Face to face: JOHN KENNY

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Aylsham pig breeder John Kenny, who left city life behind to raise rare breed pork in the north Norfolk countryside.

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Aylsham pig breeder John Kenny, who left city life behind to raise rare breed pork in the north Norfolk countryside. But, after appearances on two TV shows, he is quickly becoming the area's newest celebrity.

Born in 1968 to an unmarried Irish Catholic teenager, John had a difficult start in life and, as a baby, was sent to live with foster parents.

Adopted as a toddler, he was brought up at East Harling, where, during the school holidays, he helped out on a local farm.

After leaving Old Buckenham High School, John, who, as an adult, contacted his birth parents and discovered he had 7 sisters and a brother, took a job as a zoo keeper at a Norfolk wildlife park, where he ended up in charge of the monkey enclosure.

Then, following a 5-year stint as an electrical engineer with a Thetford firm, he decided to return to his childhood love of farming.

Financing his studies by working for a pig breeder by day and at a pub by night, John enrolled on a National Certificate in Agriculture course, later studying at Easton College, Norwich.

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After qualifying, he worked as a self-employed livestock specialist until, 3 years ago, he and his wife Jane - a surveyor with a Norwich firm - decided to move from Norwich to north Norfolk and bought a cottage and caravan site at Spratts Green, Aylsham.

Intending to provide family and friends with a ready supply of free-range pork, John decided to buy himself half a dozen rare breed pigs.

But, after he began selling pork at Aylsham farmers market and laying on hog roasts at local events, the orders came flooding in.

Christening his business Happy Hogs, John turned the caravan site into a series of free range enclosures, bought more pigs and, as well as selling pork products at Aylsham, began taking bookings for fetes and carnivals.

An accomplished chef, he also started catering for weddings, birthday parties and other events, while still finding time to run an annual Christmas tree harvest.

He now has around 100 rare breed pigs, ranging from Gloucester Old Spots and Berkshires to Middle Whites and Saddlebacks.

Last year, he received the ultimate accolade when he won the £13,000 first prize on the ITV programme Britain's Best Dish with his recipe for slow-cooked belly of pork.

John, who was recently visited by Marco Pierre White as part of the celebrity chef's ITV show Great British Feast, put his winnings back into the business.

Working 7 days a week, he now divides his time between looking after 12-year-old son Joseph while Jane is at work, cooking for clients and family, and caring for the family's chickens, cows Ruby and Murray, 2 cats, 2 dogs, Jane's horse Harry, and, of course, his very happy pigs.

What is the best thing about your job?

Piglets being born. Watching them grow and seeing them come outside and run around for the first time is pretty cool!

And the worst?

That was losing Porridge - one of my Middle White sows - last year. She had been destined for the abattoir, but we bought her and, a few months later she had 11 piglets, then another 12 the second time around. While I was away filming last year, I got a call to say she had died and I was absolutely gutted. She was such a sweetheart and would come running out to see us every morning.

What is the one possession you would save if your house was on fire?

My keys - my business couldn't function without them.

Where do you go to unwind?

I don't get wound up very often, but, if I do, I watch the pigs. No matter how bad a mood you're in, they will always make you smile.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

The King's Head pub at Coltishall because of the superb food and the great welcome you get when you go there.

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

Proposing to Jane just a few weeks after we'd met was pretty outrageous!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I've got a lot of corny tattoos I had done when I was younger, so I'd get rid of those.

What is your proudest moment?

When Joseph was born. Jane had a lot of problems when she was pregnant, so it was fantastic when he came out healthy.

And your greatest achievement?

Winning Britain's Best Dish, as it was recognition of my hard work and skills. I'm not always very confident in my own abilities so it was a real boost for me and, anyway, I had to win it for Porridge!

Who do you most admire?

Bobby Moore because of what he stood for. He was very loyal to West Ham and even though he was one of the best in the world at what he did, he was humble person who had traditional values and believed in treating people with respect, whatever walk of life they came from.

Do you have any fears or phobias?

Flying, heights and frogs and toads. I don't mind sticking my arm up a cow's backside, but I shudder at the thought of picking up a frog!

What makes you angry?

Impolite people really get up my nose and, if they're losing, watching West Ham play can sometimes get my back up.

Favourite book, film and TV programme

I've got over 100 cookbooks, but I couldn't choose one; my favourite film is Sexy Beast with Ray Winstone, and I'm a big Minder fan and can repeat some of the episodes word for word.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a nice bloke who really cared about his family, his friends, and his pigs!