Alan Titchmarsh is one of the UK’s best-loved TV personalities thanks to his work on such shows as Ground Force, The Nature of Britain, Love Your Garden and The Alan Titchmarsh Show. He’s also written several books, including novels, and this week sees the publication of his factual tome The Queen’s Houses. Here, he talks about that project, why he’s scaling back his workload and why you won’t be seeing him on Strictly Come Dancing
HOW DID THE BOOK COME ABOUT?
I’ve been in and around royal houses and their gardens for quite a while, and it just struck me that I didn’t have a book about them all. I thought it might be nice to take a modern look at the history of all the Queen’s houses – Buckingham Palace, Sandringham, Windsor Castle, Balmoral and Holyrood, the ones that are hers both privately and officially.
HOW DID YOU RESEARCH IT? DID YOU GET ACCESS TO ROYAL ARCHIVES?
Over the years I’ve visited the places officially and unofficially, and like everybody else, I do my research. Some online, but mainly through books. I’ve always been interested in the history of the monarchy and where they live, so a lot of it was based on my archive, as it were.
WERE THERE ANY SHOCKS WHILE YOU WERE DOING YOUR RESEARCH?
They’re a lot more colourful than you think they are, the amount of things that’ve gone on within their walls. The stories are fascinating, stories of real people who did amazing things. People have even been murdered in the royal houses.
THE HOUSES ARE RATHER SCATTERED ABOUT. EVEN YORKSHIRE, GOD’S OWN COUNTY, DOESN’T HAVE ONE!
Ha ha! It’s clearly an oversight!
IS IT TRUE YOU’RE SCALING BACK YOUR WORKLOAD?
I am, slightly, but I’m certainly not retiring. I’m doing the last run of my chat show at the moment, and I’ll still be on television, so nobody will notice it except me. But hopefully it’ll mean I can spend more time with my children and grandchildren.
AND YOU’RE GOING TO BE APPEARING IN THE WIND OF THE WILLOWS SOON
I am, which is terribly exciting. Talk about scaling back – I sign off from the chat show, have a week off and then I go straight into rehearsals! It’s a wonderful ballet, and I’m narrating it from the end of November to the beginning of January – sometimes it’s nine performances a week. Sixty-seven altogether. I’ve failed at scaling back, I think!
DO YOU HAVE A DREAM PROJECT YOU’D LOVE TO GET OFF THE GROUND?
I’ve always been one of these folk who have tried to sieze opportunities when they come. You never know what’s around the corner, and if you plan, and try to get things going, they often come to nought. So I keep my eyes open and take opportunities when they come along.
DO YOU THINK YOUR BOOK COULD BE TURNED INTO A TV SERIES?
It would make an excellent series. Bits of it have been done. We’ve had programmes about Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, but Sandringham isn’t really known, and neither is Balmoral, so it’s a possibility.
IS IT TRUE THAT YOU FANCY DOING STRICTLY COME DANCING IN THE FUTURE?
I’ve been asked for the last few years, which is very flattering, but I’ve said no. It’s nice to be asked, but better to gratefully decline. I love watching it, but I don’t want to be the old man. You know on Strictly that you’re the old one when they keep your shirt buttoned up to the top, and it’d feel rather sad to get to that stage!
WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT YOUR CAREER, WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT?
I think just managing to be gainfully employed in a job I find stimulating. So many highlights really. Presenting the Last Night of the Proms for four years, making a garden for Nelson Mandela… things I never imagined I’d do. I still thoroughly enjoy writing. It’s a wonderfully solitary occupation, and a great counterpoint to the sociability that is television. But I enjoy both. I like people, so talking to folk and listening to them on the chat show has been enormous fun.
WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU GOT IN THE PIPELINE?
After The Wind in the Willows, a lie down, I think! I’ve got another series of Love Your Garden next year, which have been great fun to do. I’ve just finished a series that’ll air next year called Britain’s Best Back Gardens, in which we ask people to nominate their back gardens, and I’ve been going round about 30 of them.
ANY MORE BOOKS? WHAT ABOUT FICTION?
There will be another novel. I’ve got one to write that will come out in the Spring of 2016. I do a novel every other year now, and then we’ll see.
- The Queen’s Houses by Alan Titchmarsh published by BBC Books, price £20