Ipswich: Alan Titchmarsh - the hearthrob of the herbacious broder - to sign copies of his new book Bring Me Home at Waitrose/John Lewis on Friday, March 28
- Credit: Archant
The lipstick marks have to be regularly wiped off his Madame Tussaud’s waxwork, evidence if any were needed that Alan Titchmarch is the heartthrob of the herbacious borders. Lynne Mortimer spoke to the TV presenter and gardener ahead of his book signing in Ipswich.
It was on Pebble Mill at One that we first became aware of Alan Titchmarsh, the Yorkshireman with the twinkle in his eye and the healthy cuttings in his potting shed.
And judging by the amorous moves on his waxwork figure, some women have more designs on him than a wisteria confronted with a well-placed pergola. It is not – as far as I know – a Lady Chatterley and Mellors thing... or there again is it?
He seems genuinely floored by the question and there a momentary silence before he musters an answer.
“Dexterity is attractive. When you see people, no pun intended, who are good with their hands... I think there is something, in the broadest sense of the word, sexy about craftsman... practical skills.”
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Our chat is prompted by his book signing in Ipswich, next Friday, when he will be signing copies of his new novel, Bring Me Home.
With 30 or more years in TV and radio broadcasting, together with 50 years in horticulture, and a series of gardening books and novels, Alan is a legend and I tell him this, adding that I won’t call him a national treasure because that always seems to be linked to age... the older you get, the more of a treasure you become, it seems. But Alan isn’t bothered. “I’m happy to be called anything,” he says.
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Although best known as a gardener, he also has a music programme on Classic FM, presented Pop Star to Opera Star on ITV and has also interviewed Royals. Currently his daytime talk show is on ITV at 3pm.
You probably don’t need me to tell you this, everybody knows who Alan Titchmarsh is.
The reason for our chat is two-fold. As well as the book, there’s his new venture with Waitrose and bringing the two neatly together, he will be signing copies of his novel Bring Me Home at Waitrose’s Ipswich store, Ransomes Way, on Friday, March 28, between midday and 1pm.
No wait, it’s too early to start queuing... you may as well read on.
I first recall him on Pebble Mill at One but he reminds me he started “way back” on Nationwide in 1979. “ I don’t know if you remember that?
Pebble Mill was mid-eighties and Alan had a potting shed, I recall.
For some reason this tickles Alan and he giggles. Now he’s back on daytime telly and, on the show’s Twitter, one avid follower tweeted: “Great show today, Alan. You looked very handsome.”
“Oh, thanks very much,” Alan says.
The tweeter’s name, I add, is Grant.
“I’m grateful for any admirers I can get,” Alan laughs. He really is a nice guy... I’m beginning to understand why all those women kiss him in the waxworks.
With his busy schedule does he still have time to garden?
“Oh, I do. Every day if I’m at home. Even when I’m doing the (chat) show, like this, I don’t leave home until quarter to nine in the morning. I get up early in the morning to write and I’ll also have a walk round the garden, and a potter here and a prod there. It’s what I do; it’s what I am really and just because people aren’t seeing me doing it doesn’t mean I’m not doing it.”
Is it a big garden?
“I’ve got about four acres and about one acre is garden proper.”
Yes, that’s what I call a big garden.
“The rest is wild flower meadow.”
Noting his name is on a variety of vegetable varieties at Waitrose, I wonder if he has a vegetable patch at home.
“I’ve got a small veg patch and an asparagus bed, which I love.”
Looking through the list of his accomplishments I am agog at his work rate. Where does that strong work ethic come from?
“Maybe it’s sort of Yorkshire working class upbringing. I’ve just always been interested. I like being stimulated and creative. I’m not so much a workaholic because it doesn’t feel like work, it just feels like creativity and stimulation and that’s the most important thing to me. It’s being interested, whether it’s being interested in people, interested in plants or music. Life is interesting; it’s as interesting as you want to make it.”
“You know, I grew up as no doubt as you did with parents who had all those old saws; “If you can’t say anything nice
“... don’t say anything at all,” I finish for him. Crumbs; same parents.
He continues: “Stop moaning, nobody’s interested in what’s wrong with you. Crack on and get on with it.
“We all have our ups and our down but it’s nobody else’s business but yourn. You get on with it.” Wait a minute there. There may have been the odd lucky break in the decades of hard work. This is a man who never stops. Not only is he a broadcaster, being voluble and interactive with his guests and audience, he is then also able to shut himself away and write novels.
“Well you see the one feeds the other. The thing about novel writing... when I’ve had people all day – I’m quite sociable but I am also quite solitary. Never lonely but often solitary. When you’re writing, you’re on your own. And I love writing in silence in the barn, I don’t have music on or anything. And that’s the kind of other side, really. And I love that every bit as much if not more than the telly. That’s where I’m really comfortable.”
He writes in a loft in a barn in his garden which brings us neatly to his new novel, Bring Me Home.
“It’s about a chap called Charlie Stuart who inherits a castle where something dreadful happened but we don’t know what. He’s got to go and break it to his children that their lives are about to be shattered by the events which have just occurred.”
Obviously, Alan can’t reveal what the dreadful thing is. “It’s a romantic mystery. That’s what I write... about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. I write about feelings, about relationships between parents and children and each other. Hopefully in a way that will strike a chord.”
Book signings must be interesting. Has he ever been asked to write anything peculiar in anyone’s book?
“I was once asked to sign “While trimming a bush” and I wasn’t at all sure I should be writing that.”
Married for 39 years, Alan and his wife Alison have two daughters and three grandchildren. The family enjoys both opera and ballet and then there’s classical music.
“I was a choir boy at the local church and I loved classical music as a child when everybody else was out buying Beatles records... though, having said that, I was the first person in our street to buy She Loves You,” he says with pride. “I used to buy classical records and bring them home in brown paper bags.”
He laughs at this early attempt to hang on to his street cred which, on reflection he adds, he never had anyway.
He talks about his gardening link with Waitrose. “We talked, they said they wanted to stretch more into gardening and into plants; flowers and would I be interested in being an ambassador on that side for them. I said I would. My life’s work is trying to make gardening popular, understandable and not shrouded in mystery. It’s 90 per cent common sense, you know, and this was a chance to do that on a broader stage.
Oh, and while we’re talking about gardening, I take the opportunity to ask how to get rid of the violets which take over my borders in spring and, however much I take them back, return with renewed vigour each year.
“Same as mine. Just call it ground cover.” I like this man.
Top tip for this time of year?
“Make sure you’ve pruned your roses. That’s the most important thing. There’s just time to get in any bare roots, deciduous trees and shrubs you want to plant; just time. It’s the real start of the season, gardeners’ new year, if you like. Fill those gaps with stuff you can buy now that will come out this summer.”
Last November we read that Alan wouldn’t be presenting from the Chelsea Flower Show for the BBC, this year.
“I shall go, I shall be there but I shan’t be part of the TV presenting team. It was a great treat to do that every year,” he tells me. It has since transpired, since our chat, that Alan was holding out on me for it has been revealed he is to design a special garden for the show celebrating both the 50th year of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Britain in Bloom campaign and his own 50 years in horticulture.
Moreover, this week I found out he is quitting the chat show, saying he felt it was time to move on and he had some exciting new projects ahead.
Well, I’m blowed. I’m minded not to book that ticket for Madame Tussaud’s, to add a touch of my Guerlain lippie to the Titchmarsh, after all.
n The Alan Titchmarsh Show is on ITV, weekdays at 3pm