High Sheriff? The idea grew on me…

When a very regal Alan Titchmarsh attends numerous events as the Island’s High Sheriff it’s hard to believe he was once an also ran in a Butlin’s Mr Debonair contest and also the butt of his old school pals jokes when he was spotted up a ladder in denim overalls watering hanging baskets.

This is deliberately, not an article about whether Alan Titchmarsh should be in one of our highest offices. Much too much has already been aired on this subject. He first turned the job down four years ago because he had personal doubts about his own suitability but was talked into finally accepting what is a completely voluntary and unpaid position.

Alan is definitely not one of those infuriating immigrants who instantly try and tell us how to run the Island. Several have and then been rarely heard of again.

Back in the 80s Alan regularly came to help raise funds and the profile of the Haylands Farm project, at the invitation of the late actor Reginald Marsh. He enjoyed these visits and the students loved his participation.

Nine years ago he bought a flat in Cowes and many of his novels have been written overlooking the Solent. “Over the years I have got so much out of the Island and my current office is a good way of putting something back. In a way, I’ve stood up to be counted,” said Alan.

During his very successful life Alan Titchmarsh, who admits never to have been a particularly self confident person, has been prepared to take risks and enter side doors. Despite leaving school with just a single 0 level in art. For many years he had dreamed of becoming a gardener and grabbed the opportunity to become an apprentice with Ilkley Council. Hence the ladder and the hanging baskets.

On numerous occasions Alan told his close friends he wanted to be the next Percy Thrower. They laughed and explained there were 50 million people in Britain and only one Percy Thrower. “Sometimes you just have to be careful what you actually wish for,” suggested the man who, eventually, went on to present Gardener’s World.

After a spell at college Alan Titchmarsh took a job at Kew Gardens and his career looked to have peaked at such an early age. Then he surprised a few by leaving to join the Hamlyn Publishing Group and within a short time was writing gardening books. His knowledge and flair for his subject came to the attention of radio and television producers and his media career suddenly evolved.

Alan’s love for amateur dramatics had led him to the Barnes and Richmond society and he found not only a part in Half a Sixpence but also a future wife, Alison. His love for the amateur stage has remained with him and for several years he has been the patron of the Cowes Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society. “I’ve had a few offers to appear in professional productions of Gilbert and Sullivan. It would be an ambition fulfilled and could happen one day.”

Alan’s life has been full of surprises and none more than the success of Ground Force. His first surprise was being told that a builder from Hackney and a girl from a Hampshire garden centre were to be his assistants. Neither had television experience but Alan was repeatedly told the young lady had other assets that might just catch on. Hence the hit trio of Alan Titchmarsh, Tommy Walsh and Charlie Dimmick was unearthed.

“We had such fun on that show and nothing was hidden from viewers. We did it in two days and it was hard work. The day one of our repeats came second to EastEnders in the ratings was quite amazing.” The special programme from the garden of Nelson Mandela’s home is still one of the great moments in his eventful life.

Nothing has been easy for Alan Titchmarsh. In his early home life he was often told just to blend in. From those humble Yorkshire beginnings he has become one of Britain’s most popular television presenters. He has no airs and graces and makes everything look so naturally easy, the credentials of a true professional. Unlike many of his contemporaries there is no hint of an ego that demands constant refueling. In his ITV chat show the guests are the stars and it’s hardly surprising it’s proving so popular.

He was certainly embarrassed to discover his model in Madame Tussauds was the most fondled – and that was long before his splendid uniform and sword. Alan Titchmarsh gets numerous offers to appear on reality shows. His daughters are the perfect advisors as to whether dad should accept Strictly Come Dancing and the rest.

Other milestones from Alan’s life include talking to the small 28-strong Sandringham WI. The president’s daughter was seated in the middle of the front row.  It was the Queen. Later he met her on official duty to receive his MBE.

Currently he is juggling his professional life with his High Sheriff role quite successfully. He has been encouraged by the many letters and messages of support. Some of our former incumbents were worried the nationwide publicity might have changed his mind about taking office. In fact, he accepted the criticism gracefully and has been a great hit at so many functions.

Many years ago a very young Alan Titchmarsh used to build models and one was his idea of a television studio and all the equipment. What perception he had!