Passionate Yorkshireman Alan Titchmarsh talks to Al Gordon about a quarter of a century of getting Down & Dirty – in the garden, of course.
Green-fingered gardener and chat show host; sex symbol and housewives’ favourite… Let’s be honest, it’s all rather inexplicable. Is Alan Titchmarsh really up there with the George Clooneys and David Beckhams of this world? Or is it just a long drawn out joke? He certainly thinks it might be...
“I honestly think someone’s been having a laugh for all these years at my expense,” he begins, quite cheerfully. “And then I get journalists and people asking about it and I feel if I ever once took it seriously, I’d get even more laughs. I know what I look like and I’m certainly no Hollywood idol… I think it’s time we put that one to bed once and for all because no one’s buying it, especially me!”
Titchmarsh, who turned 63 at the start of this month, will celebrate the tenth series of his self-titled ITV chat show later this year, and he’s already compiled a wish list of celebrity guests for the big event. “Maggie Smith would be amazing but she never does interviews as far as I’m aware. She’d be the ultimate for me, so fingers crossed. Though as much as I’d love to sit down with her, I’d imagine it might be a terrible interview!
Julie Walters also gets the Titchmarsh seal of approval… “I’ve had her on before but she’s one of my favourites,” he says, adding “I love anyone who’s up for a great chat and who opens up. She always stands out for me as a fabulous guest… Ultimately though, it’s not just about the celebrities for me. I’ll sit down with a chimney sweep and have him on the show if he’s a good talker. I’ll have anyone on my show who’s willing to talk to me.” Now, there’s an invitation…
The father of two (his daughters, Polly and Camilla, are both teachers), who is heading up this year’s BBC Gardeners’ World Live at the Birmingham NEC, has been a household favourite since his first stint as a horticulture correspondent way back in 1979.
And having cultivated an image as arguably the most affable man in the UK, it’s really no surprise that he’s been asked to compère the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee pageant, although it’s an honour that he admits to being rather apprehensive about.
“The horses, the glamour, the tradition... I have to say, I’m a little nervous. It’s such a huge event, on a worldwide scale, and while I’m thrilled to even be involved, I find myself a little jumpy at the notion. It’s such a massive event watched by billions across the globe… and that’s a thought I could actually do without too! I just hope I don’t get tongue tied.”
Will he get a chance to meet the lady herself on the day? “I’m not sure, to be honest. I might get a royal wave if I’m lucky.”
As for BBC’s Gardeners’ World Live, visitors will experience theatre and stage shows, as well as getting the chance to meet their favourite TV stars, including Monty Don, Carol Klein, Joe Swift and of course, Titchmarsh himself, who believes the four-day event is wonderful opportunity to meet gardeners from around the country. With so much time spent out of Yorkshire, though, Titchmarsh will be happy to return for some well-earned time in his Ravensworth home.
“I must say, as a proud Yorkshireman, there’s nothing quite like coming home after working away. We all know how special the county is, but sometimes you have to leave and come back to really feel it again.” He pauses to reflect. “I’ve been very lucky in my career in the sense that I can experience London and all that holds, whilst also knowing that venturing back to home roots is there for me.”
He admits that he’s never really had a career plan. “When opportunities come along, it’s about recognising them, and that's something I’ve always done. Saying ‘yes, I’ll take a shot at that’, regardless of the risk of flak. The Ground Force show took a lot of stick initially for popularising gardening, but I stand by it. It used good techniques and allowed people who were somewhat intimidated by the process to realise it’s not out of their reach.”
And for the future?... “Well, right now, I’d just like to continue working, presenting my show, writing more books – and spending more time in my garden.”
Does he get much time to venture amongst the flora and fauna, I wonder, what with dreaming of Maggie Smith and waving at the Queen? “Every chance I get, I’m in there. I make sure each evening to at least take a jaunt around my garden, do a little dead-heading. I’d spend all my time there if I could, but the BBC might have something to say about that!”
See Alan Titchmarsh at BBC Gardeners' World Live from the 13-17 June at the NEC in Birmingham with Monty Don, Carol Klein, Joe Swift and many more of your favourite gardeners. Hundreds of exhibitors, plus RHS Show Gardens and free entry to the BBC Good Food Show Summer…
For more info see www.bbcgardenersworldlive.com or call 0844 581 1340.