To the Chelsea Flower Show where, as always, half the gardens seem to celebrate (if that’s the word) chronic affliction. There’s a teenage cancer garden, an arthiritis garden, a learning disabilities garden…all completely worthy causes to adopt, but you can’t help but note the desperation with which the designers of these things attempt to reflect the misery of the human condition in the beauty of their planting. There’s a paradox there somewhere (though I guess the RHS would call it ‘hope’).
Something else you can’t help noticing at Chelsea – on press day at least – is the small army of celebrities who turn out to be photographed amid the floribuna and explain to eager journalists, almost to script, how they know nothing about horticulture but just love the flower show.
I could say the same myself, if anybody asked (which naturally they don’t). But then i’m not sure I’d want to be counted among the flower show celebrities, whose chief qualification for being there seems to be either that they’re seriously c-list or seriously old.
In fact one of the many joys of Chelsea for me – and let me emphasise that I DO love it, arthritis and all – is that it’s the only chance I ever get of rubbing shoulders with the rock stars of my childhood. as a grown-up classical music critic you’re not encouraged to admit this, but there was probably a time when you got rather excited by Roger Daltry, Ringo Starr, even Cliff Richard if you go back that far. And come Press Day at Chelsea, there they all are: wrinkly but still reassuringly alive – and in the case of Cliff Richard, bizarrely well-preserved.
According to Wikipedia, which I’ve just consulted, he’s approaching 72 but you’d never think so. Whether it’s down to clean-living or quiet surgery, it’s impressive. And it reminds me that my first ever public engagement in music wasn’t (alas) playing the junior rounds of BBC Young Musician of the Year or yearning for the Wings of a Dove in some respectable cathedral choir: it was aged five, in a talent competition at Broadstairs, singing I want to be a Bachelor Boy to my own, vague accompaniment on a plastic guitar. as it happens I won. And I think that’s enough admissions for one day.