Alan Titchmarsh: My Life in Media

'Having Bette Davis walk out on an interview on Radio 2 ranks pretty high as an embarrassing moment. No sense of humour, Bette Davis'
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The Independent Online

Britain's favourite gardener has been sharing his passion for flora and fauna with the viewing public for almost 30 years. In addition to hosting the Chelsea Flower Show since 1983, remodelling Nelson Mandela's garden for Ground Force and writing for the Radio Times and Express newspapers, he has been immortalised in wax at Madame Tussaud's. Aged 57, he lives in Hampshire, is married to Alison and has two daughters.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

I left Kew Gardens, where I'd been teaching horticulture, to become a gardening editor at a book publisher. I then went into magazines and began broadcasting, first on radio and then on television. Eventually the freelance work took over from the day job.

When you were 15, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

The Daily Express. Dad occasionally changed to the Yorkshire Post - I grew up in Ilkley - but usually went back to the Express. Yes, I did read it. Especially the Gambols and Giles.

What were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

Whirlybirds I would watch with my dad. I also enjoyed Look with Peter Scott and On Safari with Armand and Michaela Dennis. Percy Thrower became a childhood hero and Gardening Club a must. Children's Favourites with Uncle Mac we listened to on the Light Programme every Saturday.

Describe your job

Varied, stimulating and exhausting by turns. I simply love the variety and it seems churlish to turn down offers to diversify, even if eyebrows are sometimes raised. I only ever tackle things I'm interested in or passionate about.

What media do you turn to first thing in the morning?

The Daily Telegraph. Especially the letters, the obituaries and the arts pages. I'm not keen on noise first thing, so no radio or TV for me, though if I'm in the car early in the morning I'll turn on Terry Wogan.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

I'll listen to the news on the hour on Radio 4 or Radio 2 if I happen to be in the car, but I get increasingly irritated when news stories are handled sensationally.

What is the best thing about your job?

The fact that it is constantly changing. Gardening, nature, history and music are all passions and writing fiction allows me to enter another world.

And the worst?

Not having enough hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the...

How do you feel you influence the media?

I'm not sure that I do. But I hope I can raise awareness of a responsibility for the landscape and the countryside by encouraging people to celebrate it rather than by being a pain in the nether regions. If people get out there and enjoy the countryside, they can enjoy it, feel ownership of it and really make a difference. Not everyone will listen, of course. But you have to get your head down and, in the words of Winston Churchill, "keep buggering on".

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Being awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour by the Royal Horticultural Society. It's their highest award and no more than 63 people can hold it at any one time.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

Having Bette Davis walk out of an interview I was conducting with her on Radio 2 ranks pretty high. No sense of humour, Bette Davis.

At home, what do you tune in to?

Radio 3 and Classic FM (though the adverts drive me nuts). Radio 4 for I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (pure gold), and Radio 2 on Sunday evenings.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

I take the Sunday Express because I write for it. I've stopped The Sunday Times because I found its bossiness and opinionated writing increasingly irritating. I could not get through the week without Country Life - simply delicious.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire

I'd like to sing one of the "patter roles" in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. I've done it as an amateur but not for money.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

I'd keep growing things. It is the ultimate pleasure, and they don't answer back.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Alan Bennett - a great communicator. And the Queen, for keeping it at arm's length.

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The cv

1964: Leaves school aged 15 to become an apprentice gardener in Yorkshire

1968: Leaves to study horticulture in Shipley, eventually moving to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew

1974: Leaves to edit gardening books at Hamlyn Publishing, then Amateur Gardening magazine

1983: Presents the Chelsea Flower Show on BBC and has hosted the coverage ever since

1988: Presents House in a Garden with Gloria Hunniford on Radio 2

1991: PresentsPebble Mill at One, then Gardeners' World from 1996

1997: HostsGround Force

2001: After writing many gardening books, gets into fiction with Only Dad

2002: Publishes the first volume of his autobiography. The second, Nobbut a Lad, came out last year

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