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Royal Welsh Show president has song in heart
He might have been born a Cockney and become a well-known television personality, but Dai Jones is a Welshman and a farmer through and through – and proud to be both.
Over the years, his life has revolved around a mix of roles – as a Welsh language TV presenter, concert compere, and accomplished vocalist, all in tandem with being a highly successful dairy farmer turned pedigree livestock breeder.
But above all, Dai Llanilar – as he is best known – sees this year’s Royal Welsh Agricultural Society presidency as the pinnacle of his career.
His invitation to lead Ceredigion’s featured county activities could not have been bettered, his Cefn Gwlad farming and countryside programmes turning him into a familiar figure not only among television audiences in Wales, but across the world.
His standing within the farming and rural communities is also without question.
Born in the London district of Holloway to Welsh parents who, like so many other West Wales families, were in business in the dairy trade, from the tender age of three, he was brought up by his uncle and aunt on their farm at Llangwyryfon. He had gone there for a holiday and never left.
After schooling in Aberystwyth, he started his working life aged 15. It was the beginning of a life-long vocation in farming and his introduction to the world of entertainment.
His keen interest in Welsh culture and tradition was fostered in the local chapel and through YFC and Urdd eisteddfodau stage performances, before going on to receive professional tutoring as a tenor soloist with ex-opera singer Redvers Llewelyn at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
He became a pupil of Ifan Maldwyn Jones, of Machynlleth, and Colin Jones, who was principal voice tutor at Manchester College of Music, conductor of the Rhos Male Voice Choir and, later, the Colin Jones Singers.
After winning the Urdd National tenor competitions at both Carmarthen and Llanwrst in the 1960s, he went on to win a succession of awards, including the tenor solo and Singer of the Year prize at Llangollen, and the acclaimed David Ellis Blue Riband at Ammanford.
Performances around the world followed, with trips to Africa, America, Canada, Germany and France. He also recorded six LPs.
In 1966, he married his wife, Olwen, an equally keen YFC member and winner of a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Medal award, and the two of them set about reshaping their present home – Berthlwyd, at Llanilar.
They established a 75-cow pedigree black and white dairy herd, drawing in female lines from some of the UK’s leading herds, including such notable names as Grove, Deri, Terling and Lavenham, Calcourt and Montgomery.
Success in the show ring was topped by winning the South Wales herd competition before the pressures of combining singing performances with milking led to the herd having to be dispersed. In its place came the Nantrhys herd of pedigree Welsh Blacks, established chiefly with females from the Neuadd and Doldowlod herds.
It produced the winner of the Queen’s Cup at London’s Royal Smithfield Show in 1992, as well as the native breeds champion at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair, and today runs to 60 breeding cows.
The farm also carries a flock of 800 breeding ewes – Tregaron Welsh crossed with Bluefaced Leicesters to produce Mules which go to Texel and Charollais terminal tups.
The past decade has also seen the establishment of a small stud of Welsh Cobs (Section D) with Rhandir, Gwenllan and Pennal bloodlines.
What he enjoys, too, is sheepdog trialling – a skill he says he would like to perfect if only he had the time.
Over the years, countless other awards have come his way, including the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society’s most prestigious award, the Sir Bryner Jones Memorial Trophy, Fellowship of the Royal Agricultural Societies and an MBE for services to farming and to the countryside.
He is also a Fellow of Bafta Cymru for services to television in Wales.
Other offices held include the presidency of the Welsh Black Cattle Society during its centenary year, President of the International Sheepdog Society, vice-president of Wales YFC and a Fellow of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.
What is for sure is that this year’s Royal Welsh is going to be memorable for Dai Jones Llanilar – but one thing he will not be doing is presenting the television coverage, ending what has been a 30-year unbroken run.
There will be one notable exception. Time has been built into his busy schedule for him to commentate on the show’s prestigious teams of five beef breeds competition.
No doubt he will be keeping his fingers – and everything else – firmly crossed for the Welsh Blacks.