This isn’t just any cherry TV advert

Farmer’s daughter Sarah Neaves is about to become known as Britain’s queen of the cherries. The 53-year-old mum is to star in a series of TV adverts for M&S which were shot on her farm near Sittingbourne.

Sittingbourne cherry farmer Sarah Neaves at Little Sharsted Farm. Picture: John Nurden Sittingbourne cherry farmer Sarah Neaves at Little Sharsted Farm. Picture: John Nurden

A 35-strong Covid-secure film unit took two days to shoot the four one-minute mini-features at Little Sharsted Farm, Doddington. They will be shown on ITV next month to promote home-grown produce.

But some out-takes are likely to remain on the cutting room floor thanks to Sarah’s own slightly fruity language. “Of course I won’t swear,” she promised the director as she made her way to a poly-tunnel where her latest crop was growing. But within seconds she had blotted her copybook while filming inserts for the supermarket’s social media.

After the camera finished turning over, she looked across at the mini-town which had sprung up in one of her fields, complete with its own generator, lights and double-decker catering bus wedged in a gap between trees, and declared: “It’s been very scary but a lot of fun.

“They are a great crew but I cannot believe how many people are needed to make a few minutes of TV. I know one thing, I won’t be an actress.

Sittingbourne cherry farmer Sarah Neaves at Little Sharsted Farm with ITV film crew for M&S advert with sound boom operator Jay Barnett, scriptwriter Anton Ezer and cameraman Rich Bennett. Picture: John Nurden Sittingbourne cherry farmer Sarah Neaves at Little Sharsted Farm with ITV film crew for M&S advert with sound boom operator Jay Barnett, scriptwriter Anton Ezer and cameraman Rich Bennett. Picture: John Nurden

This is what Sarah Neaves had to say after the shoot “Farming is my dream job.

It gets me out in the open and I can eat cherries all day long. They are my passion. But from what I’ve seen, actors just spend most of the day hanging around, waiting.”

The first day’s shooting began at 7.30am and ended at 7pm. The second day was a little shorter and featured scriptwriter Anton Ezer asking Sarah a series of informal questions.

“How far can you spit a cherry pip?” he enquired. “About three metres,” she replied and demonstrated with aplomb.

“Where does the word ‘cherry’ come from?” he asked.

Sittingbourne cherry farmer Sarah Neaves at Little Sharsted Farm. Picture: John Nurden Sittingbourne cherry farmer Sarah Neaves at Little Sharsted Farm.

Picture: John Nurden

Sarah looked blanked. It turns out the word can be traced back to a town in Turkey. Who knew?

“Sum up cherries in one word,” continued Mr Ezer. “Sexy” replied Sarah, with very little prompting. “I have to keep going back for more. Oh, perhaps I shouldn’t have said that?”

Her enthusiastic defence of the humble cherry as one of the world’s most powerful aphrodisiacs which followed will probably never see the light of day, which is a pity because it would almost certainly quadruple sales overnight. Sarah is the third generation of her family to grow cherries on the farm and her son Archie, 16, is about to join her in September as an apprentice to make if four.

Sign to Little Sharsted Farm, Doddington, Sittingbourne Sign to Little Sharsted Farm, Doddington, Sittingbourne

The family grows 45 hectares of cherries alongside the M2 on the farm which was bought by her grandad, also Archie, in 1952, although he had been growing them since 1944. AR Neaves is now one of the largest fruit-producers in the south east and, thanks to its location, ideal brick-earth and light levels, its cherries are often the first home-grown varieties on supermarket shelves.

Sarah says one of her first memories as an eight-year-old was being taught to pick cherries by her dad Bryan, 80, who took over the farm in 2000. She recalled: “We still use the same hand-made five-kilo baskets which are attached to our waists with leather belts. My father has always taken cherries very seriously and made sure I learned the correct way.

I had my own little basket and worked alongside him but I adopted my own system of pick a cherry, eat a cherry.

Cherries on a tree at Little Sharsted Farm Cherries on a tree at Little Sharsted Farm

That’s the best part. I don’t think he approved but I can’t resist them. They are my favourite fruit.

I adore them fresh or in cherry crumble.” She added: “The cherry blossom in April is truly stunning. Come June, when the cherries are ready it is all hands to the pump.”

At the height of the eight-week season, everyone mucks in along with an army of up to 100 pickers comprising locals, Lithuanians and Romanians. The cherry-pickers, mostly students, live on the farm and entertain themselves with barbecues, football, basketball, cycling and parties. The farm also organises excursions to ice-skating rinks, adventure parks, historical sites and even West End shows.

A TV catering truck hiding in the fields at Little Sharsted Farm, Doddington, Sittingbourne.
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pPicture: John Nurden A TV catering truck hiding in the fields at Little Sharsted Farm, Doddington, Sittingbourne. Picture: John Nurden

In her grandfather’s day, pickers used 40-rung wooden ladders to reach the highest branches.

The newer varieties are grown on smaller dwarf stock and in poly-tunnels to protect them from frost, wind and birds. The fruit is graded within two hours of being picked and is on supermarket shelves within 24 to 48 hours. In 2015 the business invested GBP1.5m in a new pack house which can keep up to 2,200 tonnes of fruit in temperature-controlled stores.

Sarah began working on the farm in 1987 and her brother Edward followed in 1994. William Dixon joined has farm manager in 2002. M&S spokesman Lara Shingles said: “M&S is shining a spotlight on its suppliers to reaffirm its commitment to British farming. “People seem much more interested in where their food comes from these days.

One of this season’s champions is Sarah. She is a hugely successful female farmer based in the heart of Kent.”

Filming this way at Little Sharsted Farm Filming this way at Little Sharsted Farm

* M&S cherry adverts will start airing on ITV from Monday, July 5, during This Morning and after the early evening news. It is one of a series of 19 campaigns which have been filmed across the UK from Scotland to Jersey.

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