons. In 2019, she decided to run a fell race for the first time. But, wary of not being able to complete it, and having to limp home in humiliation before a crowd of spectators, she came up with a crazy plan. She would run the course alone on the evening before the race – organisers had laid out the flags and markers, and “I couldn’t lose as I was only competing against myself”.

She set off. It took her a long time. As she approached a river, she saw Clive teetering on rocks in the middle of it. He had begun to fret about how long she’d been out, fearing she had fallen and broken a leg, so came out to look for her. Just at that moment, he lost his balance and fell into the water. “To say he was raging was an understatement,” Owen writes. He stomped back to the starting line and then, in front of everyone, suddenly burst out: “Why can’t yer just be bloody normal?” The incident, Owen says, was never spoken of again.

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