The Boyband farmer
From an article in Sorted magazine
At the grand age of 32, Jonathan Benjamin Gill – otherwise known as JB – is a familiar face to many. The former member of boy band JLS is now an established member of the farming community and presents CBeebies’s Down on the Farm. And now as a presenter of BBC’s Songs of Praise he is increasingly known for his faith.
Like many young superstars craving solace, JB bought his home, set on a 15-acre farm in semi-rural north Kent, as an easy getaway from the craziness of London life in the spotlight. Little did he know that an inherent need to be resourceful would see him begin a new chapter in his life.
“Farming was never in my plans,” says JB. “It was just something that kind of happened, but it’s a great lifestyle, having two young children and something exciting to share with them.”
JB seems to have a knack of embarking on a whole new direction just as one chapter of his life is reaching its natural conclusion. As a youngster, he suffered a sports injury which saw his dream of becoming a professional rugby player in tatters. It did, however, pave the way to him refocusing on his childhood love of music.
It was in 2008, while he was studying theology at King’s College London, that he and his bandmates from JLS appeared on The X Factor. Although they were pipped to the post by Alexandra Burke, it didn’t matter and their first two singles ‘Beat again’ and ‘Everybody in love’ shot straight to number one. Seven years later, with two BRIT awards in hand and having toured the world, JLS had completed their record deal. They decided this was the natural end to the band, rather than negotiating a new deal.
JB says: “I bought the land when I was in the group. I knew that it was going to end so I just thought, ‘How am I to make the most of this resource?’ I always believe in doing things you are suited to and you enjoy. Making your career something you enjoy doing and love doing will motivate you, and I love being on the farm. It actually happened at the right time in my life as I was soon to get married and start a family. I’m based around the farm and if I’m away now, I’m away for a short time, compared to when I was in the band. When you’re in promo mode with a band, it’s literally 24/7. You’re performing at night and then up at 3 a.m. to do breakfast TV.”
JB reflects on the up and down of achieving success at a young age: “There are difficulties in having success young, and any journey to the top of an industry involves a roller-coaster of ups and downs. There is often a great deal of money which becomes equal to power in our world. There are a lot of opportunistic people around you and a lot of pitfalls. I was fortunate that I had my family and I was able to speak to them about things, but I didn’t always do things perfectly. You see it time and time again in the entertainment business – you have this adulation, but that lifestyle ends and it’s hard to adjust. For someone like me, I was at university, and I hadn’t had another job when JLS took off. That was all I knew. But if you start younger, like One Direction did, these guys were just out of school so it’s even more difficult to come out of.”
But so often life goes full circle. Fuelled by early childhood memories of growing up in Antigua, where he remembers his dad keeping horses and cutting sugar cane with his cousins, JB threw himself into learning how to cultivate the land and farming pigs and turkeys. It was at this time that he started questioning whether the Christian faith he grew up with was, in fact, something he had chosen for himself.
He says: “When I was younger, I grew up in church and was, on the surface, a Christian, even though my life did not always exhibit that faith. I still tithed when I had the money but would not say I was actively a Christian at the time. I always believed, but it got to a point where I needed to make a choice for myself. It’s something that cannot be inherited and ultimately you have to make that choice for yourself. You’re not saved because your parents decided you’re saved. It really was when I was thinking about getting married and having a family that I thought, ‘What do I want to stand for?’ and ‘What example do I want to set my children?’”
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