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WRITER, PRESENTER AND GARDENING GURU ALAN TITCHMARSH TELLS GEORGIA HUMPHREYS WHY HE WON’T BE RETIRING ANY TIME SOON
THERE is one thing you can be sure of – the much-loved gardener, presenter, and novelist Alan Titchmarsh, who turns 72 in May, will not be leaving his career behind any time soon.
“People say, ‘Why don’t you retire? And you say, ‘Well, if I retire, I’ll have to find something to fill the time’,” quips the Ikley-born star, on a video call from his study (it is in the attic of a barn, and he moves his camera to show the stunning views out over his garden).
“I could drive a minibus for people – but perhaps I’m better off doing what I do. Just maybe just a little bit less of it.”
But, while he says he’ll never give up work entirely, he muses reflectively: “I like to think I know when to stop doing something.
“I did seven years of Gardeners’ World, six years of Ground Force, 10 years of Pebble Mill At One, seven years of the chat show (The Alan Titchmarsh Show); I like to think I go, ‘I’ll park that one now’ before people go, ‘Oh get him off!”’
Following the success of Love Your Weekend With Alan Titchmarsh, which started last year, ITV is now launching a new primetime show.
The nine-part series, set in the heart of Hampshire, where Alan lives in a Grade II-listed Georgian farmhouse, will cover farming and animal life, and where and when to plant for the coming year.
Plus, each week there will be a celebrity guest joining him for planting, nature features and food tastings.
It is airing at a great time; warmer months are coming, and everyone has realised, after being in lockdown, just how important fresh air is for “keeping us sane”.
Many people have also realised the huge benefits of gardening on our wellbeing, which Alan sums up perfectly, noting how nurturing and caring for plants is “good for the soul and the spirit”.
“The technological revolution has covered it up in a lot of people, it’s sort of submerged it, and people are very tech-savvy, which I’m not.
“Over the generations, they’ve lost the ability to feel for nature.
“With me, it’s very instinctive. I’m quite a primitive person, but I love
Get it in your arm!. There’s a “far greater risk not having it”
Alan Titchmarsh on encouraging people to have the Covid-19 vaccine
that aspect of it – the feeling that I’m participating in it.
“Also, gardeners are the only interactive naturalists.
“A lot of naturalists are spectators, bird watching or whatever, but with us, we take cuttings, we sow seeds, we plant things, so we are involved, we are interacting with nature and encouraging it along, and it’s a wonderful feeling when it responds.”
What Alan wants to stress is that you don’t have to have a lot of land; you could just have a plant pot on your doorstep, for example.
“I don’t want to make it a chore or to be bullying or hectoring, but just to say, ‘Why don’t you have a go at this?”’
He campaigned long and hard during the first lockdown in spring of 2020 to get garden centres open, “and mercifully in the second lockdown, they stayed open”.
Alan had the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on February 1 and, commenting on how there are people questioning whether to have it or not, he urges them to “get it in your arm!”
Suggesting there’s a “far greater risk not having it”, he gets emotional remembering all the volunteers shepherding him into the vaccination centre, and the work that has gone in to making the jab possible.
“I think there’s so much anger at the moment, and bitterness and crossness about everything, and when you think what we’ve achieved, and particularly with Oxford-AstraZeneca... I had the AstraZeneca, which I was really rather chuffed about.
“I had no reaction at all.
“I barely felt it go in.
“I had no pain in my arm afterwards – no symptoms whatsoever.
“My second one’s on April 25, and I just feel an enormous sense of gratitude and appreciation to the people who have worked on it to get it at such speed.”
What would Alan say living through a year of a global pandemic has taught him about himself?
“I can’t tell you how it felt for people who are in blocks of flats who have been told stay at home, ‘You’re allowed one walk a day’.
“I don’t know whether I would have survived that, and I take my hat off to them for being able to.
“I’ve always been a man of the land, ever since I was little boy, and I grew up in the Yorkshire Dales so the wider open spaces are my territory.
“To have a bit of land here and beyond that, I don’t take it for granted at all. It’s reinforced my belief that I did the right job when I left school at 15, but also that I am never happier than when I’m out there, on that earth, pottering and doing it.”
The presenter, who married his wife Alison in 1975, has, of course, missed being able to see his friends, two daughters, and four grandchildren.
“We are social animals,” he notes. “We’re like ants, we function together, and that’s been very hard – and it’s not to be underestimated, the ramifications that having been pulled apart will have, in some families.”
But lockdown has also made him realise just how much he likes being here, on his bit of Hampshire land.
Work-wise, he currently does his Saturday morning radio show on Classic FM, plus all his voiceovers, from home, and there’s another reason for that, too: to help look after the planet.
“Yes, I’ll go into town and touch base with folk, but in the future I shall work heavily on saying to people, ‘Look, it makes much more sense for me to do it from here’ because it’s much more responsible climatically apart from anything else, and I can make a difference,” he suggests.
“My little bit, it’s only a little bit, but not everything is empirical.
“We all feel powerless when we talk about global warming, climate change, on a grand scale; ‘What can I do?’ I can do what I’m doing; not go on the train, not drive. I can do it all here, and it makes sense to do that.”
FOR the first time in her career, Sally Lindsay is playing a police officer. And it is a role the former Coronation Street star, 47, has absolutely relished.
Intruder is her second collaboration with director/writer Gareth Tunley (they also worked together on Cold Call, which was Channel 5’s first original drama).
The series, a gripping, edge-of-yourseat thriller about cover-ups, corruption and murder, follows affluent, high-flying married couple Rebecca (Elaine Cassidy) and Sam (Tom Meeten) whose lives are shattered by a break-in by two local teenagers at their luxurious coastal house.
Family Liaison Officer Bailey (Sally) becomes embroiled in the ensuing investigation, as it transpires there is a lot more going on than meets the eye.
“She’s a character that I based on my mum,” explains Stockport-born Sally, who spent five years on the Weatherfield cobbles as barmaid Shelley Unwin.
“Bailey is an FLO, which is a very underrated cog in the police machine, in the fact that they are the only people that have contact with the families and they know exactly the relationships and inter-relationships within the family.
“My mum is a social worker, and my stepdad is. And she used to say, when she walked in a room, after five minutes, she knew what was going on in that family, and they just had to sort of protect either the children or whatever was going on.
“It’s this sort of sixth sense that these amazing people have.”
At first, Bailey is quite a low-key character, but as the drama continues, we see her really honing her skills as a police officer and detective, and Sally thought it was “just fantastic that she just got stronger and stronger and stronger in her own abilities”.
The mum-of-two, who is also known for Sky comedy Mount Pleasant, may not have portrayed a copper before, but she has created a police drama.
On a night out, Sally and her former Corrie co-star Suranne Jones came up with the idea for ITV hit Scott & Bailey, about a female detective duo, because they both that there needed to be more TV roles detailing the lives of professional women in high-powered jobs.
“I’ve always been obsessed with police drama, whether it’s Midsomer Murders, any high end sort of police drama – I love them all,” reflects Sally, before revealing she and Gareth have talked about “maybe taking Bailey’s journey on... but I don’t know whether that’s going to happen”.
“I loved playing a copper because I loved just how clever she was, but how understated she was.
“And I think for a female copper, that’s perfect, in a way, that she empowers herself and realises actually, ‘I’ve got this. I’m better than all you lot,’ even though at the start she doesn’t think that at all.”
The latest in a long line of intriguing Channel 5 dramas, Intruder was filmed in Ireland.
Rebecca and Sam’s house is apparently known as “the toaster house” by locals in real-life, because of its unique shape.
The property is certainly an interfelt esting space to see on screen, with its incredibly high ceilings and beach views.
Sally notes how, when bringing a show to life, “Gareth likes the house to be a character as well” (it was the same in Cold Call, she adds).
“It was a sign of Rebecca and Sam’s wealth; it was a sign of their achievement. It was different, it was supposed to be kooky – they were the only people that could have this because they’d made it in life.
“And then this horrific thing happens, which makes them prisoners” she elaborates.
“I think it’s really important to Gareth to get that house right to start with.
“What happens in that house, it’s very sort of prison-like and closeting. This huge space is like a trap.”
Shooting took place last autumn and so, as is the case with most shows hitting our screens currently, there were strict Covid-19 guidelines in place for the cast and crew.
“I think we were the only production in Ireland at that time that didn’t stand down,” Sally recalls.
“I was staying in this flat in Dublin, which was lovely, but it was near St. Stephen’s place and usually, that’s where it’s all happening and it was just so weird because it was dead.
“But the amazing thing was it was the (time of the) USA election, so Trump and his shenanigans, that was my entertainment.
“That literally kept me sane, because we were so isolated; we couldn’t see each other, we couldn’t talk about the day in the bar afterwards.”
On the topic of lockdown, has Sally picked up any new hobbies during this past year, while we’ve all been at home?
“We’re genius in finding programmes you can watch with 10-yearolds that don’t bore you senseless,” quips the mumof-two (she is married to drummer Steve White, and they have twin boys, Louie and Victor)
“So, therefore, we’ve gone through Cobra Kai. It’s basically like watching The Karate Kid again every night.” Chuckling, she adds: “Hobbies have been: trying to keep the kids sane, dog walking, trying to drag the kids out on dog walking, trying to play football with two twins when you’re rubbish.
“One of my favourite hobbies is unstacking the dishwasher and stacking it again.”
But she is grateful to have had her job during this difficult time.
“I’ve worked a lot during this lockdown, which has been bizarre, from the first voiceover day under the duvet, and then when we were allowed out, I’ve done a couple of documentaries and stuff.
“We all said that before, how lucky we are that we managed to film a drama.”
And a brilliant drama it is too.
She... realises actually, ‘I’ve got this. I’m better than all you lot’
On her ‘underestimated’ character’s evolution in Intruder
■ Intruder starts on Channel 5 on Monday at 9pm