Headshot of Alan Titchmarsh Credit: Mark Thomas/Shutterstock

Alan Titchmarsh talks marriage: “What really keeps you together is liking each other”

The nation’s favourite gardener, 74, talks about skateboarding, turning down Strictly for the sixth time and his friendship with the King.

You and your wife Alison have been together…

Would you believe it’s 48 years! I’m always asked the secret to a long marriage, but there’s no easy answer. Shared values, a sense of humour. Yes, you fall in love, but love can be transitory. What really keeps you together is liking each other… being great friends and companions.


You have two daughters, Polly, 43, and Camilla, 41, and is it four grandchildren?

Yes, aged 11, 10, 9 and 8. We think that’s the lot.

Have you tried to get them out in the garden?

They all seem to have a love of the outdoors and an appreciation of the natural world, so that’s job done as far as I’m concerned. You can’t force anyone to like gardening but what I do have a rant about sometimes is the lack of thanks it gets for contributing to our overall sanity.

So you think gardening is good therapy?

It’s more than that. Go back 100 years and all you had to worry about were the problems in your village. Now, we’re expected to worry about every tragedy in every corner of the globe. Humanity is not capable of evolving that quickly, we’re expecting too much.

When social media and 24-hour rolling news is pulling me down, I look out of the window and I see trees, the vegetables I planted. Of course I care about what is happening in the world, but I also need something to get me through each day.

Does gardening keep you in good shape?

I don’t have the stamina I used to, but I do potter and try to aim for 10,000 steps a day. No extreme sports, though; my BMX and skateboarding days are definitely behind me.


You’re good mates with King Charles. How do you think His Majesty’s first year has gone?

I’ve known him a long, long time and he has very kindly referred to me as a friend, but I hate the idea I’m playing on that – you know, hanging on his coat-tails. Obviously, I’m a huge admirer and what he’s achieved in his first year is remarkable. He is devoted to this country and I’ve never met anyone who works harder at his job.

Presumably, you still smile when you recall his late mother’s remark that ‘Alan Titchmarsh had given a lot of ladies a lot of pleasure’?

Can I stress that she was referring to a talk I’d just given at the Sandringham WI! The Queen was in the front row and my jokes went down very well.

There’s a wonderful photo of the Queen and me at Westminster, Her Majesty in a magenta suit and me with a magenta-striped tie. The Prince of Wales, as he was then, remarked on the matching outfits. I quipped I’d rung up the Queen’s dresser that morning to check what she was wearing and Her Majesty roared with laughter. I loved making the Queen laugh.

If you were Minister for the Saga Generation, what would you lobby for? More skateboarding, maybe?

Ha, I’d try to introduce a bit more tolerance into everyday life. One of the intriguing quirks about getting older is the list of things you’re told you can’t say any more. We should all be tolerant of each other and that includes being tolerant of older people.

You have homes in Hampshire and on the Isle of Wight, but are you, and will you always be, a Yorkshireman?

Oh yes. I always say I’m just down south doing missionary work. I left home at 20, so I’ve been away from Yorkshire far longer than I was there, but it never leaves you.

You’ve been asked to do Strictly six times. Why do you keep turning it down?

Alison was a dance tutor and she is convinced my knees wouldn’t stay the course. On top of that, it is a huge commitment; you start in September and you might be there until Christmas. There’s too much other stuff I need to be getting on with.

Like your new book, Chatsworth: The Gardens and the People who Made Them?

I’ve been going to Chatsworth for 30-odd years, so it was an honour to be asked to write it.

One of my favourite views in the world is sitting halfway up the Cascade on the eastern side of the house… that beautiful Capability Brown landscape, surrounded by the ruggedness of the Peak District. You can feel the magic in the air!

You’ve also been busy with the latest series of your ITV show Love Your Weekend with Alan Titchmarsh. Who’d be your ultimate guest?

Anybody with an interesting story to tell. I’m not that bothered about all the Hollywood names, they tend to be a bit tricky.

Have you still got your two Labradors?

Sadly, we lost the girls, but we’ve got a couple of statues in the back garden and I pat them every time I walk past. I’ve filmed a new show about dogs for Channel 5, Underdog to Super Dog. We put dogs with very specific trainers in the hope we can surprise their owners with hidden talents.

We know you like classical music, but what were you listening to as a teenager?

You’re going to laugh at me because, even as a young rebel, I was listening to Tchaikovsky and Borodin. I used to get the man in the record shop to wrap up my records in brown paper in case I bumped into any of my mates.

Does faith still play a major part in your day?

Absolutely! But I’m low church; don’t like to make a song and dance about it. The Church has a difficult job in this modern world. You can’t make people go, you just have to make it available and let people find it themselves.

Is life better now than it was at 18?

Yes, infinitely. At 18, I was unsure of myself. At 74, I feel comfortable being me.

Chatsworth: The Gardens and the People Who Made Them by Alan Titchmarsh and Jonathan Buckley (Ebury Spotlight, £35) is out now.


Written by Danny Scott