Star Q&A: Christine Walkden

Round & About

Q&A

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

Star Q&A: Julia’s outdoor jewels

Round & About

Q&A

To say TV presenter Julia Bradbury loves the outdoors would be an understatement, so much so that she set up The Outdoor Guide website packed with wonderful walks, picturesque pubs to stay in and everything you need to get out and enjoy yourself

Q. Let’s start with exactly what it does mean to you to be outdoors and its particular importance while we’ve been in lockdown?

A. I think a lot of people have reconnected with nature and with green spaces during lockdown. People talk about being able to hear the birds sing and they are noticing things like flowers in bloom, more bees in the gardens, along hedgerows and in their parks, cleaner air and lack of noise pollution. There is no doubt that the plus against all the negativity of the Coronavirus is that it has made people more aware of nature. I hope the message is coming across loud and clear that we need nature to protect us from viruses like COVID-19; it’s because of the manmade breakdown of nature that this disease has crossed over. The more forests, oceans and wildlife habitats we destroy the more endangered humans become.

Q. Did you always have a love of the outdoors as a child, any special memories?

A. I was incredibly lucky. I had a dad who adored the great outdoors. I went to school in Sheffield, I grew up in Rutland and Sheffield and after school and at weekends my dad Michael, a Derbyshire man, would take me walking around Buxton and the Peak District, which is where he used to go exploring with his brother when he was a little lad. They were fantastic bonding experiences for him and I, but also, I think it planted this seed deep in my psyche, deep in my heart and deep in my brain, to appreciate and love the outdoors.

Q. Do your children share your love for the great outdoors?

A. Yes, and in fact, their favourite day from last year was a cold, wet October windy day when they got dressed up from head to toe in their outdoor guide waterproofs. We all zipped up so the only thing that was exposed was our faces and we went out into the sheet rain. We had a full-on wet leaf fight and rolled down the hill, jumped in puddles, and we got soaked. They often talk about that day and they just want to go out and roll in the leaves again.

Q. You’ve recently done a Q&A on The Outdoor Guide with psychologist Jonathan Hoban about mental health, what did you take from that?

A. We started doing our lockdown sessions which are up on TOG for people to access who have been struggling with mental health issues throughout this period. We touched on topics like keeping routine and how important that is for lockdown, how it’s okay to feel angry and how it’s alright to feel emotional. I actually had a day a few weeks ago, in the midst of the lockdown period when I just lost it. I couldn’t stop crying; all because I couldn’t get an iron to work. It wasn’t about that of course – it was the whole situation, all the questions and uncertainties that we are all facing. It’s OK not to be OK all the time! It’s very beneficial to have these weekly discussions with Jonathan, hopefully for lots of people.

To find out more visit The Outdoor Guide website at https://theoutdoorguide.co.uk/

David Gray matters

Liz Nicholls

Q&A

Twenty years on since his masterpiece White Ladder, Liz Nicholls chats to musician David Gray

Q. Hello! Does it feel like 20 years since White Ladder was released? “It does feel like 20 years – it’s not gone by in the blink of an eye. There’s been a lot going on, a lot to negotiate in these intervening years. It feels good to be at this moment now. I was a bit ambivalent about the idea of a tour when it was first hoisted up the flagpole. But I think years went by and then I thought maybe this is the time to do it because people get sick, things change and then suddenly things aren’t possible in the way they used to be. None of us are getting any younger, so this is the time to give it the full celebration. Then I’ll move on to creative pastures new.”

Q. I’ve been reading that White Ladder came from a dark place… “I think the press use the word ‘dark’ a little too liberally… I mean, let’s face it, I was living in north London. I wasn’t in Bosnia. Or Syria. I was eating croissants from the local patisserie… such was the darkness that was engulfing me! I think things hadn’t worked out [with sales] and that was a hard pill to swallow. I was in a place that, after three albums, I thought ‘is this it?’ When that happens to a musician over a course of many years, it gets worse & harder. A real sense of futility permeates everything you’re doing. Apart from in Ireland, importantly [where David’s music started selling first]. That kept me going; the fact that I had a real connection over there and a fan base kept me believing something could still happen. But I did think, ‘I can’t go on like this, I think I have to change paths’. Then I thought, ‘well, maybe I can make a better record’. You can blame the world, you can blame the journalists, you can blame the record company but I thought: ‘can I make a better record?’ And the answer was yes.”

Q. Did going lo-fi help? “We took the record production in-house with what money was left. We bought a few bits of gear. We got back to making music in my spare room. And that was the best sense of freedom and intimacy. The freedom to explore and discover and get more hands-on with the recording process was the beginning of making this album. A very limited palette of options ended up  one of the strengthening factors in the sonic world we created. We pooled all our creativity. There’s a brightness to the record, even though a sort of melancholy creeps in here and there. It’s the negative charge flipping into positive. It was a ‘do or die’ moment – how do you face the world after it’s shunned you or been indifferent? You open your heart even wider and you go again. That’s the answer. Openness hurts, as Rumi once said. That’s the approach and it’s just incredibly open, melodically unfearful. [White Ladder] is a record that’s happy being exactly what it is. We made the record and we were proud of it when we finished. We’d taken such pains over every tiny bit. It would have been preposterous to imagine the success that was going to come.”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “Two things. It would be my dad playing records when I went to bed. The smell of fag smoke, cigar smoke, wine, beer and then The Beatles or Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road. Particularly Cat Stevens’ Hard Headed Woman, Wild World. Those songs really take me back. Rod Stewart, Atlantic Crossing. That was the early ’70s soundscape I remember and also all the beautiful TV music. Bagpuss. Hector’s Garden. All those sounds were very entrancing.”

Q. What format do you listen to music on? “Well I’ve succumbed to the algorithmic world of Spotify, and for some things YouTube. I might occasionally play a record… three months later you come back and the turntable’s still going round and round. Sometimes a CD. Some songs don’t exist as streaming music. I’ve got some records you can’t listen to any other way. It’s a bit like DVDs. I’m still watching a lot of films on DVD…”

Q. Any talented up-and-coming singer-songwriters worth your time and a leg-up? “I don’t think they need a leg-up from me but I will mention a couple of people I’m enjoying. One would be Big Thief; a group of musicians from America . And a Bristol collective called This Is The Kit [alias of Kate Stables]. They’ve grabbed my ears in recent years. I could go on but I’ll just meander out into obscurity. Word of mouth is still the most potent means of discovery. If Spotify or Apple recommend I listen to something, 99 times out of 100 I will refuse. That’s the kind of stick-in-the-mud that I am. I’d rather sit on my own at the bus stop with the rain lashing down on my face listening to nothing than listen to their recommendations based on everything I’ve already listened to. One problem with the predictive thing is that if your kids are listening through the same service, it suggests you listen to all the stuff that they listen to, which at the moment is a heavily urban kind of vibe. Not my chosen mood of reflection.”

Q. Mind you, I sometimes discover rare delights from my daughter’s choices before they go mainstream, such as Billie Eilish… “Billie Eilish is one of those rare successes; there’s real talent there. The record production as well. She gets all the plaudits but really her brother [Finneas] is a big talent sculpting the whole thing. It’s really nicely done so hats off to them.”

Q. Do you have a favourite book? “Well, I’ve got lots. Moby Dick by Herman Melville would have to be one of my favourites, an enduring favourite which I’ve read several times. You could do a lot worse.”

Q. What about your favourite film? “You’ve switched tack… you’re not going to ask my favourite colour next, are you?! Well, as it happens I was rather disappointed by Parasite, which got a huge amount of publicity with its bizarre Oscar-winning run. But that’s because I’d enjoyed their previous film Burning more – it’s a really good watch. It’s a dreamlike, based on a Haruki Murakami short story. You never know what’s real or what’s imagined; it’s set on the border with North Korea. I loved that film and it should be the one everyone’s watching. It’s more fully realised and poetic than Parasite managed to be.”

Q. White Ladder means a lot to me and was the soundtrack to a poignant breakup in my life 20 years ago! Have you had any weird fan mail or comments from your fans? “Course I have… but whether I’d want to draw attention to how weird, or how… suggestive, would not be healthy for people to hear! I’ve had some very odd things. Generally the things I get to read or that are sent are very touching, moving. People’s lives, deaths, disaster, triumph, childbirth, illness, madness. It’s all bound into the album & what it meant to people at that certain time in their lives. I came out of a pub earlier this year and this guy was hanging on to a Rottweiler which was dragging him down the street, with his dodgy mate, in the rain. One eye slightly off to one side. The kind of person you step out of the way of. And as I was stepping out of his way he grabbed me and [adopts husky, menacing shout] ‘David Gray mate! Yeah your record saved me; I got off heroin.’ Suddenly I was having this very intense conversation with him about how his friends were dying and as he got into his recovery process he discovered the record. Something about it helped him strengthen his resolve. Well, as he puts it, it made him feel ‘there was something bright out there he could grab hold of’. You hear mad stuff like this and it’s quite hard to process.”

• David Gray’s White Ladder has just been re-released in a deluxe edition as well as on CD, digitally and on vinyl. For this and updates on the tour, which was set to include Blenheim Palace, visit www.davidgray.co.uk

Talking Point: Clare Balding

Round & About

Q&A

Liz Nicholls asks Clare Balding about life, sport and pets as she launches her new Dogcast podcast

Q. How do you feel about where we’re all at as feminists as we approach another International Women’s Day? “I think we’ve achieved a lot but there’s still a lot to do. We all need to realise many companies are not valuing the work of women in the same way they value that of men. We have to protect and support those who have been denied opportunity and financial reward and we have to consistently and insistently point out to employers where they need to shape up.”

Q. We’re real dog-lovers here, and even have an office dog (Booster the black lab)! Can you tell us more about Dogcast and your love of dogs? “I grew up with dogs and the first face I remember seeing and feeling a connection with was my mum’s Boxer, Candy. To be honest, I think Candy felt more protective towards me than either of my parents. I spent most of my childhood dreaming of being a dog. There are so many benefits to dogs being a part of our lives and Dogcast is all about exploring that joy, as well as offering practical advice on veterinary and behavioural issues. I’m fascinated by the positive impact dogs can have at work, in schools and in hospitals and care homes. Maybe I should come and visit your office to see what Booster has done for the team… “

Q. Do you play golf and are you looking forward to the Ryder Cup? “I do play golf and I thought Europe’s victory in last year’s Solheim Cup was one of the sporting highlights of the year. I love team golf and will watch the Ryder Cup as much as I can and hope we’ll see a reigniting of the successful bromance between Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. They were amazing together in France in 2018.”

Q. 2020 is a huge year for sport – which aspects of the Tokyo games are you most looking forward to? “I can’t wait to see the new sports in action – especially skateboarding and rock climbing. We’ll have the youngest ever British Olympian representing Team GB in skateboarding (Sky Brown) and I hope she can win a medal. I’m also hugely looking forward to the Paralympics and I’m sure Tokyo will do a great job of hosting.”

Q. Did you enjoy your school days? “I had a mixed time. I started off very unhappy and got into a lot of trouble. I was suspended for shoplifting and de-housed. Then I rebuilt myself a bit, with the help of a very good set of friends and by throwing myself into sport. It all worked out in the end. I had a very good English teacher and she helped me get into a decent university to read English, which I loved.”

Q. Can you tell us about your love of horses? “My dad was a racehorse trainer and I was put on a pony before I could walk. It seemed easier to learn how to ride than stand on my own two feet and fairly soon I was falling off at regular intervals and rolling around on the ground laughing. I wanted to be an Eventer and my dream was to compete at the Olympics for GB. Then I started riding racehorses at the age of 16 and I discovered that winning races was a lot of fun. I won my first car by riding in races and I won my weight in champagne – which is the only time I’ve been delighted to be on the heavy side!”

Q. Is there anything you love to eat & drink? “I don’t mind champagne (luckily) but I really enjoy a rhubarb & ginger flavoured gin with tonic. I like most food apart from tomatoes, which I really hate. I don’t mind tomato sauce or sundried tomatoes but I really dislike them raw. It’s something to do with the squishy texture and the way the pips get everywhere.”

Q. What was it like growing up In Hampshire and any favourite places to visit? “It’s a beautiful part of the country and I was lucky enough to grow up next to Watership Down. I love the rolling hills and the clear chalk streams. I’ve done a lot of walking in Hampshire and the Home Counties but there is still so much more to explore. The other week I walked from Winchester Cathedral, past the college and through the water meadows, before climbing up to St Catherine’s Hill to explore the ancient labyrinth on the top. It was absolutely beautiful and I couldn’t believe that it had taken me until then to discover it.”

Q. What’s your favourite book, film and artist? “I’m always reading so I can’t say I have one book that I would choose above all others… But if I had to recommend something that summed up the British countryside, I’d go The Wild Places or The Old Ways (both by Robert Macfarlane) or Rising Ground by Philip Marsden. I also love Caitlin Moran’s books and anything written by Nora Ephron. I watch a lot of films and have really enjoyed the development of storylines in which women can be leading characters, rather than just victims or support players. I would hold up Hidden Figures as a great example of a film about women who made a real difference to the development of the world as we know it and had previously been ignored by history. As for a piece of music, If I Had A Million Dollars by Barenaked Ladies makes me laugh every time I hear it. My go-to album on repeat is For All Our Sins by Sound of the Sirens. I love every song on it.  If you meant artist as in painter, I would say Davy Brown – a Scottish landscape artist who paints beautiful water colours.”

Q. Who would be your dream dinner party guests? “Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Julie Walters, Emma Thompson, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman. Someone would have to be in charge of cooking as I get stressed by cooking for more than one person.”

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? And what advice would you give your younger self? “Best advice is that ‘whether you think you can’t or you think you can, you’re probably right’. The power of the mind is an amazing thing and can influence the way we perform almost any task. I like to say ‘yes’ to things at work that scare me a bit – like working on the last General Election – because I think it’s good to be out of my comfort zone and it means I always feel challenged and am learning more about how to do the job. I’d tell my younger self to read more books and to stop worrying so much about clothes and hairstyles or trying to fit in.”

Q. What else is on your horizon this year and beyond? “It’s a big year because of the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo. Before all that, I’m launching the new podcast, Dogcast With Clare Balding and I’m working on a new book for kids. It’s in the non-fiction space and it’s all about resilience, patience, confidence and concentration.”

Q. If you had a magic wand, what one wish would you make for a better world? “I’d try to reverse climate change, clear up the oceans of plastic, stop the fires in Australia (and elsewhere in the world) from destroying so much wildlife and natural habitation, stop the floods that cause so much damage and basically create a world in which we are living in harmony with nature.”

* Download the Dogcast with Clare Balding podcast at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/dogcast-with-clare-balding/id1495796637

Talking Point: Russell Watson

Round & About

Q&A

Liz Nicholls chats to singer and dad Russell Watson, 53, ahead of his 20th anniversary UK tour.

Q. Hello! Congratulations on 20 years since your album The Voice. How does that feel?
“Thank you! You’d expect to be more thrilled and grateful at the start of your career and then becoming used to it but for me it’s the other way around. I didn’t realise the significance of the record sales at the time. The Voice spent a year at number one in the charts and people kept congratulating me but at the time I was a bit ‘meh’ – I’d say, nah, Robbie Williams has done more, Elton’s done more. Now I look back and can’t believe the arena tours, the sales. It was just happening so quickly but I’m more grateful now.”

Q. How do you take care of your voice?
“I’ve always had to take care of my voice. If you don’t you pay the price later down the line. Dairy is an absolute no-go, as are fizzy drinks and anything spicy. I lived on chicken and boiled rice throughout the entirety of the last 25-date tour I did with Aled Jones, but he didn’t! I’d meet him in the canteen where Aled would be tucking into his meat & potato pie, chips, peas, gravy and a Diet Coke. I‘d ask him how he could have that before going on stage and he’d say ‘Well, that’s the downside of being a tenor!’ But I love Aled; we’ve become really close. It’s nice to have someone you can talk to and trust in the music industry.”

Q. You’ve worked with some stars – who would be your favourite?
“I’ve been very lucky. The list is endless and I’d never want to forget anybody. From Luciano Pavarotti at Hyde Park to Paul McCartney at the Nobel Peace prize awards in Oslo when we sang Let It Be. When I was a kid I remember sitting in my bedroom playing the Beatles bumper songbook and 15 years on I’m singing with the man himself, wow. Shaun Ryder, Meatloaf, Lulu, Mel C ¬– so many amazing people! Lionel Richie definitely stands out, and Cliff Richard; my mum was a massive fan of Cliff when we were kids.”

I haven’t ever stopped loving it!

Q. What’s your first memory of music?
“My grandad was a fantastic classical pianist trained to the highest level but sadly he had serious confidence issues so he never went on stage. But my earliest memories are of leaning against the back leg of his grand piano, falling asleep to the vibrations of the Chopin waltz.”

Q. You left school early didn’t you?
“Yes; I loved school but not from an academic perspective – I always felt I wasn’t ready for learning as a child. I learned more about life and started to read more after I’d left school – I’m not an advocate of leaving school early, though! I come from a working class background and I love my mum and dad to bits but they didn’t in anyway to encourage me to be academic. Maybe if I’d had parents who’d been more pushy I might have been. But I wouldn’t change anything.”

Q. Do you get stage fright?
“No not really! I’d been doing the clubs for years then in 99 I was invited to sing at Old Trafford for Manchester United’s last game of the season in what had been a truly iconic time for the team. I sang Nessun Dorma and walked off to see my dad at the side of the pitch with a tear in his eye (it was windy, he said!). He said: ‘were you not nervous?’ And I said no – I love it! And I’ve never stopped loving it. The more the merrier in terms of the crowd.”

Q. Do you love being a dad more than ever?
“Yes; my bond with my girls got even closer after getting ill with the tumours, particularly the second one when I nearly died. My eldest is 25 now and works with me and they’re both nearby. We pull funny faces and sing the wrong words to pop songs, crying with laughter. They bring the best and most stupid side out of me.”

Tickets

For all tour dates and to buy tickets