Words by Alison James
There’s no doubt about it, Alan Titchmarsh is one fine figure of a man. He looks well, very well – this is clearly a chap who looks after himself – but there is one thing he’d like to change about his health.
“I’m on statins,” he reveals. “I wish I wasn’t. I don’t like the thought of taking tablets every day but I’m following my doctor’s advice. He thinks it’s a good idea. The thing is, the men in my family have had a tendency to die from heart disease at a relatively young age. My dad, for instance, died suddenly in 1986 from a heart attack, aged just 62.”
Alan (65) is currently presenting the final series of his very popular afternoon chat show for ITV, which ends in December. It’s been reported he’s bowing out due to health reasons. Is this true?
“Not really – although outliving my dad has made me think about things,” he replies. “The truth of the matter is that I’ve decided to ease up a bit and pace myself. I’ve been doing the chat show for eight years now and I thought it was time to move on while it was still doing well, rather than let it all dwindle.
“If you stay doing the same thing, you get stale and the viewers get weary, so I’d rather move on.
‘I’m on statins. I wish I wasn’t. I don’t like the thought of taking tablets every day but I’m following my doctor’s advice’
"It’s not like I’m retiring, though, I’d be bored stiff if I stopped altogether. I’ll still be writing my books, my newspaper column, and, of course, gardening – I’ll still be making gardening programmes. It will always be my passion but I just want to prioritise and get my life more in balance.”
Alan’s main priority is his family. “My wife Alison and I now have three grandchildren,” he smiles. “Two boys and a girl, all aged under three. I want to spend more time with them as they grow up – they’re great fun and I don’t want to miss a minute of it.
“We’re very lucky as all three only live 15 minutes away from us so we see a lot of them.
“We were given a cushion after the arrival of our first grandchild, embroidered with the words “grandchildren fill a space in your heart that you never knew was empty”. It’s very true.
“Grandchildren are the squaring of the circle – the joining up of life, I suppose. To put it bluntly, you have ensured the future of the family and the survival of the species. But, as far as I am concerned, it is rather more than that.
“The bottom line, for me, is that my grandchildren have given me a feeling of wholeness and completeness that I could not have imagined possible. Having children yourself is wonderful, of course, but to see your children with their own children is incredibly enriching. As to the years ahead, there is so much to look forward to that I had never anticipated.”
However, Alan says he does worry about the future of today’s children and those to come. “I watch my eldest grandchild pottering around the garden and he’s completely absorbed and enraptured by being outside in the fresh air. He’s in his own little world and it’s magical to see him.
“So many children today don’t have that opportunity and the natural world is alien to them. They’re unable to connect with it. I’m not saying my childhood in the Fifties was perfect – I think you have to be careful not to over-sentimentalise the past – but as a boy in the Yorkshire Dales I was always outside, playing and exploring. I connected with the natural world and it made me who I am.”
Unlike some household names, Alan has never been a red carpet-type, happy to attend the opening of an envelope.
“That’s not me at all,” he reveals. “I’m not interested in using my family as props to parade at celebrity events. I’m not secretive – just private. I’m not interested in fame – fame is a by-product, not a goal in itself. I like my life to be real.
"I have a few friends in this business but our closest friends are the people we’ve known for years – real, sound and solid folk. People we met through performing with our local operatic society 40 years ago, for instance. Apart from family, these are the people we’re closest to, the people we go on holiday with.”
He and Alison have been happily married for 39 years – so what’s their secret?
“Compromise, tolerance, shared values – we believe in the same things,” he replies. “We also admire and like each other. Falling in love is wonderful but I think it’s also very important, not to say fortunate, to marry someone you like.”
Alan shares a secret…
You won’t see him on reality TV. “I’d consider Strictly but none of the others. I couldn’t survive watching people pick fluff out of their navels and whingeing. You see people doing toe-curling things on TV and think, ‘Don’t do that!’ I don’t think people should necessarily find you interesting unless you’re doing something. I’d rather give them a reason to watch."
- The Alan Titchmarsh Show is on ITV1, Mon-Fri, 3pm
Pic © Steve Bell, REX