Star Q&A: Andrea Bocelli

Round & About

West Sussex

Liz Nicholls asks Italian opera singer, tenor & record producer, 62, some questions for our bumper Christmas edition.

Q. What was it like to sing in the empty Duomo di Milano on Easter Sunday? “Each church is the house of God and inside it you can feel the comfort of His supernatural presence, which fills the place with beneficial energy where you are never alone. The fact that the Duomo was empty didn’t cause me any apprehension. From the beginning, I intended the event to be an opportunity to be joined in prayer by an unseen audience. I pictured a vast, interconnected crowd, united by that thin thread which is faith, and which is stronger than any physical distance. I was happy to be able to experience Easter in Milan, which was at the time one of the cities most affected by the COVID-19 virus, precisely on the day of a celebration which symbolises the celebration of life and the strength of the Christian message.”

Q. How important is your faith to you in your work, and this year especially? “It is the centre of gravity of my life, a gift that I cherish and that keeps me going me day after day. I think it is a crucial topic for everyone and I am happy to testify to its importance whenever the opportunity arises. Faith is not something to hold on to in difficult times. Nonetheless, it puts earthly events into perspective, even the most dramatic ones, and helps us overcome them. This year, the health emergency has led us to reflect on the fragility of our environment and on the arrogance with which we too often comprehend nature. However, I believe that, in the face of every unforeseen event, the challenge is always to keep calm and engage a heightened sense of responsibility and carefulness, without giving way to anxiety and losing our positivity and optimism.”

Q. How do you take care of your voice? Is there anything you do or don’t eat or drink (for this reason or otherwise)? “Studying is a fundamental factor and training must be undertaken daily. I remember that my great teacher, Franco Corelli, used to say: ‘Even the precious Stradivarius violin, if you break it, you can always hope to buy a new one. But you only have one voice and once damaged, you will never be able to buy another one.’ I have always tried to respect my voice, by studying constantly without overworking it. As for my diet, I think that eating healthy and moderately is a useful rule for everyone! A singer – just like an athlete – should follow a more rigorous training when a musical event approaches: in the days before a concert or a recording, I lead an almost monastic life, forgetting about wine, coffee, pasta and other important joys.”

Q. Have you always loved Christmas? What’s your favourite way to spend it and your favourite indulgences? “I have always loved it. After all, our childhood Christmas is a great treasure of emotions that we carry around with us for life. We all waited for its arrival, experiencing that magical scent of mystery that spreads throughout the house, waiting for the gifts that will materialise under the tree while we sleep. This sweet promise is kept and renewed every year, for those like me who are believers in the festivities: even into adulthood, albeit with different nuances. I love spending Christmas at home, with my family. The Christmas tree and Nativity scene are both heartwarming traditions that and which cannot be missing in the Bocelli household! We inaugurate the holidays by celebrating with our extended family and going to the Holy Mass together. Once back home, we take turns opening our presents and wait eagerly for lunchtime.”

Q. If you could make one wish for the world, what would it be? “I hope for a world without any wars, where people can live peacefully and are able to defeat pain through medical advances. We all try to do our part, within our means. I’m aware that even if good news stories rarely make headlines, those that do represent for humanity the only path that can really be followed.”

Andrea Bocelli’s new album Believe is out now. For details & the trailer visit andreabocelli.com/believe

Star Q&A: Chris Difford

Round & About

West Sussex

Liz Nicholls squeezes Chris Difford, musician & founding member of Squeeze who turns 66 this month, for his thoughts on music, heroes, and reaching out on Zoom…

Q. You live in West Sussex now but do you ever miss your native London? “I love the countryside; it’s been my home for many years. I have no relationship with London. South London has been squashed and I can’t see my home there any more. I have happy memories for sure.”

Q. What were your favourite aspects of those days of grimy, vibrant London in the 1960s & ’70s? “Live gigs in pubs and clubs were everywhere in those days, less so these. There are so many venues that have closed and that’s so sad. I loved playing the Marquee Club, sweaty and fast, everything you need as a young lad.”

Q. You’ve earned so much love thanks to genius of your lyrics. I know you’ve said you were a fan of Dylan but are there any other formative influences?
“I feel attached to Joni Mitchell’s lyrics; they guide me to places I have never been before. Chris Wood is another master wordsmith, you must look him up.”

Q. What’s your first ever memory of music? “Hearing The Batchelors on the gramophone… now that ages me! My Mum loved them.”

Q. How did you feel about the warm reaction to Cradle To The Grave? And what’s the weirdest & most poignant fan mail you’ve received over the years?
“It’s great people loved that album and the TV show, it did many things for the band and for our songwriting. As for fans, fan letters are so great I love reading them, these days they are mostly about signing things.”

Q. You seem very zen – often the case when people have “lived” & come out the other side. But do you have any pet peeves – anything get your goat?! “No not really, I hate goats.”

Q. I was really moved by your words about Elton John & how he helped you when you were battling your addiction demons. Do you still chat to him now?
“Elton and I are on email from time to time he still reaches out, how wonderful is that?”

Q. Your writing workshops sound fantastic. Has there been a favourite moment?
“Each retreat is a treat, online it’s been a great way to keep a focus and try to mentor people in lockdown, I love my work on Zoom.”

Q. You’re passionate about saving our treasured local music venues, aren’t you? Do you have a favourite?
“There are many, I ask people to reach out to them and see what they need as they have to be there when the lights go back on, I support them all large or small.”

Q. What, in your mind, is the perfect pop song? “A perfect song is found in any Beatles composition.”

Q. Who would be your five dream dinner party guests? “Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Peter Andrea, Peter Owen Jones and Beyonce.”

Q. It’s tough for youngsters these days. What one piece of advice would you give your younger self on the cusp of adulthood? “Don’t look back, don’t look forward, stay in the moment.”

Chris Difford is bringing his new album on tour this month – visit chrisdofford.com for this & his writing retreats.

#YouCanAdopt

Round & About

West Sussex

We’ve partnered up with PACT (Parents And Children Together) to highlight the #YouCanAdopt campaign and encourage you to consider adopting

The team and their celebrity patrons are on a mission to debunk the myths on adoption and highlight the number of children looking for a new family

Adoptions in England have fallen by a third in four years but almost 3,000 children in England are still waiting to find their new family. That’s why an emotive new emotive film featuring adoptive families has been released as part of the campaign alongside a podcast series featuring a number of famous voices talking about adoption. In the film, the adoptive families recite a poem written by comedienne, writer and adoptee Joy Carter, which brings to life the stories of each of the families: the highs, lows and realities of adoption.

Carrie Grant, vocal coach, TV presenter and mum of four, said: “Our adoption journey began over eight years ago when we adopted our son, Nathan. We already had three biological children, but we had room in our hearts and knew we had the opportunity to offer another child a loving home. Adopting our son wasn’t an easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do and a fantastic thing to do. He’s a Grant now, every bit as much as his sisters. I’d encourage anyone thinking about adoption to take the first step and find out more. It’s been such an incredible journey for our family.”

Sinitta, singer and mum of two, said: “I would definitely encourage others to consider adoption. I always knew I wanted children and I tried everything from IVF to surrogacy to have them. All of those journeys led to heartbreak, except adoption. The feeling of finally becoming a mother was almost indescribable; it’s just everything. It was everything I wanted and more. I love my children more than anything and I always say that love is thicker than blood.”

Joy Carter, writer, comedienne and adoptee, said: “It was a pleasure meeting all the different families and collaborating with them on this project. I was adopted when I was a baby, so the stories they shared with me really resonated. Every child needing adoption has a story and I hope by bringing some of those stories to life, people realise the difference they can make if they choose to adopt. I hope the poem and video will help encourage people to register their interest in adopting and help a child find a forever home. I’m really lucky that my parents gave me mine.”

Some of the biggest misconceptions around eligibility are that single people, older people, and those who are LGBTQ+ are not allowed to adopt, which is not the case. The new data revealed that participants felt the following groups would be either ineligible to adopt or were unsure if they were eligible to adopt; over the age of 50 years old 67% single 46% and LGBTQ+ 34%

The #YouCanAdopt campaign also aims to target potential parents from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, as these children traditionally wait longer to be matched with a new adoptive family. The campaign aims to encourage potential adoptive parents to also consider adopting older children, sibling groups and those with complex health needs or a disability.

The adoption process has evolved over the last few years; it is simpler and quicker than it has been previously and there is a lot more support available with over three quarters (76%) of adoptive parents finding the support and resources helpful.

Jan Fishwick, CEO of PACT, an adoption charity covering London and South East England, said: “The future of many children depends on adults exploring adoption and taking the first step towards becoming an adoptive parent. We need to address misunderstandings and outdated views to ensure that nobody is discouraged from taking the first important step towards adopting a child. Some people assume that because of their age or marital status they won’t be able to adopt, but that is simply not true, adoption is a choice for people who want to become a parent.

”It’s also important that prospective adopters are aware that they have a choice. They can choose to adopt through a local authority or a voluntary adoption agency such as PACT and we would encourage anyone thinking about adoption to explore all the options open to them.”

Visit www.youcanadopt.co.uk and begin your journey towards growing your family. To find out more about adopting with PACT, to download a free information guide or to book a place at an adoption information event visit www.pactcharity.org or call 0300 456 4800.

Star Q&A: Katie Melua

Round & About

West Sussex

Liz Nicholls asks singer Katie Melua a few questions about her musical icons & more ahead of her new album No. 8 being released and a UK tour this month.

Q. Congratulations on your new album! How do you feel about it now it’s about to be released? “I feel like it’s been a long time coming. We’ve been working on it for so long and can’t wait to share it with everyone. When you’re working on it it’s always tricky to sort of be able to tell completely objectively how you feel about it or what you think about it. Now the dust has settled you start to feel like you begin to see it properly, and begin to hear it properly. There’s always like the excitement of a new record and that’s kind of bubbling in the team, so I just can’t wait for it to be out there.”

Q. What lessons did you ponder about love, and what do you feel is the most powerful lesson to convey? “I looked at it from the perspective of a record maker and a singer/songwriter who has sung great love songs. And so from that perspective I felt like I had to say and have lines like ‘I think we’ve given love too much airtime”’ which is about acknowledging these love songs, but as I’ve got older the reality of life has shown me that when records just celebrate the early love and the passion of love and the sort of that angle of love like it’s not enough. I think it’s important to honestly observe your life and to put that into your music and your words. Another song on the record – How’d you make a love like that last – is about being just honest and asking ‘what have I actually seen?’. What is the reality in all the relationships that I’ve observed – both mine and those around me? There is a real gap between what I’ve seen in culture to do with love and what I’ve seen in reality and I’m interested in seeing how much we can bridge that gap.”

Q. What activities have helped keep you sane during lockdown, are there any habits you will now keep up? “Well I think I’m going to keep up the habit of taking photos. But really meaningfully. I learned to use a film camera to take photos for the album and the promo photos, I never worked with one before, I’ve grown up with a telephone / iPhone camera. The photographer Rosie Matheson taught me to use a camera and I got to shoot the album cover. It genuinely changed my perception of how I view my visual world around me because I realised there’s so many possibilities of which angles you use and what you put inside a picture. It’s like my visual senses have been heightened through learning to take photos, and I’ve actually just bought myself a camera. So I think I will keep up the habit of taking photos and just being a bit more perceptive of my visual surroundings.”

Q. You’ve spoken poignantly about your mental health before, how are you now and how do you maintain good mental hygiene? “Thank you for asking, I’m feeling really good. You know I was sick in 2010, and I’ve had a really healthy recovering and I’m grateful for it, and I’m also grateful that it happened. And how do I keep my mental hygiene – well in a way the fact that I got sick is what keeps my mental hygiene because I’ve realised how the brain can break, basically, and I place a great deal of importance on my health, on not overworking, on just respecting my mind and my body, and my energy and really paying attention to it, and doing good things, things that I love and being kind to people.”

Q. I know you lived in Surrey for some time. What did you enjoy most about living in Surrey? “I used to live on Nutfield Road, up on top of that hill. I didn’t really used to hang out there much because we moved there when I was just starting Brit School, and so I tended to get the train from Redhill to Selhurst, change in East Croydon. I was always at the train station in Redhill! Because we were on top of the hill the view of the Surrey downs was incredible. Very close to our house there was a lake with water sports, and we’d go out on canoes and windsurfing.”

Q. And obviously you’ve played in Guildford quite a few times haven’t you? “Yes I have. And actually the shows we did there with the Gori Women’s Choir were brilliant. Mind you, my first show was there as well, supporting The Planets I think. Good memories, yeah, really good memories.”

Q. You’ve been compared to your namesake Kate Bush; would you like to work with her and are there any other dream collaborations or icons you’d like to meet? “Kate Bush is the ultimate icon. I would blow my head off if the possibility of working with Kate Bush came around. Are there any others? Yes, of course – I love Bob Dylan, I love Joni Mitchell. I think Laura Marling is brilliant, but you know what’s interesting is there isn’t a great deal of communication between artists, like we tend to keep to our own spaces, which is a shame really. But everyone works in their own cycles and I think that’s what makes it difficult. An artist can spend – years making an album and the work is very engulfing. It’s tough to form friendships because you could become friends one season, and then you could go off on tour for 6 months? And then you come back and then they’re on tour. And even at festivals the schedules are usually too relentless so you aren’t hanging out backstage.”

Q. What’s your first ever memory of music? “It is of my mum playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the family piano in Georgia when I was four or five years old. I can still picture it. There was a power cut so there were a couple of candles and I remember hearing that thing of beauty, you know in something that was so emotional and something that I couldn’t touch and I couldn’t see, and the melody just piercing me in the darkness, it was majestic.”

Q. What are your three favourite pieces of music? “Just My Imagination by The Temptations, because I think it is the most exquisite pop record. It’s like a sweet, divine movie that you see, and the vocals and the lyrics are done perfectly; they’re super subtle, they’re completely clear, they’re really bitter sweet, they’re about imagining a lover that the protagonist can’t have. And then the music just is draped around that in the most extraordinary way, and it’s got a great groove but it’s not too loud – it’s just perfect. My next piece would be Mourned By The Wind by Giya Kancheli, which is a classical piece of work, and I actually heard it live performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Southbank Centre. When I first heard it, it was an out of body experience, because it’s incredibly delicate in parts and then there are certain sections that are mind-blowingly – they hit you like the whole orchestra strikes. And finally I Remember by Molly Drake, Nick Drake’s mum. I just adored the philosophy in this song – it had the most beautiful lyric ‘I remember fire light, and you remember smoke’. You can tell her music and her songwriting influenced her son, it’s just perfect. I feel like her work and Nick’s work defines that sort of indescribable English quality, which is sort of subtle and delicate.”

Q. Your tour is due to visit Berkshire and Oxfordshire, do you know this part of the world well and if so any places you would like to visit? “I played at Blenheim Palace a lifetime ago, but I didn’t get a chance to explore much which is a shame. I just love the English countryside, and I actually worked for three weeks completely alone in a cottage in the Cotswolds. That’s where I completed a lot of the lyrics for the new record, and I think it’ll always be in my heart actually. I had an amazing time just being on my own for three weeks. I didn’t have a car, the nearest pub was a half an hour walk away, and I had a cottage that was generously lent to me by an old friend… for three weeks obviously, not forever [laughs].”

Q. Who would be your six dream dinner party guests, living or dead, real or fictional, and why? “I would say Virginia Woolf; her writing is a big inspiration to me. To The Lighthouse is my favourite book – how she describes life is I think one of the greatest things in western art. There’s a dinner scene in To The Lighthouse where she describes the fruit and the food on the table, and the light in the room and it’s just majestic. So, having someone like that who was such a keen observer of life is a must. I would also have Pina Bausch, a German choreographer who revolutionised modern dance. I love her way of working, how she explored male and female relationships and how she made commentary on it through her dance pieces. Her parents were restaurant owners, so she spent her childhood kind of hiding under tables observing life under the table at a restaurant, and then I think that’s where she developed her kind of – that’s what inspired her. She trained as a ballet dancer and then she was given the job of being the head choreographer at the Wuppertal dance theatre company. I saw her dance once. Maybe I Dreamt It on the new album is inspired by her. The third would be Bob Dylan. I love Bob as an artist – I love the idea of Bob, the character that we have of him on records. I especially love his love songs about women like Time After Time and Lay Lady Lay. I think it would be lovely if my guests are all at the same age that Bob might fall in love with one of my guests and might write a song about her. So we’ve had a writer, a choreographer, we’ve had a musician – let’s go for a painter. Levan Lagidze who is a legendary Georgian painter, a living legend. I know him, and I have a relationship with him where we converse about his work and the process of creating, and I find talking to him really fascinating – we talk about art, we talk about life, and I know the conversation with him will always be fascinating and funny. Next one, okay we should have a scientist! Let’s have… let’s have Newton. Why Newton? Because I loved physics at school, it was my second favourite subject at school after chemistry. His university life was interrupted due to the plague, and it was when he was at home he saw the apple fall and had a major discovery from that – I’m sure obviously that’s not what actually happened, I’m sure it was a build-up over years and years, so it would be nice to sort of hear the full story about his discoveries. And my final guest would be my grandma, Tamara (called her Babula; a Russian term for it) who passed away a few years ago. But she had a heavy influence on how I sing. From a very young age, she would always get me to sing for her in the kitchen – she was always the only audience. And at the age of six or seven, she’d give me proper critique that I could take like an adult, she never kind of molly coddled me – and she always told me to sing from the heart, and I think she really enjoyed doing that.”

Q. Do you celebrate Halloween at all? Is it a time of the year you enjoy? “I love Halloween! As a teenager I just adored Halloween, and I loved doing Halloween parties. I once did a Halloween party where I invited a ghost story teller, and around 15 friends and we listened to ghost stories – but we were about 23.”

Q. If you could make one wish for the world, what would it be? “I think for all of us to pay attention to our moods a little bit more, and go easy on ourselves… yeah, go easy on ourselves as humans because I think we’re alright.”

The Beatles: Get Back

Round & About

West Sussex

Get Back is set to celebrate the iconic band’s influence

“The Beatles gave my generation their genius and their joy and they changed the world through their art,” says Nicholas Callaway, founder & publisher of Callaway Arts & Entertainment. “The creativity and inspiration expressed in this landmark book and in Peter Jackson’s film are as important and relevant today as ever.”

His company, along with Apple Corps Ltd. are set for the global publication of The Beatles: Get Back, the first official standalone book to be released by the band since international bestseller The Beatles Anthology.

The 240-page hardcover tells the story of The Beatles’ creation of their 1970 album, Let It Be, in their own words. You’re invited to travel back in time to January 1969, the beginning of The Beatles’ last year as a band. The “White Album” is still at number one in the charts, but the ever-prolific foursome regroup in London for a new project, initially titled Get Back. Over 21 days, first at Twickenham Film Studios and then at their own brand-new Apple Studios, with cameras and tape recorders documenting every day’s work, the band rehearse a huge number of songs, new and old, in preparation for what proves to be their final concert, which famously takes place on the rooftop of their own Apple Corps office building, bringing central London to a halt.

Legend now has it that these sessions were a grim time for a band falling apart, but, as acclaimed novelist Hanif Kureishi writes in his introduction: “In fact this was a productive time for them, when they created some of their best work. And it is here that we have the privilege of witnessing their early drafts, the mistakes, the drift and digressions, the boredom, the excitement, joyous jamming and sudden breakthroughs that led to the work we now know and admire.”

Presenting transcribed conversations drawn from over 120 recorded hours of the band’s studio sessions with hundreds of previously unpublished images, including photos by Ethan A. Russell and Linda McCartney, it also includes a foreword written by Academy Award-winning director, producer and screenwriter Peter Jackson.

The book’s texts are edited by John Harris from original conversations between John, Paul, George and Ringo spanning three weeks of recording, culminating in The Beatles’ historic final rooftop concert. The release will be a special and essential companion to director Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back feature documentary film, set for theatrical release on August 27, 2021.

To watch the book trailer and find out more, visit thebeatles.com

Pre-order at lnk.to/thebeatlesgetbackbook

Star Q&A: Wine wizard Oz

Round & About

West Sussex

Jonathan Lovett catches up with wine expert and TV celebrity Oz Clarke ahead of the publication of his latest book, Oz Clarke English Wine in which he waxes lyrical about the newest new world wine country

What floated your cork to write this book?

I think the time had come. I’ve been writing about English wine and supporting it ever since I was an actor and singer years ago. Year by year I’ve noted what was going on and, to be honest, there wasn’t much in this country until Nyetimber came on the scene in the late 1990s. This wonderful English sparkling wine was a complete revelation which tasted better than most Champagnes! Every year since then I’ve seen new players arrive and the 2018 was our biggest ever vintage, which was talked about all over the media, so I realised then I had to write this. There was no high street book for anyone interested in English wine so it just had to happen.

And the book is also about the English countryside?

Absolutely. I’m a country boy from Kent and when I was growing up I was also in Cambridgeshire for a couple of years so my memories of early life are all about the countryside. When people ask me, “Where would you like to be right now?” they expect me to say, “San Francisco or Johannesburg etc” but instead I say, “Oh, take me to the white cliffs of Dover with the wind blowing in my hair and the sun in my face and I know in half-an-hour’s walking I’ll come to a beautiful pub where I can enjoy a pint of their local beer!”

What English wine would you recommend that won’t break the bank?

Firstly, if we’re looking at English wine, the best English sparkling wines are quite expensive, and deservedly so. But if you want to drink English wine for less money then try the still wines as we make a delicious range. There are vineyards such as Denbies in Surrey, Chapel Down in Kent or Three Choirs in Gloucestershire and you can get these simply outstanding white blends with names like Flint Dry for just a tenner. It’s the same price you’ll be paying for a supermarket New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and just as good.

Do you miss the acting at all? I hear you were quite successful…

I miss theatres and whenever I go round the country I often go to the local theatre and ask stage door, “Would you mind if I just go and stand on the stage for a few minutes?” as there’s something magical about an empty theatre. And sometimes I stand on the stage and sing, perhaps a bit of Sweeney Todd. I played that wonderful role opposite Sheila Hancock at Drury Lane and my first night was just about my best ever night on stage.

What made you switch from the stage to Sancerre?

Well, I did 10 years pretty much solid without a holiday and I was playing Juan Peron in Evita opposite Stephanie Lawrence. It was a big, successful show then Stephanie left and I should have also gone at the same time but they asked me to do another six months. During those six months I just lost the joy for what I was doing and I started losing my confidence. I started coming into the theatre, fearsome, and I thought, “This is absolute nonsense” and, “I’ve got to leave.” So I went away and sat in my little garret in Islington and wrote a book called Sniff, Gurgle and Spit and realised I could make a job as a wine writer!

BBC’S Food and Drink followed which propelled you into the stratosphere. Why was it so successful?

It was the first food programme to take a magazine approach to what was happening that week. We went out on a Tuesday evening and up to Tuesday morning we could still change what was going on so it was very up-to-date. Then there was the relationship between myself and Jilly (Goolden). Our fantastic producer, Peter Bazalgette, teamed us together and we got on so well. We both set out to democratise wine and wanted to share a happy world of eating and drinking that class-ridden England just wasn’t getting.

Finally, your real name is Robert…where did the Oz nickname come from?

Well, when I was a lad I played lots of cricket for the Cathedral Choir School in Kent. One day we played one of the local schools and they thought, “Ha! These fellows wandering around in their cassocks – what a load of weeds!” So these boys were bowling at our heads but my dad always taught me to watch the ball and whack it to the boundary and I kept doing that and scored 32 runs off eight balls! They compared my pugnacious approach to an Aussie cricketer so I became…Oz!

• Oz Clarke English Wine: From Still to Sparkling. The Newest New World Wine Country is out from September 3rd published by Pavilion Books.

• We have five copies of Oz’s book to give away

Star Q&A: Christine Walkden

Round & About

West Sussex

Jonathan Lovett chats to one of the nation’s favourite gardeners, The One Show’s Christine Walkden, who is also a proud life member of The National Allotment Society

Q. This year’s National Allotments Week runs from August 10th to 16th – what’s wonderful about allotments?

A. There’s the fact you can grow your own fruit and veg, but an allotment doesn’t just help with cultivating plants, it helps with cultivating people. On an allotment you are constantly cultivating friends and relationships and there’s a great sense of camaraderie. So much of modern society, particularly lately, is about isolation but on an allotment you get together as a community and it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or whether you have three heads or four…you’re just a gardener.

Q. When did you have your first allotment?

A. I was just 10 and by the time I was 14 I had five of them! I didn’t have any family interested in gardening, but I always felt very much at home on one. I started growing mustard cress which I forced my dad to eat and I gardened a little strip outside our terrace house, then I took over next door’s…and next door’s…before a Mrs Hargreaves suggested I take on her late husband’s allotment. I guess it was a bit strange for a young girl to be doing this, but it didn’t seem strange to me.

Q. A lot of people have taken to gardening during the lockdown. What essential tip do you have for the novice?

A. If you don’t succeed first time then try again. It amazes me that we have to learn to ride a bike or pass our driving test but, for some reason, with gardening people think it’s just going to happen. People don’t persevere and I don’t know why but if something in the garden doesn’t happen the first time then some folk just think, “Stuff it!” I had to persevere. When I started out in this business it was very male-dominated. As a teenage girl in the early ‘70s it wasn’t that easy – but I got there.

Q. How have you coped during lockdown?

A. I haven’t enjoyed it and it I can’t say it’s been a good experience. My work is about people and sharing but I haven’t been able to see anybody so I have found it very difficult. It’s also been quite scary that your life can come to an absolute standstill by external forces. My garden has been gardened to death over the past few months!

Q. You’ve appeared on many TV shows, including your own, and are the resident expert on The One Show. What’s it like meeting the A-listers?

A. I frequently have to pinch myself and find myself saying, “How the hell did a gardener end up working with people like Julie Andrews, Ian McKellen, Vera Lynn and David Frost?” One of my favourite celebs is Helen Mirren who is very keen on gardening and always very willing to open-up about what she does and is happy talking to you. It’s an odd couple – myself and Dame Helen Mirren!

Q. And am I right in saying you once appeared on Shooting Stars opposite Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer?!

A. Yes! I was on the 2008 Christmas special. I didn’t really know anything about the programme before I went on and I found it a very surreal experience. But a producer I know told me beforehand “Just give as good as they’re giving you” so I played them at their own game. Afterwards Bob said it took them a minute or two to realise what I was doing! It was as weird as one would expect but I survived!

Q. And was there a moment when you thought – I really would love to be a gardener?

A. I remember our headmistress coming into our class one day. She asked if any kids wanted to take plants home and I put my hand up and took three. When I got home my dad said, “What the hell are you doing with them?!” I replied, “I want to look after them during the holiday,” but he said, “You can’t because we’re going away on holiday!” So I put the plants in a bath full of water in the shed and went away for a fortnight. When I came back I expected them to be dead but I opened the door and they were full in flower! To this day I’ve never been able to repeat that…but it has led to a career!

To get involved with National Allotments Week visit The National Allotment Society

Virtual classical concerts

Round & About

West Sussex

With the cancellation of live music events there are still plenty of ways to get your musical fix, from organisations far and wide who are using online platforms to share their work.

Local music charity Grayshott Concerts has been putting on shows at St Luke’s, Grayshott, for fifteen years. Starring world-class performers from the world of classical music including Sir Karl Jenkins, Howard Shelley, Nicola Benedetti and more, they already had a packed programme lined up for 2020.

Founder Peter Harrison has some suggestions for his favourites:

Grayshott Concerts’ patron Karl Jenkins has joined forces with the 10,000-strong Stay at Home Choir to undertake an ambitious ten-week project bringing together voices from lockdown to perform highlights of The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, to mark its 20th anniversary.

The orchestra-in-residence, the London Mozart Players has created a whole series of videos under the banner At Home with LMP featuring Mozart Mondays, Chamber Tuesdays, Thursday Thoughts, Family Fridays and Saturday Sessions. They’ve even created some personalised messages just for Grayshott fans.

www.grayshottconcerts.co.uk / www.londonmozartplayers.com/athome/

Choir-in-residence Excelsis Choir have taken their rehearsals online and are now Zooming regularly. A number of virtual choirs have also sprung up – music therapy charity Nordoff Robins welcomes singers of all backgrounds and abilities for a weekly sing-a-long on Tuesdays at 4pm. www.nordoff-robbins.org.uk/online-choir/

The London Symphony Orchestra has a digital programme including twice-weekly full-length concerts, playlists and activities to keep younger music fans busy. They also have a YouTube channel packed with more than 500 videos. www.lso.co.uk

The BBC has created ‘Culture in Quarantine’ to bring arts and culture into your home, both from the archives and fresh content from newly-formed groups like the BBC Lockdown Orchestra  https://www.bbc.co.uk/arts

Several past performers are doing sterling work on their own social media channels, including the singing schoolboy Cai Thomas, from Farnham. Making the most of Facebook and Twitter, Grayshott Concerts has also established its own new fortnightly e-news which currently goes out to over 1,600 subscribers.

Hailed as “an excellent way to keep connected” and “really enjoyable and insightful” by readers, the mailers combine current news from the classical music world along with retrospectives of past concerts in anticipation of the time when we will once again be able to bring world-class music to Grayshott and the surrounding area.

The GREAT outdoors!

Round & About

West Sussex

We’ve never appreciated being outside more than we do now and with more gradually opening up to us, let’s get out and enjoy it

t’s the time of year when we’re normally thinking about going on holiday and spending as much time as possible outside – and with more of us likely to opt for staycations and short breaks closer to home this year, where do you start?

Fingers crossed, campsites are preparing to reopen this month with social distancing measures and a limited number of places, some will reopen second fields while others will introduce measures such as a system including timed use of showers.

If you’re a camping virgin, The Camping and Caravanning Club is a great place to start with all you need and some helpful advice:

• Stay in the open air – there are many physical and well-being benefits of camping and caravanning thanks to spending time in the fresh air

• Stay local – there will be a campsite near you, there’s no need to travel far for a change of scene and the local economies will benefit too

• Stay comfortable – there will be social distancing measures in place when they’re able to re-open campsites

The Club’s Director General Sabina Voysey said: “We believe the great outdoors will never feel greater and we can’t wait for the day when we’re able to welcome people back to our campsites. By sharing our handy guides, top tips and online content we hope we can introduce even more people to the joys of camping and caravanning.”

TV presenter Julia Bradbury is president of The Camping and Caravanning Club and created The Outdoor Guide (TOG) website to share her love of all things outdoors. She said: “Green spaces are incredibly important to me. And they don’t have to be big, wide open landscapes. Yes, I love the Peak District and the Lake District, and Dartmoor and I love exploring the wilds of Scotland, but green spaces, parks, gardens, even simple window boxes. These ‘little bits of green’ or smaller green environs are equally important.

“Growing something, for example, in a window box is a way to connect with nature. And that is something that we have evolved to do. And it’s an important part of our makeup. We know for example, that time spent in green spaces, whether that is parks or bigger landscapes, either of those, time spent in green spaces is good for us.”

For many time spent in outdoor spaces means enjoying a walk and while Julia won’t commit to a favourite she explained that was the reasoning behind TOG: “People have been asking me for years and years about my favourite walks or where I like to stay or the pub that I was at, or where I was when I had that pie and pint, or that little woodshop that I called into, or the blacksmith/carpenter I talked to…

“So we’ve put all of that information up on the website and there are hundreds and hundreds of really good walks up on there. It’s not fair for me to say a favourite walk because I just like being out there.
“And it depends where you live. Some people will never get to the other side of the country. They’ll explore what they’ve got on their doorstep and that’s absolutely fine as well.

“Of course, the Peak District would always have a special place in my heart as will the Lake District because that’s where I made my first TV walks – The Wainwright walks – filming in the footsteps of Alfred Wainwright, so those two places are special.”

Julia believes it’s just important for people to get out and enjoy it, especially now. She added: “A University of Exeter study of nearly 20,000 people in England last year revealed people who spend at least 120 minutes a week in nature are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological well being, than those who don’t visit nature at all. 120 minutes a week is nothing but the benefits to all are enormous, quite simply nature and green spaces help to keep us healthy. Governments that don’t recognise this are being incredibly foolish – it’s almost like having a second health service… This study found the majority of nature visits took place within just two miles of people’s homes.”

There’s lots more information on Julia’s website The Outdoor Guide, www.theoutdoorguide.com

UK tourism industry site Visit Britain is developing a quality mark for tourism businesses, including campsites, in response to Covid-19. It aims to reassure visitors businesses are complying with government guidelines.

The National Trust is another taking its first tentative steps to reopening some of its properties and the sheer joy of being able to set foot somewhere other than your doorstep or local park is overwhelming.

With many restrictions still in place, the Trust has welcomed visitors to walk in some of its open spaces locally – Runnymede; Witley and Milford Commons; Frensham Little Pond; Hindhead Commons; Swan Barn Farm, Black Down and Marley Common in Haslemere; Petworth; Lavington Common at Woolbeding; Selborne Common and Hydon’s Ball and Heath, Godalming. Car parks have reopened at these sites, some
with limited space on a first come first served basis.

As from the beginning of June, some of its sites have been able to reopen further with gardens, parklands, estates and car parks welcoming visitors. Booking is essential at all properties although the houses themselves will not be open.

Those you can now visit locally are: Hinton Ampner, Mottisfont and The Vyne in Hampshire; Polesden Lacey, Hatchlands Park, Claremont and Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey and Standen House and Garden and Nymans, West Sussex.

Visit the National Trust website for details, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/how-to-book-your-visit-and-what-to-expect

A National Trust spokesperson said: “We knew that once we started a gradual opening of our gardens and parklands, tickets for our places would be very popular; particularly with such fine weather.

“We’ve made careful decisions about which gardens and parklands can open, and we have limited their capacity to ensure everyone can adhere to social distancing to maintain the safety of our visitors, staff and volunteers, which remains our top priority.”

Historic Painshill is welcoming visitors again with appropriate social distancing measures in place. The grotto, upper floors of the Gothic Tower and gift shop are closed but the tearoom is open for takeaways and picnics can be enjoyed in the grounds. Bookings must be made in advance and entry numbers are restricted, visit www.painshill.co.uk/visiting-painshill-covid-19-pandemic/
RHS Wisley has also partially reopened to the public, again with limitations on numbers and with areas such as glasshouses, alpine houses, bird hides and play areas staying closed.

Sue Biggs, RHS Director General, said: “We are delighted the government has said it is safe to reopen our RHS Gardens because it is proven that spending time outside in green open spaces surrounded by plants has an immensely positive effect on our health.

“We look forward to welcoming our members and visitors safely back and to bringing the joy of plants, flowers, trees and nature back into people’s lives, which for so many will be a much-needed tonic.”

There is limited capacity to comply with government guidelines and booking is essential. Visit https://tinyurl.com/y9l7b4gs

Make the most of the English outdoors and celebrate it as The Camping and Caravanning Club says on its website ‘the good times will never feel better’ and ‘the outside will never feel greater’.

Room for improvement

Round & About

West Sussex

With the majority of us spending more time at home at the moment how about lavishing some love on your home and considering how you can improve it, Karen Neville looks at some ways to make the most of your home…

Renovating your home allows you to put your own stamp on it and make the space work for you and your family.

Think about exactly what it is you need, and make changes that will make life easier, whether that’s creating an extra room in the loft, knocking down a wall to create a family-friendly kitchen-diner or adding a conservatory, there are numerous ways you can improve your home and add value as well as falling back in love with where you live.

So what are the most popular ways to add value to your home and feel like it’s one of the family again…

Extension

The most popular way to increase the value of your home is to add space with an extra room, an additional bedroom will earn you the most money. Perhaps you need to make more space for another member of the family or your teenager no longer wants to share with their younger sibling – which could be the answer to a more harmonious life for all under the roof.

Loft conversion

This is a great way to add value and you don’t need planning permission to create a home office or children’s play area. If you don’t have room to add on a room then the only way really can be up!

Loft specialists Access4Lofts Guildford say: “Loft space is often underused or not used at all. The most common reasons for this include challenging or limited practical access to the loft as a result of a small hatch opening or a poor-quality ladder and insufficient usable storage in the loft space from either a lack of, or no suitable flooring or shelving.
“Space can be converted into safe and convenient storage for less than the price of a garden shed. Benefits include reduced utility bills from enhanced insulation and a noticeably decluttered and organised home which looks and feels bigger.”

WOODEN FLOORING

A relatively simple way to improve your home, giving it a fresh, clean look is to switch to wooden flooring, whether synthetic, such as laminate, real wood or engineered. Check out what’s best for your purposes and your lifestyle. Wood’s growing popularity means it’s another way to increase potential sale value should you move.

GARDEN MAKE OVER

Right now our gardens seem more precious than ever. If yours is looking neglected, it could be worth paying someone to sort it out. Add fences or trees to provide privacy, make a specific seating area, perhaps add a patio or decking. It’s also worth considering a covered area such as a pergola or awning or perhaps even a summer house to allow for the British summer weather! Another simple boost can be a garden shed and they needn’t just be for storing your lawnmower etc, take it up a notch and it could be an outdoor office, children’s play area or guest bedroom.

GO GREEN

We’re all trying to be more eco-friendly and aware of our planet and not only can these measures help you save on your bills but they can also add value to your home if you do decide to move. Double glazing, solar panels, adding or improving insulation can all make a real difference, as can LED lighting.

SERVE UP A KITCHEN MAKE OVER

If you decide to make just one improvement to your home, then the kitchen – the heart of the home – is the one to go for. But if you don’t have the resources to go for a complete overhaul then replacing the drawer and door fronts and keeping the units can make a huge difference. Even small changes can help renew your relationship with your kitchen, try new worktops, unique tiles, or quirky doors and handles for a simple lift.

CONSERVATORY

Natural lighting is always a great way to give a home a fresh lease of life and a conservatory with huge windows will certainly fit the bill as well as giving you extra space – use it as an additional living room or a stylish dining area. Most people won’t want to compromise on their garden space so consider sliding doors as the perfect way to blend indoors and outdoors.

EXTRA STORAGE

Creating extra storage in your home allowing you to declutter and streamline can give not just your home, but you a lift too, knowing the toys are stored away and there’s not ‘stuff’ all over the place! Build shelves or create cupboards in a variety of nooks, corners and under the stairs.

KNOCKING THROUGH ROOMS

An open plan living area can result in more room for dining in and entertaining making your existing space more attractive and look less cramped.

BATHROOM

Neutral shades and classic styles are the best way to make a splash with a new bathroom. Allow plenty of natural light to stream in, consider spotlights otherwise..

ROOFING, SOFFITS AND FASCIAS

Fascia boards and soffits play a vital role in protecting your home. They are crucial to the structural integrity of a property and usually mounted where the roof meets the outer walls of your home, fascia boards and soffits support holding guttering in place.

Gorgeous with George

No one is a bigger advocate for putting your money where your house is than architect, campaigner and TV presenter George Clarke. He says: “There’s no place like home. Whether it’s transforming a tiny bedroom or managing a large-scale build, we all have the possibility of experimenting with our environment and improving the way we live.

“My advice is to make it personal and beautiful. Your home is like an extended member of your family, unique and personal and its design should reflect that.”

George and his family live in a 1960s house in Notting Hill he has fully refurbished. “It’s not a big house,” he says, “but it has everything I need. My garden studio has to be my favourite part. I’m never happier than when I’m in that space… whether working, reading, sketching or watching TV. It contains most of my books on architecture and design as well as many architectural models of beautiful buildings from around the world. My studio goes some way to proving even the simplest and smallest of structures can be life-changing.”

For more on George & his work, visit