HE was twice voted the world’s second sexiest man – after George Clooney – but Alan Titchmarsh turns 70 next year.
And, before his milestone birthday, the popular presenter has revealed why he’s scaling back his TV appearances.
Home is now where the heart is for the nation’s favourite gardener who revealed his careful selection of projects means he has turned down Strictly Come Dancing five times.
“I am much more selective about what I do,” said Alan, who has two daughters, Polly and Camilla, with his wife Alison.
“I don’t want to be going off for months at a time. It’s very nice doing the Ecuadorian rain forest but it means you don’t have a life outside of filming and that’s not my bag.
“I have a life with a very close family and some extraordinarily good friends. They are my anchor.
“Most proposals that arrive now say: ‘Alan travels the length and breadth of . . .’ No, not for me. I’m not going to be on my deathbed saying, ‘I wish I’d made that series about X.’
“It’s going to be ‘I wish I’d had enough time with my family.’ I’ll never retire completely and twiddle my thumbs, but there are things I want time to do, which isn’t necessarily making films.”
He enjoys watching TV as well as being on it but admits his niggles increase year by year, from loud music in programmes which means he can’t hear the dialogue, to men not taking off their hats when entering houses in period dramas.
Nor are reality shows, where “people whinge at each other”, his idea of fun.
But Strictly, the hit dance show featuring Darcey Bussell among its judges, is different, he admits.
“I’ve been asked five times, which is very kind of them,” he said.
“My wife’s a dancer and she says my knees wouldn’t take lifts. That’s my excuse at the moment.
“I don’t think I’ll ever give in but it’s lovely to be asked and I do enjoy watching it. It’s the only show like that I would consider.”
Over the years he has presented Gardener’s World and made Ground Force a phenomenon watched by 12 million people, beaten only by EastEnders in the BBC ratings.
He’s hosted his own ITV chat show, made insider films with the Royal Family and is one of Britain’s biggest-selling authors. Spending time with his grandkids, though, is now right up his priority list.
“I’ve got four grandchildren – two boys and two girls aged five, four, three and two – now, as well as my daughters and I want to be with them,” he confides. “I don’t want to miss that. You don’t get those first 10 years back.
“They’re really crucial in terms of a relationship with a grandparent. And also in terms of me seeing them growing and showing them things.
“All four of them love being outside and that’s a delight for me when they come and want to go in the garden. It shows you’ve got something through. It’s important they connect with the great outdoors.
“The reality of life is that landscape out there which is enduring. I want my grandchildren, as I did my children, to grow up being aware of their responsibility to it. And also what it will give them in return in physical and spiritual sustenance.”
What’s also – although in a reflective, not maudlin manner – focusing his mind is the passing of time, with his dad having died when he was 62.
“You do think about the old thing of 70 being your allotted time span. Your three score years and 10. Anything over that’s a bonus.
“I’ve lived longer than my dad did anyway so that’s quite haunting really. I’m six years older that my dad ever was, which is an impossible thing to get your head around.
“My mum died later, in 2002. I think about them every day. What they gave you and how you’ve turned out. A lot of that is down to them – manners and just your view on life. I think in those formative years it’s extremely important.
“Who knows when it’s all going to end? It really is live for the day. I’m so blessed in what I do, people I work with, family and friends that I have no right to complain about anything.”
Despite pulling back on his commitments, Alan still has telly bosses beating a path to the door of his Hampshire home.
He’s back with a new 12-part second series of Channel 5’s Secrets Of The National Trust, which goes behind the scenes of some of the glorious properties saved for the nation.
Hosting a series about distinguished homes and gardens is a real busman’s holiday.
“It’s the kind of thing I do when I’m not being paid – going round stately houses with my wife. About 10 years ago or more I made her a life member so we can go round together.
“They were built on such an extraordinary scale. Not even Russian oligarchs build houses on this scale nowadays. You think, ‘why did you want to make them so massive, with hundreds of rooms? No one needs all of those.’ But it was at the time when it was the done thing to extol your wealth.”
Despite the workload, more of Alan’s time is spent at home with the kids – albeit not leisurely taking in his own garden.
“I try and try and try,” he insists. “Sometimes I manage 30 seconds before I see something that needs doing. I do try to sit and just look but generally there’s something else waiting – ‘Oh when did that come out? Is it flowering?’
“I am trying to pace myself as I get older but so far I’ve failed.”
Secrets Of The National Trust, Channel 5, Tuesday 8pm.
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