When it comes to records, Perth Show chairman Mark Mitchell has secured himself a unique place in the history of the event.
But it’s not an accolade that he would wish upon anyone else.
That’s because the head of Perthshire Agricultural Society has been waiting three years to fulfil his role as host of the district’s largest agricultural showcase.
Covid-19 completely scuppered their plans for a show in 2020.
The following year, with the pandemic still leaving everything up in the air, it remained impractical for a physical show to take place.
The longer run-in time meant a decent online show could be arranged instead.
Now, with tickets on sale for the return of the physical two-day event at Perth’s South Inch in August, and with entries now open for livestock, Mark has been reflecting on the two-year absence and looking forward to seeing the crowds back for what will be the society’s 160th annual show.
Bouncing back from the pandemic
“When I was voted in as chairman in November 2019, everything was going absolutely swimmingly,” says the 53-year-old in an interview with The Courier.
“In fact we were ahead of ourselves in terms of things in early 2020.
“But then of course the wheels came off in spectacular fashion!
“Because of Covid, the whole thing stopped and we couldn’t obviously have a physical show.
“Because we have a lot of competitors and people putting up marquees and all that sort of stuff, you can’t just drop it on them at the last minute that it’s not happening.
“So we took a decision at the end of April in 2020 that we wouldn’t hold a physical show, and in reality we never could have the way things panned out.”
In 2020, amid the then uncertainties, organisers held a virtual show instead as a way to “keep the brand alive”.
By the time spring 2021 came along, and with more experience of Covid under their belts, a much bigger virtual event was live streamed – an approach which was “a lot of fun and hard work” but kept things going.
For both of the virtual years, competitors filmed their animals and sent in the videos.
In 2021, however, it was a much slicker, larger scale operation with videos stitched together and then judged in real time.
“The whole thing was structured basically as if they were at a live event,” says Mark.
“There’s a process to the judging that’s followed for all the different classes of horses, cattle, sheep, whatever.
“The amazing thing was that the horse entrants, for example, all dressed up.
“The riders wore the appropriate gear for whatever they were doing.
“They pleated their tails and the manes and all the stuff they would do for going to a real show.
“They then went to all the effort and submitted a video.
“The first year we judged it using the show conveners, and we did it all ourselves. It was absolutely all internal.
“But the feedback was while everyone really enjoyed doing it, they would have liked to have seen a bit more of it.
“So in the second year we got it properly sponsored and we live streamed it.
“We ran nine live streams on the day from the office, and anyone could basically dial in and watch it live.
“We did everything as they would do as much as possible, and we brought in proper judges to judge it and did the whole thing as if it were the live show, but people viewing it on a computer screen.”
How did Mark get involved in Perth Show?
Originally from Dumfries, Mark has been living in Perth for 29 years.
The surveyor initially worked for Bell Ingram Carlisle and then moved up to Perth “for a job that was six months to a year”. Almost three decades later, he’s still there!
He has been a partner in Bell Ingram for 13 years and became managing partner 3.5 years ago.
The son of a surveyor and nephew of a farmer on whose farm he worked for a couple of years before going to college, Mark comes from a rural background and describes the countryside as “being everything” to him since he was a child.
It was through friends who were already involved in the Perth Show, however, that he first got involved working as a volunteer steward on the gates back in 1996.
The show “kind of gets hold of you”, he reflects, and, after becoming a director in 2000, he was appointed vice chairman when the Perth Show made its most recent appearance on the South Inch in 2019.
After being involved in the organisation of two “non-shows” in 2020 and 2021, and with vice chairman and junior vice waiting in the wings, Mark offered to step down ahead of this year to acknowledge that the chairmanship is only supposed to be a one year post.
However, Mark’s board of directors was adamant that he should remain in post until the show returned.
“The members and directors have all basically said to me, ‘you’ve got to keep going until you have a show’,” he laughs.
“So it’s a one year gig but I’m into my third show! I think in terms of all the records I am the first ever chairman to have three consecutive shows, and the first ever chairman not to have had a show in the first two.
“It’s not a record that I’m envious of, and not one that I’d hope anyone has to repeat!
“But I can’t thank them enough. I’m uniquely fortunate to have been chairman for three years without yet hosting a show. I’m determined 2022 will set that to rights.”
Perth Show is a ‘team effort’
Assisted by his “top team” of vice chairman Robert Gilchrist, junior vice Jen Leslie, and secretary Neil Forbes, preparations for the August showcase are well underway and Mark admits to feeling added pressure for this comeback event.
His main responsibilities in the run up to the show are helping co-ordinate everything that’s taking place.
He ensures the directors know what their duties are, and helps liaise with the exhibitors.
On the show days themselves he’ll be “front and central and available” to everyone from speaking to the competitors to speaking to the public.
It’s a team effort, of course, and the irony of helping run the show is that he’ll be so busy he won’t really have time to see what’s going on, on the day.
With crowds of between 15,000 and 20,000 expected, however, what he is specifically looking forward to is a new dog show event, which he hopes will bring in a whole new set of people.
He’s also looking forward to seeing pig racing in the main ring.
Other highlights will range from the food festival to farmyard favourites.
The farming community is also looking forward to a return with potential livestock champions being groomed and pampered in time for the August 5 and 6 showdown.
The equestrian following is also delighted to have Perth Show back in their diaries with entries from far and wide lining up to compete.
Mix of town and country
“The big thing about Perth is that we are held on the Inch in Perth,” he adds.
“We are one of very few shows that is actually held within a built up area.
“It’s really important to us that we are actually in Perth and we can showcase the show to the town.
“It’s very much always a town meets country type thing. That’s what it’s about. We get a good mix of support.
“I think that going forward there are less farmers out there and I think that farming has become quite divorced from most people.
“One of the key things for us as a society is education and therefore the fact we can actually bring livestock into the middle of Perth so that kids – and probably more importantly their parents – can actually go and see what is on farms.
“What sheep and horses and cattle look like – it’s a really important part of it – keeping that connection between the town and the country.”
Mark says there’s no doubt society has missed these opportunities to gather.
However, from an agricultural perspective, the show is also an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the area.
He laughs that the weather, of course, will be fantastic!
But if Mark is looking forward to his own favourite moment to savour, it’ll be when he hears the excited buzz of a busy show ground and knows that everything possible has been done to help people enjoy themselves.
“I suppose my favourite part of it will be about 7 o’clock on the Saturday evening when everything is done and dusted and they’ve gone away happy because you know you’ve done a good job!” he adds.
“All we need now is splendid weather!”
* Perth Show 2022 takes place at South Inch, Perth on August 5/6. For tickets and livestock registration go to www.perthshow.co.uk