Gardeners’ World star Monty Don, 66, has been a TV stalwart and author for many decades.
And so you’d be forgiven for being surprised that he survived off government handouts after nearly going bankrupt and “looney”.
German-born Monty and his wife, Sarah, ran a costume jewellery business, which began with initial success – but the stock market crash of 1987 left them almost bankrupt and without savings.
The stress and fear of the situation, which meant they had to sell their home for a fraction of the price, left both Monty and Sarah physically ill.
In the couple’s book, The Jewel Garden, Sarah explained: “A bad situation got worse every day.
“The banks wanted their money and started to bounce our cheques whilst simultaneously adding their charges – and interest on them – to the tally.
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“Of course it could not go on. Something had to give. As it turned out, that something proved to be our shop, our business, our savings, our furniture – and our home.”
Monty, who will host Gardeners’ World on Friday evening, and Sarah, were forced to choose.
They could either be declared bankrupt, or sell up what they had and pay back what they owed at the time.
They chose the latter, but their shop was only sold for approximately one-tenth of what it had cost the couple, and house viewings were a struggle because Monty and Sarah were so downtrodden.
Sarah, who shares children Freya, Adam and Tom with Monty, wrote: “When it came down to it, Montagu was a loony and I was ill all the time.
BBC/Glenn Dearing/Geffrye Museum)
“How did we ever believe that we could have saved the situation?
“I suppose the lowest point for me what when I was hidden away on my sickbed while potential buyers traipsed round the house.”
She reflected: “Despite everything, Montagu had the garden and a book.
“I am sad that I have so little to show for that time. At least the children were happy and healthy.”
Monty added: “We were lambs to the slaughter and we lost everything, we lost our house, our business. We sold every stick of furniture we had.”
And he also wrote about the dark time in The Guardian, revealing: “The s**t hit the fan.
“The overdraft soared, interest rates doubled, the banks wanted their money and bounced every cheque. It is a familiar story, and it could have been worse.
“The business was voluntarily liquidated, the shop sold for a 10th of what it had cost, and television and journalistic work, caught in the depression, dried to a trickle.
“At least we found a buyer for the house before the bank repossessed it.”
He added: “Sarah, having lost her job and business, drove down the drive on 15 February 1991, her birthday, with three little children asking why Daddy was crying.
“Again. I don’t want to overegg the pudding. We survived.
“But for the record, the worst thing about losing your job and your home is not the loss of creature comforts but the humiliation. The embarrassment. You feel such a complete and utter fool.”
He continued: “Things got worse. There was no work, so I was on the dole in 1992.
“My mother died and left me enough money for a deposit on a house, and we found our current house.
“It was obviously lovely, but without water, electricity, sanitation or any interior walls and, as it turned out, a roof that was about to slide off.
“It was declared unfit for human habitation, and we rented a rat-infested farmhouse nearby. These were the bad times.”
Press Association Images)
So hopeless did Monty feel, he went to a healer to try to get himself back on track.
He wrote in The Guardian: “I cannot remember if he was herbalist, acupuncturist, homeopath or faith healer, but he had the ring of veracity.
“He had been treating me for four months for the malaise that hung about me like a bad smell, and made me abstain from tea, coffee, alcohol.”
He continued: “The healer said I was unhealable. There was only one course of action: to give up my work and spend a year working the land.
“Impossible. I had wife, child, baggy suits, a business. We never saw each other again.
Monty added that his depression peaked when he saw a horrific image in a newspaper from wartime Serbia, showing a man who was about to be beheaded a group of laughing men, and it “disturbed [him] beyond measure”.
He admitted he could see the photo burned into the back of his head whenever he closed his eyes, and it gave him nightmares.
But with the dedicated support of Sarah, as well as the stabilising help of medication, Monty focused entirely on his real passion – gardening.
And he not only survived, but thrived – joining This Morning in 1989 and eventually replacing Alan Titchmarsh as host of Gardeners’ World in 2003.
But this was not the first time Monty had faced adversity.
His twin sister, Alison, was badly hurt in a near-fatal car crash aged 19, while Monty was working as a gardener in France.
He was alerted to the incident via a telegram that read: “Come home. Alison accident.”
Alison broke her neck and was almost left blind, but she made a miraculous recovery.
Monty told HELLO!: “She made what was deemed a miraculous recovery and got the use of one eye back, after endless operations, and one hand, and could walk with a stick and went on to get married and have children.”
And Monty has also revealed his father, Denis, was a “frightening figure” who suffered from “deep depressive fits”.
“He was an army heavyweight boxing champion and a commando and had been through the war,” he said.
“He had killed people. He was not in any way aggressive but it was a latent… He was a scary man.”
He added: “You didn’t mess with him and he had these deep depressive fits when he wouldn’t talk to anyone.”
So keen was Monty to impress his father, he took up boxing as well.
But he hung up his boxing gloves when he was badly concussed after being knocked out by an opponent.
“I once boxed for the university against the Army and made sure my father came to see me knock my opponent out,” he told The Independent.
“I remember getting knocked out myself, and being concussed, before going to a supervision at which I heard the words without any meaning, as if they were in Arabic; two seconds later the meaning would arrive.
“That’s when I decided to give up boxing.”
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