Hannah Springham: Living life in Technicolor
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
“If you want to do something you’ve got to try and make it happen,” says Hannah Springham.
That's how, at 18 and knowing that she wanted to work in the media she got her first job as a runner for Anglia TV.
It's led to a stellar career directing shows including Pineapple Dance Studios, Gok's Fashion Fix, The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea, and rubbing shoulders with film and music legends including Morgan Freeman, Goldie Hawn and the Rolling Stones.
And it also meant that when she knew she had to change her priorities in life, she wasn't afraid to take the leap and move back to her home county of Norfolk, where she and her husband, Andrew Jones, run the acclaimed Farmyard restaurant in Norwich and the Dial House at Reepham.
Hannah grew up in the Broads at South Walsham, a location that she describes as "idyllic".
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Talking about those early ambitions, she says: "I went to Norwich High School. It is very academic and at that stage they didn’t have media or drama courses, but I knew that I wasn’t going to go off and be a doctor, I wasn’t a person that got a thrill from doing revision.
"My mum used to work in advertising, she would say to me: radio, newspapers, telly, you’d be really good at that."
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When she was 18, Hannah got a job at what was then Time nightclub on Riverside, which led to that first step up the TV ladder, at Anglia TV.
“I used to run the VIP lounge at Time and when anyone came in who was in the media, newspapers, radio or telly, I’d badger them for work experience," says Hannah.
"I finally got a job as a job as a runner for Anglia telly on Trisha and then I became a researcher pretty quickly and I absolutely loved it.”
From there, Hannah moved to ITV in London and by the age of 22, young in the industry, she got the chance to start directing shows for BBC daytime including Cash in the Attic and Car Booty.
And then, she got a taste of Hollywood, landing a job filming a video for the charity NSPCC.
"Basically it was a gig where I had to take a white background to wherever they were in America and wrote a little funny script to get people to raise money for a children’s charity at a big auction," she explains.
“I filmed with people like Morgan Freeman and Robin Williams. I filmed Teri Hatcher on the set of Desperate Housewives at Universal Studios and I filmed Goldie Hawn in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York. I did the Rolling Stones backstage in Washington.
"That was an amazing experience, dealing with those A-list celebs, when I was about 24.
"It was really interesting seeing how the people that have really made it behave, especially compared to some of the daytime presenters who are often notoriously badly behaved. Often the most famous can just be the most charming."
As well as working in TV, Hannah also loves fashion and worked as a personal shopper at Prada in Old Bond Street, dressing A-listers including Keira Knightley.
Having that on her CV made moving into fashion programming a natural fit and in the early noughties she directed shows including Gok’s Fashion Fix, Britain’s Next Top Model and The Clothes Show.
“But the job I wanted more than anything in the world was Top Gear,” she says.
“I love cars. My parents were petrolheads, we‘d get up to go to Snetterton at five in the morning, we’d be up watching the Grand Prix."
Hannah currently has a pink Cadillac - a former wedding car she bought as a present to herself for her 40th later this year.
And she’s owned lots of classic and sportscars over the years.
Her very first car was a gold Porsche 944. “It had a brown pinstripe interior and yellow dials. I loved that car.”
And when she was 23, she bought a Ferrari.
“All the men in my life who I was working with were like ‘don’t buy a Ferrari, that’s really stupid, it will all go wrong'. And that made me determined – every time a man tells me that I can’t do something, that pretty much spurs me on to do it.”
And that included becoming Top Gear’s first female director.
"At that time, from 2000-2010 really, Top Gear was the best thing on telly. The boys were doing incredible, brilliant, funny VTs, that felt real, it wasn’t over-produced, it was just beautifully-made, stunning programming.”
She interviewed for Top Gear twice – for a researcher job and then as a director, which she almost got.
“They phoned me afterwards and I asked them what I needed to do and they said that I needed to get more slick stuff on my CV, so that’s what I did.
“And in 2008 I finally got it. I landed the first female director gig on Top Gear. I did a road trip with the Stig and it was amazing, an incredible experience, and I’m still really, really proud of that because I was told I would never be able to do that.
“I do thank Norwich High School a bit for that, because they really instil that female empowerment in you and I think certainly back then that wasn’t as prevalent as it is now.”
Riding high after Top Gear, one of Hannah’s next gigs was filming a pilot that took her into the surreal world of Louie Spence and Pineapple Dance Studios for Sky.
“I think that pilot is the best thing I’ve ever shot,” says Hannah. “What we ended up with was this documentary where you weren’t sure whether it was real or not. And to add to the mayhem we decided that we’d get them to break into dance, a bit like a musical.
“It was a bizarre, but amazing experience. And the reviews were so incredible – people were confused as to whether it was scripted, they were asking if it was Ricky Gervais’s new thing as it was so post-modern.”
Following Pineapple Dance Studios, Hannah and a colleague set up a TV production company called Knickerbockerglory, which is still going today.
In the meantime, she had met her now-husband, chef Andrew.
They were set up on a date by a mutual friend.
By coincidence Andrew grew up in Norfolk too and he and Hannah knew of each other from moving in the same social circles.
When they started a family and Hannah’s mum was diagnosed with dementia, she realised that she needed to change her priorities.
“I was only 30 when I had Priscilla and by the time we were pregnant with Reggie two years later I wanted to go back to Norfolk and I wanted to be with my mum, who was going to have to go into a home.
"So we moved back to Norfolk and my mum passed away five months later. I was with her and it was as perfect as it could be and she met my baby.”
By then, Hannah had moved into executive producing - “basically the political role, dealing with the talent, commissioners and directors” and started working remotely.
With a young family to care for, a husband working long, unsociable hours as a chef and dealing with bereavement, Hannah took the decision to move away from TV and into hospitality.
Putting the organisational skills she had honed through setting up shoots to use, she bought herself out of Knickerbockerglory and invested in Andrew’s dream of setting up his own restaurant in Norfolk.
“He did lots of research into what that should be and the idea of Farmyard came together,” says Hannah.
“The name was the most important thing, because it just says what it is on the tin. It’s really clear as a brand, celebrating the farm in the most simple, un-egotistical way.
"I’ve never met a chef with a smaller ego than Andrew – he’s incredibly talented, he’s got Michelin training. All of his food is led by the produce, not by him.”
Farmyard opened in St Benedicts Street in Norwich in 2017.
Then in 2018 the opportunity came to take on the Dial House in Reepham, the town where Andrew grew up, and where they had set-up home in a farmhouse.
“I had started to think about setting up a business of my own in Norfolk and then we got a phone call from the owner of the Dial House, Iain Wilson,” says Hannah.
It was a big undertaking, but an opportunity that they couldn’t pass up.
“In a lot of ways, the Dial House came too early for us,” says Hannah. “We were a year into Farmyard and we weren’t flying at Farmyard yet, far from it. There were lots of mistakes we had made that we didn’t even know about at that point.
“But we live in Reepham and felt like it was fate.
"It’s a beautiful building with antiques for sale and I started on Cash in the Attic. It had a clothes shop in it – I've done fashion. It was a restaurant on Andrew’s doorstep which we’d gone to many times. We were like we need to make this happen. And so we pedalled really hard to make it happen.”
It turned out to be “the biggest learning curve we could have ever expected”.
But as Hannah explains, seizing the day is a life lesson she learned early.
“I think when you lose your parents at quite a young age, certainly for me, I feel like it really means that I live life in Technicolor.
"I am so aware of how important it is to appreciate the moment and to try and enjoy it because you don’t know how long you’re here for.
“So I think I’m less fearful. I know that sometimes I’ve made some mistakes, but I do think that you’ve got to look at bad decisions as life lessons.
"My mum would always say it’s part of life’s rich tapestry and I think it’s a really good way to look at things.
“I think I’ve set up six or seven businesses over my years and they haven’t all worked and that’s okay. I’m not afraid of failure, I don’t think that failure matters ultimately.
“If you’ve felt that loss of someone close to you, it’s important to value life, I think, and just give it a go.”
And with the Dial House that meant some really difficult decisions had to be made.
“We closed down food service two days and stopped doing the café trade – we got a lot of backlash from locals about that, which was really upsetting,” says Hannah.
“But we stuck with it and now have a successful, touch wood, always touch wood, viable business model that people love.
“The Dial House has become what we always wanted it to be, which is Farmyard with rooms. Both of those restaurants have AA rosettes and Farmyard is in the Michelin Guide. They have really great food and really great service.”
But just as Hannah and Andrew were really getting into their stride with their two hospitality businesses, the country was shut down by coronavirus.
“We had just started turning the corner I would say about eight months before the pandemic hit," says Hannah.
"The Dial House was doing as well as Farmyard and the reputation was really getting out there. And then the pandemic hit, which was nightmarish and really upsetting.
“To begin with we had no idea what we were going to do and I spent a lot of time in tears on the phone to insurance companies.”
They looked into whether it was worth doing takeaways, but realised there was quite a high break even point.
“So instead we concentrated on the business models to make sure that when we re-opened, we re-opened with a bang in absolutely the right way – everyone was trained in the right way and everything was ready to go,” says Hannah.
They also noticed a gap in the market and experimented with making frozen meals that people could cook at home for a treat.
“The hell that was home school while juggling the businesses was really difficult, so Andrew started batch cooking and we were freezing his food and we realised two things,” says Hannah.
“One that his food when it was defrosted was just as good as when it went into the freezer, because obviously he’s cooking restaurant level food.
“And secondly nobody could go out, so you were going to the supermarket desperately looking for something that felt like a treat and all there is was pizza and fried chicken.
“Restaurants were offering great takeaways, but you had to go and get them fresh, have them that night and we realised there was a gap for having restaurant level food in your freezer.
"So we started freezing a takeaway offering which people could pick up from the Dial House."
These proved popular, so they decided to see whether there was still a demand for their meals when lockdown lifted.
When sales continued they launched Farmyard Frozen – a range of meals, including Farmyard’s popular chocolate bar dessert, which is stocked in farm shops and delis across Norfolk and Suffolk.
They will be delivered nationally from the middle of October and have been shortlisted in the innovation of the year category at a major hospitality awards.
Hannah says she and Andrew are always evolving their businesses and pushing forward.
As lockdowns lifted, Hannah championed the pedestrianisation of St Benedicts to enable the street’s restaurants to offer outdoor dining.
They put sustainability at the heart of everything they do – not only do their frozen meals come in high tech recyclable packaging, but they’re hoping to be zero waste at Farmyard and the Dial House by next year.
The Dial House is becoming a sought-after wedding venue.
And Hannah has also launched Vegas Vintage, selling designer and high-end labels, working with Wild Daisy Vintage.
“A sequin is for life, not just for Christmas and dressing should be about joy and having fun, especially now more than ever,” says Hannah.
The pandemic has been the catalyst for many people to look at how their live their lives and reassess their priorities, and with that in mind the couple launched their happy hospitality policy in May.
“I’m really proud to say that we no longer recognise the chef crisis. We put all of our team on to four-day contracts,” says Hannah.
“We talk about free-range cheffing, which means basically they have a life which we don’t touch. What restaurants learned in lockdown was that basically we can’t go back to that way of working in hospitality.
"These chefs had their first ever Christmas Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, school holidays, bank holidays with their family and none of us wanted to go back to losing all of that overnight.
"The head chef at Farmyard is like a different person. He’s got colour in his cheeks and it’s because they have a life, and can be and feel.”
Another change that has happened is that, having missed the buzz of TV, Hannah has also gone back to directing, working on two of her “guilty pleasure” shows, structured reality series The Only Way Is Essex and Made In Chelsea.
“The kids are a bit older and during lockdown Andrew said 'what can we do to make you happy, how can we get you back into telly?'
"And I said that if I could just do one or two gigs a year I think that would make me really happy.
“Female directors are a scarcity, because it’s really hard," she continues.
"Being a working mum means doing it all. Not having it all, doing it all.
"You have to make compromises in your life. I’m not prepared to compromise on family, or the children, but I do need a little bit of space for my own sanity and my brain, so my dream by the time they’re teenagers is to be properly drama directing in a more full-time way and until then I currently have a conversation with Hollyoaks, because that is a really good lead-in to drama."
Hannah says her dream jobs include directing the sitcom Motherland and Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge.
“All this stuff is achievable because I have a lovely husband, we understand each other and we have a great marriage and with that support you can accomplish anything.”
Another lockdown lesson has been to cherish their family time with Priscilla, 8, Reggie 6. And there couldn’t be a more perfect location to do that than in Norfolk.
“We do a lot of stomping around the countryside collecting sticks. If we’re being idyllic about it, sometimes when Andrew goes foraging for wild garlic and blackberries, and Priscilla and Reggie are in their element and they love doing that," says Hannah.
“We also spend a lot of time convincing them to get off iPads! We’re not a perfect family, but what we’re trying to do more of is just be with them.
"We spent a lot of time before lockdown paying to go on days out, and then obviously everyone spent lockdown at home digging up worms in the garden and I think what we learned from that is we only need to dig up worms in the garden and so we try to just enter their world a bit when we’re with them.
“A lot of what we do is pet-centric, we’ve got lots of pets – we’ve got a batch of kittens, we’ve got a lovely dog called Disco, we’ve got chickens, ducks, quails, a rabbit, so we do a lot of cleaning out the animals, collecting eggs and stuff – I think that's good for our mental health as well as the kids, being out in nature."
And she and Andrew have a new motto - be here now.
"Our favourite thing to do each week, is on a Tuesday at 11 o clock in Reepham there’s a free meditation group in the middle of a field, called Field of Joy, it is the pinnacle to our week and the key to our sanity.
“We sit and meditate with this amazing guy, Kevin. It’s that sort of stuff we’re trying to hold on to after lockdown, appreciate the small things in life.”
What I’m reading...
I’m working on a Netflix crime doc, a really big true crime series, which is really exciting. But it’s so secretive it’s NDA worthy, so I can’t tell you one of the books I’ve read because that would give it away. But I’ve also read All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman and it’s a really adorable, poignant book.
What I’m watching...
Sophie: A Murder in West Cork on Netflix, about the investigation into the killing of a French film and TV producer. It’s got an incredible twist in it and it’s incredibly well narrated, so I’m looking to that for inspiration.
What I’m listening to...
I’m listening to The Day Today on BBC Sounds, which was the original launchpad of Alan Partridge - they put it on there as a historic treat, really. If we’re stressed we listen to Steve Coogan narrating Alan Partridge’s audiobooks, because it’s really nice to laugh when we feel stressed.