Friday 22 September 2017

Life lessons with Charlie Dimmock: I'm way past marriage at this point - even sharing a house with someone would be a no for me

Charlie Dimmock. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Charlie Dimmock. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Tour de force: Charlie Dimmock with Ground Force presenter Alan Titchmarsh in 2000.

Meadhbh McGrath

Charlie Dimmock (49) shot to fame as one of the presenters of the hit garden makeover programme Ground Force. Through the series, which ran from 1997 until 2005, she became known as the face of British gardening - and, indeed, the body thanks to her penchant for not wearing a bra. Since then, Dimmock has hosted shows such as River Walks and presented BBC coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show, as well as appearing as the resident gardening expert on CBS's The Early Show in America. Last year, she sparked a row when she suggested allotment sizes should be reduced to make them more manageable for time-poor young couples. Dimmock is working on a new gardening series for the BBC. She lives in the New Forest, in the south of England, with her pet horse.

A lot of people, especially if they're new to gardening, get put off. It can be because they're unsure, because they feel that they don't have the knowledge, or because they perceive it as being very expensive. I want to make gardening accessible for everyone.

I think gardening is good for the soul and good for the mind. I'm trying to encourage people to get out there and not be frightened. It's been proved gardening is good for you mentally. It gives you a positive outlook on life, it's a very good way to relax, and it's great for children.

Initially, I wanted to be a forensic scientist. I think I'd watched too much Quincy, M.E. I did the physics, chemistry and biology, but then I got a Saturday job working in a garden centre and I thought "actually I like this outdoor stuff", so I went to horticultural college rather than university.

As a child, I was very much a tomboy. Back then, if you went out, you would be in your best frock. I was always outside, trying to avoid my grandmother who wanted to comb my hair, so I'd leg it down to my granddad in the vegetable patch and help him. A five-year-old in a vegetable patch with a hoe can be dangerous, but he was a patient man.

I've always been up and down in my weight. I'll never be slim or skinny, let's put it like that. One season I'll be a size 14, then 18, but it's something I've just accepted now. I'm at that age where I think, life is too short.

The TV presenter Esther Rantzen said to me: "You'll be labelled the bra-less one for the rest of your life." Ground Force was a long time ago, and I have to say, even now, people will bring it up. It is very silly.

It was always just for comfort. If you're swinging a sledgehammer, you want to be comfortable! People say, "why don't you wear a sports bra?" But those are not the comfiest things in the world.

I didn't start Ground Force until I was 33. I was never a sex symbol before, so how could I suddenly become one? It's just a bit silly. I received a few silly letters back then, like a marriage proposal from a farmer in Australia. It was sweet, but I don't think it was serious.

The celebrity side of it was all a bit odd. We filmed the first series in 1997, and me and Tommy (Walsh) got to go to the Chelsea Flower Show. The director said to us, "You do realise, at the end of this series, all the people here are going to know who you are." We just thought he was losing it.

Doing Nelson Mandela's back garden was a real highlight. It was pretty amazing meeting him, there was definitely an aura about him and he was so lovely to us all. It was really a wow moment, and he was there handing out tea and coffee.

When I was younger, I lived in London for a year or so, but now that I've got older, I like living in the country. It's quieter and easier-going.

I don't worry about growing older. I had the builders in last year and I've now got the facility in my house so when I'm ready, a lift can be put in. I'd like to be at home when I'm older. That's the plan.

I'm way past marriage at this point. I'm going to be 50 this year. Even sharing a house with someone would be a no for me. I like my own company. I like to do what I want to do, I'm very selfish like that. I don't mind fitting in a bit, but I like to be able to get away and have the house to myself.

When I started doing theatre, I was a bit out of my depth. I did pantomime for five years, and I did Calendar Girls. I wouldn't call it acting - I was on stage with them! It was a new experience for me, and it's best to get out of your comfort zone occasionally.

The reaction to what I said about allotments was all very silly. A traditional allotment is the size of a doubles tennis court, and if you only have full-size ones, newer gardeners can get overwhelmed.

People say children only want to play Gameboys and watch telly, but in actual fact they love making their own little garden. Don't just give them a spot full of weeds where nothing grows, either make a raised bed or give them a big container. The good thing about growing vegetables is that if kids grow their own, they tend to want to eat them.

I've just started filming a new show about designing a garden to be both pretty and practical. In reality, we do have washing lines, we do have wheelie bins and children playing football, so it's about finding that balance.

I go to the Chelsea Flower Show and I say: "That's beautiful, but who is the poor sod who's got to carry the lawnmower up there?" We'd all like a picture-perfect garden, but if you've only got two hours a week, you've got to be practical. You don't want it to become a chore.

The Charlie Dimmock gardening range is available at Dealz stores

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