ANYONE who watched Channel 4’s Young Black Farmers series will remember Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones. He brands himself “The Black Farmer”, the entrepreneur behind the gluten-free food range of the same name. He lives between his London office, his Devon farm and his Wiltshire home where he stood as the Conservative party candidate earlier this year.
Born in Jamaica but raised in Birmingham, Emmanuel-Jones has dreamed of owning a farm since he was 11. He grew up as one of nine in a two-up-two-down in the Small Heath area in Birmingham – a place he describes as “devoid of all hope and expectation”.
This didn’t dampen his spirit. He got into his head that he wanted to work in television: “I didn’t know how to get into TV so I wrote to every producer listed in the Radio Times. I just kept putting myself out there, befriending everyone connected to it.” He eventually got himself in front of Jock Gallagher, a top producer: “He took a chance on me by giving me a job as a runner. Jock’s the entrepreneurial type.” Emmanuel-Jones worked his way up from there: from runner to producer to director on various food and drink shows.
But his dream of owning a farm never left him. “I realised that I was never going to get my farm working in TV.” So after 15 years he quit his job with only three months rent to spare to set up a food marketing business called CommsPlus. “Nothing focuses the mind more than that. My family thought I was nuts.”
“It was really difficult when I started out. Everyone is so negative towards you. You have to prove yourself before people take you seriously.” The business certainly proved itself. CommsPlus helped make Loyd Grossman’s pasta sauces and Kettle Chips the big names they are today. It took him 30 years but the profits finally got Emmanuel-Jones his farm.
Life in Devon proved interesting for Emmanuel-Jones in the first few years: “My neighbours all called me ‘the black farmer,’ that’s where I got the inspiration for my brand. It’s risqué and gets attention like Richard Branson’s Virgin.” Despite this he struggled to get his product stocked in the supermarkets. So he went around the country and got people to petition their local supermarket to stock his product. “The only people supermarkets fear are the consumers.” Eventually Tesco gave in.
It was this attitude that led Emmanuel-Jones into politics. He says: “Business seems to be a dirty word in Britain. I wanted to do my bit to change this. We need to encourage a culture of entrepreneurial spirit – make it easier to take risks.”
The Black Farmer brand is expanding, with a clothing line and a chain of grill restaurants on the way. Emmanuel-Jones shared the advice his father gave him: “You only need two things in life: absolute focus and a positive attitude.”
CV | WILFRED EMMANUEL-JONES
Born: 1957 in Jamaica
Family: Married with a son and daughter. He has an adult son from his first marriage
Drives: Lexus, “until it was nicked last week”
Favourite drink: “Fanta Zero”
Reading: His car’s policy insurance documents