The road from rural vet to TV personality

You’ll likely recognise Julian Norton from the hit Channel 5 series The Yorkshire Vet, now into its eighth series of heart-warming tales of veterinary life in rural Yorkshire.

We chat to Julian about his busy life (fitting in his mixed practice veterinary work with all his TV commitments) and how driving a Subaru Outback makes all the hard work a little easier.

Do you come from a veterinary background?

No, not at all. I grew up in the urban sprawl of Castleford but, like many others at the time, got charmed by the surgery life and adventures of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. From a teenager, that was it, all I ever wanted to be was a vet.

So how did you go about becoming one?

I got my head down and worked really hard to gain a place to study Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University. After six years I graduated, came home to practice and joined the Skeldale Veterinary Centre in Thirsk, the home and inspiration for the James Herriot stories. That’s over 20 years ago now!

And you always wanted to practice around North Yorkshire?

Yes, God’s own country! Leeds, York, the Dales, the Moors, the coast – beautiful countryside. Full of wonderful folk, a diverse mix of animals and fascinating human stories within each community.

It’s challenging country up there. Is that why you drive a Subaru?

Well, I’ve been a Subaru fan all my life. I used to own an Impreza but I swear by my Outback these days.

It’s the perfect car for a mixed practice vet: a good boot; permanent Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive with fantastic grip on roads which are always mud-covered, wet, icy or snowy.

Many are just tracks, undulating and twisty, especially punishing in bad weather, but it’s the kind of terrain that the Outback takes effortlessly day in day out. To be honest, when I get a call from some far-flung farm in the pitch black of night, I don’t have to think twice about whether I can get there or not. I just get there.

What’s the best and worse things about your job?

The joy and satisfaction from delivering a lamb, saving a life, making an owner happy, diagnosing and curing an illness, is a fantastic thing. And that connection I make with both the animal and owner is something special and incredibly rewarding.

Driving around the glorious countryside up here is a big bonus, too, and one hell of a stress reliever. The Outback’s ride and handling makes driving more enjoyable and hard work feel less so.

Of course, mixed veterinary work can be very demanding at times - the working days are getting longer and more stressful. So the worse part for me, I guess, is missing out on family time with the wife and kids. Weekends and on call responsibilities aren’t much fun, either.

Any unusual cases recently?

There’s always something interesting happening. Recently, I had a dog who had swallowed a garden glove and a chameleon who was quite literally off-colour! My most memorable case was probably the dog who we thought had a cancerous lump. Getting ready to operate, we quickly realised that it was a Fox’s Glacier Mint stuck under a mound of fur!

How did the TV career come about and have you had to adjust to life as a TV personality?

A production company asked if we’d be interested and we thought why not, it’ll be fun, let’s give it a go (Julian shares the limelight with fellow vet Peter Wright). We actually thought it would only last for six episodes, but here we are into Series 8!

Obviously, a camera in my face much of the time isn’t exactly what I had planned when starting out, but the opportunity to share my experiences with 2 million people…. that makes it all worthwhile.

So no time for hobbies?

I used to do triathlons and iron man events, but fitting in the training with all my TV commitments is proving very difficult. It’s more about grabbing time with my family these days and relaxing.Oh, and there’s also two pets to look after – a Jack Russell and a rabbit!

At this point, Julian’s phone rings and there’s a cow in calf that needs to be seen quick. Julian hops into his Outback and thunders off. Vet and car, possibly two of the hardest workers in the country.

Watch the latest episode of The Yorkshire Vet on Channel 5 Tuesday evenings at 8pm.

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