Fern Britton: ‘There’s a lot of silly British humour about melons on The Big Allotment Challenge’

Fern Britton tells TV Times magazine why she couldn’t be happier hosting The Big Allotment Challenge (BBC2, Tuesday)…

Last time we spoke to you, you were twirling around the Strictly Come Dancing floor and now you’re in an allotment!
“I’d love to tell you I stroll around the allotments wearing a sequin G-string under my jeans, but no – just nice, big warm pants. And a vest! But don’t worry, I’ve still got my Strictly false eyelashes on!”

That’s good to know! What has presenting this show been like?
“We have a lot of fun. There’s plenty of silly British humour with jokes about ripe, plump and firm melons in melon week, for example. We half expected Sid James to pop up amongst the runner beans at times.”

We have The Great British Bake Off and The Great British Sewing Bee – do you mind The Big Allotment Challenge being compared to them?
“I take that as a huge compliment as they’re two cracking shows. And like them, our series has frightfully nice contestants that you care about. They’re decent people who aren’t trying to become famous or win a job working at Buckingham Palace – they’re doing it because they’re passionate about gardening, want to impress their mates and enjoy themselves.”

Do you think the show will do for allotment gardening what Bake Off’s done for baking?
“Why not? I think it could. I hope garden centres are rocking on Easter weekend after our first episode has aired. I don’t think people need to rush out and put their name on allotment waiting lists though, as you can grow so much at home in a dustbin, drainpipe or on a window sill, as viewers will see.”

What are the challenges in the show like?
“They are properly hard, but there’s no point playing a game that doesn’t stretch you. Finding three radishes that are identical in size, shape, colour and without blemish is really difficult because you can plant 100 seeds, but you don’t know what you’ll end up with.”

If you were to take part, how do you think you would do?
“I think I’d be OK at growing three matching blooms, although I’d be hopeless at making a flower arrangement. I like half a dozen daffs in a milk jug so making a formal bouquet would freak me out. As for the preserve-making…well, my mint jelly is excellent and every autumn I make crab apple and blackberry jelly from our garden.”

How did it feel wearing wellies instead of heels on TV?
“All my telly life has been in controlled studio environments with make-up ladies constantly powdering my nose and reapplying lipstick, so this was very relaxing. It was great wearing wellies instead of heels and if my hair blew all over the place it didn’t matter. The make-up lady did try with the hairspray but in the end said, “I give up!””

Have you learnt a lot while presenting the show, too?
“I’ve learnt such a lot making this series – it’s made me itch to get out in my own garden. I’ve got four allotment-style beds which I fill with sweet peas, cosmos and roses – although I’m not too good growing roses. I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with zinnias making this series so I’ve been sowing those like crazy. I’ve dug out my beds and plan to have runner beans, peas, lettuce, aubergines and tomatoes and also, thanks to the show, I’m trying onions!”

Is this a dream job for you?
“Oh it is, I’ve been gardening since I was toddler. It’s always been in me. And since I left This Morning, I’ve had the time to indulge my gardening passion.”

Do you miss the buzz and excitement of daily live TV?
“I loved it, but after 30-odd years I wouldn’t necessarily want to do it again five days a week. I have a really wonderful life now which revolves around my husband and the children, writing, cycling, gardening and the odd bit of filming.”