2023-09-22T10:12:00Z By Harry Rogers
We caught up with TV presenter Frances Tophill ahead of her GLT Show appearance on 5th October in Milton Keynes to discuss her love of travel and what it’s like working with gardening expert Alan Titchmarsh.
Most people won’t know that Gardeners’ World presenter Frances Tophill is incredibly passionate about travel. So much so that the 34-year-old owns a van for the sole purpose of uprooting at any time in search of adventure and continuing a tradition that was gifted to her by her father.
“Travel is just a part of who I am - it’s in my blood,” she said. “My dad had a van when I was a kid so there was always a feeling of adventure around every corner. I can remember coming home from school and he would ask us if we wanted to go camping for the night and off we’d go, even if it was just five minutes down the road, or parking on Dover cliffs and sleeping there.
“It was never anything massive or a huge holiday, but gave us the ability to have that sense of adventure wherever you are. I think it’s that feeling of not being trapped, and even though you’re sleeping in a van, it’s lovely sleeping under the stars. All I need is a full tank of fuel and I can go anywhere. That sense of not knowing what life is about to bring is what I love most and the ability to have a home wherever you are.”
Frances says she spends a huge amount of her working life in hotels, so taking the van along for the ride sometimes is a welcome sight when filming.
“Travel is just a part of who I am - it’s in my blood.”
She continued: “Sometimes it’s so nice to have the familiar with you. My dog will also come with me sometimes and he’ll be waiting for me in the car park. I quite often like to go out after finishing for the day to sit and read with my him in the van, and sometimes I even end up falling asleep in the hotel car park! It just feels like my home.”
And where would Frances go if she could drop everything and leave tomorrow?
“That’s a difficult one,” she said. “I’ve never been to the south of Ireland and would love to go there because I was raised on Irish music so I’d love to explore more of the country. If I had more time I’d love to go back to the south of France too. I absolutely love it down there where it’s very warm and has beautiful scenery, plus it has great food and the people are amazing.
“I always love visiting gardens or natural spaces that I’ve worked in as well - it could even be a farm or a vineyard. I was lucky enough to work in a botanic garden out in Barbados and I also travelled to farms in Cape Verde that go up near the volcano and grow sugar cane up there. That was a particularly memorable experience.”
It was this love of exploring and travel which tempted Frances into trying something completely new at the age of 19. After completing her degree in botany, conservation and horticulture at Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden, Frances landed a role on Love Your Garden, before Alan Tichmarsh and co came calling to snap her up for Gardeners’ World a few years later - a staple of British television since first airing in 1968.
She said: “It’s still a real pinch-yourself thing because when I was an apprentice, I used to watch Gardeners’ World as my homework, so to be on it just seems weird! The team contacted me to ask how they could get younger viewers interested in the show, so I went into their offices to have a chat not knowing it was a job interview, so after that, they asked me to do a few films with them and it went from there.
“I was lucky enough to work in a botanic garden out in Barbados and I also travelled to farms in Cape Verde that go up near the volcano.”
“It’s amazing though, especially getting the chance to go and interview real experts about what they do because I get to learn so much. Normally you work in a garden as an apprentice, then you would become the gardener and then you might one day become the head gardener. Historically, people tend to work in one or two gardens for their whole career and that’s all they would know, whereas I’ve got the chance to add to my knowledge from some truly amazing people.”
Included in that list of people who Frances has learned from is Alan Titchmarsh who helped guide the young presenter to find her feet.
She added: “He is amazing and a really lovely man. He’s been so supportive of me when I first came on after finishing my degree. It was all completely new to me and perhaps people might not have been quite as welcoming with new faces on the block, but he was so kind and tried to make me feel at ease, confident and reassured all the time and just having the chance to just watch him and what he does is great.
“I had never done anything like this before and it’s a completely different skill. Having been working in a garden, all you do is hang out with plants and get covered in mud! I went from that to having someone do your make up and then talking to a camera. It’s a completely terrifying thing to do but to have Alan there and to see how he does it gives you a really amazing education on how to be a TV presenter because no one ever teaches you that.”
Visit the Group Leisure & Travel Show 2023
See Frances, the other speakers, meet exhibitors and get free entry.
See Frances Tophill, as well as travel expert, Simon Calder and Watchdog’s Matt Allwright at the 2023 Group Leisure & Travel Show on Thursday 5th October at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes. The Seminar Theatre is open to all visitors.
Plus you can meet a specialist range of exhibitors that really understand groups, including attractions, hotels, tour operators, tourist boards, cruise lines, theatre ticket providers, events and more.
Register for free entry to the show here.