Alan Titchmarsh on his love for Hampshire, his path to broadcasting and Alton life
PUBLISHED: 10:49 25 May 2018 | UPDATED: 10:49 25 May 2018
A Yorkshireman born he may be, but Alan Titchmarsh has a love for Hampshire that has truly blossomed, as Bernard Bale discovers
“I moved to Hampshire some years ago and have enjoyed every minute of being here,” said Alan. “Being born in Ilkley I am a Yorkshireman for life but being here has made me a Hampshireman as well. It is a great county and the people are so very friendly, I felt at home here straight away and I have a great love of the Isle of Wight of course.”
Alan’s story did indeed start in Ilkley where his father was a plumber and his mother worked in a textile mill. He could easily have followed in his father’s footsteps but when he left school at the age of 15, he took up an apprenticeship as a gardener for the local council, a move that was just the shoot in a career that has blossomed into something very special.
“My grandfather and his father were both gardeners. My own father was put off because when he was young they used to get him to do all the weeding, which didn’t inspire him very much so he didn’t follow the family tradition. Their green fingers must have reached out to me because I used to grow plants in our back garden when I was quite young,” said Alan. “I loved it and I liked the idea that I would do that as a job when I left school. You could leave school early in those days and when the chance to become an apprentice came up I didn’t hesitate.”
It would be easy to think that Alan simply went on to bigger and better gardens but it wasn’t quite like that. It is true that he remained with the council for four years but then he enrolled full time at the Shipley Art and Technology Institute to study a City and Guilds course in Horticulture, after which he studied at Hertfordshire College of Agriculture for his National Certificate in Horticulture.
The education didn’t stop there as Alan then gained a Diploma in Horticulture at the world famous Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, where he remained after his graduation to become a supervisor and staff trainer.
All this time though there was another talent brewing – he was becoming an excellent writer and communicator.
“I left Kew and accepted a job as assistant editor of gardening books at Hamlyn Publishing,” he said. “So I became a horticultural journalist in 1974 and went on to other publications until about five years later when I decided to work for myself, and began freelancing as a writer and broadcaster which is basically what I do now.”
That is, of course, a modest understatement because as well as being recognised as one of the most knowledgeable and talented gardeners in the world, Alan Titchmarsh has proven himself to be an excellent radio and television presenter. Above all, he has managed to remain exactly as he was brought up – just a thoroughly nice chap.
Even better, he has made Hampshire his home and spends his relaxation time either at his beautiful Broadlands house in Alton or at their relaxation retreat on the Isle of Wight, where they also have a boat.
“My wife, Alison and I spend a fair bit of time on the Isle of Wight, in Cowes to be precise. It is so lovely there with numerous bays, harbours and inlets all around the island that we never tire of exploring.
“I like to do most of my writing on the Isle of Wight too, I just love it there and we’ve come to know the people well. We originally used to go there in our boat which was moored in Chichester, but bit by bit we decided that we liked it so much that we wanted to have a place there. I love the sea and I think we would find it difficult to move very far from the ocean. Cowes Week is especially wonderful.
“Our home near Alton is also a haven. Again, local people are really nice and have treated us as one of their own. We are totally at home in Hampshire – not bad for a Yorkshire lad.”
Alan is almost constantly busy because of his broadcastiing work and the demand for personal appearances plus his ongoing writing commitments. It is a wonder that he gets any time at all for gardening.
“Gardening is my life,” he said. “I could never see myself not working in the garden. I am an outdoor sort of person and I like doing things with my hands. I am not bad at DIY actually but gardening is always my first love and no matter what else I do, I could never give up being out there tending to my garden or other gardens. If I am not working in the garden I still like to be out there as much as possible just sitting in and taking in the atmosphere and fresh air.”
With a hugely popular weekly radio show on Classic FM, Alan must also have time in his busy life to enjoy music.
“I enjoy the radio show very much and I have always had a special love for music,” Alan revealed. “I can still remember the first record I ever bought. It was China Tea by Russ Conway. How about that for a memory! I will listen to many different kinds of music but the Classic FM show gives me the chance to play a lot of the music I really like, which includes operettas, light classics and really anything that reminds me of the great outdoors.”
With more books and television shows in the pipeline, will he ever considering retiring?
“Not really,” he said. “I had a health scare a while ago. Heart trouble runs in the family a bit and one day I found myself in a lot of pain. Iw was taken to hospital in Portsmouth and they found I had gallstones. It was a very painful experience but a relief that it was not worse and a reminder of the vulnerability we all have.
“It has been suggested that I should take it easier but I really don’t want to retire. I think we all need a purpose in life, a reason to get up in the morning. So at the very least I will always be a gardener it is what I am and I couldn’t do without it.
“I also love my writing which is another way of expressing yourself and to be able to write you need peace which is never a bad thing. I like the contrasting fun of my TV work which is never dull so really, I would not want to give it all up and retire.
“I am a fairly cheerful sort of person and I like to be able to cheer up other people or at the very least not make them miserable. Why should I be anything other than cheerful, I have had a lifetime of doing the things I like most, meeting great people having a wonderful family, travelling to different parts of the world and, of course, I live in Hampshire. Who could ask for anything more?”
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