"Gardening is actually a very religious experience, as well as being a sensual one. I go to church every Sunday and it seems to me that there is a very strong link between religion and plants which come up, year after year. Gardening is also sensual because you feel at one with everyone else."
Down to Earth
Alan Titchmarsh is a gardener on UK television who retains an earthy hands-on approach to life as well as his horticultural programmes. His public image is of a grown-up little boy with a neatly trimmed hair style, and a nice man to know, who you would like to have as a friendly next door neighbour. This seems to be true off screen as well.
Titchmarsh himself says,
"If I had to describe myself, I'd say hopeful and well-meaning."
Born 2nd May 1949 in Ilkley, Yorkshire, England, and brought up in Yorkshire, he attended Ilkley Secondary School where he was teased for being short in stature. This, along with his surname, earned him the nickname Titch. He had a bad time at school and was made to feel stupid, which his teachers in some way encouraged.
"I had a teacher, Miss Weatherall, who didn't think much of my writing. When I started secondary school, I was put in a class called 4X which meant they weren't very sure of you. 4A was for bright ones and 4B for the dunces but 4X allowed the teachers to make up their minds. I finally turned the corner one day when she picked up the word 'reciprocate' in one of my essays. She said 'Who taught you that word' and I said 'No one. I just know it'. She said 'No you don't,' and I said 'Yes I do.' That's when I discovered the power of words. Well, at my school, you either had to be good at running or answering back. I wasn't good at running."
"Gardening is an obsession"
On leaving school Alan gained only one O-level, which was in Art. He managed to get a job as a gardener after discovering whilst working in his grandfather's garden that it was a occupation which he could enjoy. He then attended a succession of educational establishments to gain experience and train in his chosen profession. These were,
Before getting a job at Kew, Titchmarsh was an apprentice gardener for Ilkley Parks Department until 1968.
Whilst at Kew, he began to edit gardening books for Hamlyn Publishing. Titchmarsh was very lucky and was discovered by television scouts due to being in the right place at the right time. This led to him being given his own television shows in 1969, Nationwide and Gardener's World. By 1979, Titchmarsh had started to officially work as a freelance writer and broadcaster. As well as appearing on numerous gardening shows, he has presented talk shows, consumer issue shows, and had the odd appearance on comedy programmes.
On Gardener's World, a programme he still presents under the title of Gardener's World 2002, he takes a look at his garden which he keeps tidy with the help of two gardeners he employs. These aren't usually seen on the programme, but are responsible for a large proportion of the upkeep. Alan however, does his fair share, and is usually knee-deep in dirt on screen and off.
In 1988, Titchmarsh teamed up with buxom redhead, Charlie Dimmock, probably most famous for not wearing a bra whilst she works, to make Ground Force. Alan says this television show is good because,
"We spark each other off. We're different but we're each passionate about the same thing. It's great fun working together because you never really know what will happen."
Ground Force has sparked many spin-off series which have included making over Nelson Mandela's garden and joining force with Changing Rooms in When Changing Rooms Met Ground Force.
More recently though, Titchmarsh has been focussing on his career as an author. After having many successful books about gardening, he turned his hand to writing novels.
"I've always wanted to write fiction so about four years ago, I thought 'I'm going to have a go'. It was amazing. The words just came. When I wrote a synopsis for my first novel, The Lighthouse Keeper, I had one rejection, one letter which wanted to see more and a third from a publisher who asked me out to lunch."
was his first novel to be published though, followed the next year by The Last Lighthouse Keeper
"I usually have the framework of a plot in my head but it always surprises me that it seems to write itself. Characters are very important to me but so is plot; I like giving the reader, suprises. I also enjoy detail - I have a dustbin mind."
"I think about plots while I garden. I work in a shed at the top of the garden with an electric heater and a rug over my knees. Usually, I do two hours of writing in the morning and then I'll get into my garden which we also use for Gardener's World. "
The Second Sexiest Man in the World?
On the more personal front, a British publication voted Titchmarsh the second sexiest man in the world. He found the title very amusing but was slightly disappointed that he came second to George Clooney.
"My daughters and my wife thought it was funny, too."
He lives with his wife, Alison, who he met through an amateur operatics society in London soon after Alan had moved from Yorkshire to London to work at Kew Gardens. Alan had joined to enjoy the singing practise, and Alison had joined for the dancing. Recently they celebrated their silver wedding anniversary.
Alison is two years younger than Alan, and is very secure in her marriage to the garden pin-up. She says of this,
"Perhaps that's because we make sure we have a very normal, balanced life. We don't go to many big public functions although we always enjoy Chelsea. Instead, we have a circle of very good friends and we prefer to spend time with them. But, people do come up to us in the street and ask for Alan's autograph although women don't actually throw themselves at him! But we guard our privacy at home."
Their two daughters, Camilla, 18, and Polly, 20, still live with them in their family home in Hampshire where Alan is a self-proclaimed vacuuming addict.
"I'm quite good at housework."
"I absolutely love vacuuming; it's a bit like mowing the lawn."
His wife agrees.
"He really is a very nice man. In fact, he's a pleasure to live with."