Sarah Tucker goes in search of the ten tribes paying homage to a centenary of flower power at the 100th RHS Chelsea Flower Show
Yesterday I attended the press day for the 100th anniversary of the Chelsea Flower Show. Gnomes have been allowed for the first time, but many of the celebrities who attend to admire the gardens and be admired in the gardens were little more than pint sized themselves. Most celebrities really are extremely short. Although the show runs all week, press day is best day to go.
It starts early at seven and ends at three, so the hours are more conducive to missing commuters and Chelsea tractors carrying snotty prep school kids. It was cold, windy and rainy with tofu-coloured skies overhead resisting any attempts to turn shades of blue.
Unlike the other days at the Chelsea Flower Show – on press day there are no crowds. OK, there were crowds around the free champagne at various stands and every time a celebrity walked through the gate, especially if they’re wearing a very short skirt, then there’s a crowd, but in general people wander from garden to garden without having to strain a glimpse at a chrysanthemum through three rows of the Women’s Institute’s finest.
Instead there were camera crews with huge cameras, lots of booms and loads of wires and impossibly cool looking cameramen and cooler looking sound men and harassed looking directors and heavily made up orange coloured presenters who rushed about wearing any shirt, dress or trouser they could find with flowers on. None of them looked as though they’ve pruned a rose in their lives.
There were loads of so-called “celebrities”. This year headlining the talent were Helena Bonham Carter, Helen Mirren, Deborah Meaden, Lesley Garrett, John Hurt, Nicholas Parsons, Zara Phillips and Kirstie Allsopp – who was wearing bright orange I presume because she wanted to stand out (and she did). On the other hand, there was Ben Fogle camouflaged in browns and beiges and green converses to put the spies of his scent. There was Nick Knowles who looked as though he’d had a series of rough nights not just one, but then I am told he always does look that way. Antiques expert Eric Knowles was on the Staffordshire stand talking antiques (what on earth has that got to do with gardens?) and Jerry Hall and Joanna Lumley looked high cheek boned and well preserved. Everyone wore colour except Jerry, who wore funereal black with leopard skin pumps, thus making herself the coolest of the lot. She looked like a black panther in shades stalking the gardens for prey. Oh and of course, Alan Titchmarsh was all over the place.
The gardens were exquisite, especially the ‘mindfulness’ garden which I thought was the best in my lowly non-green fingered opinion, and the huge marquee which holds all the flowers and the bits that didn’t go in the gardens was suitably fragrant, colourful and full of gatherings where lots of champagne was being opened by people who knew other people who knew about gardening.
But I wasn’t there to see the gardens, nor the celebrities, colourful though both of them were, but to identify the types who frequent the show every year. This was my third year at the show, having been twice with the ex who had again invited me this year, probably without his girlfriend’s knowledge. I discretely declined (well discretely until now that is). Although my friend read his text from me saying he understood why I had declined his offer of CFS. “He’s asked you to have care free sex Sarah?” she said. I laughed. CFS in CFS, now there’s a thought.
But the place isn’t just for looking at the plants or the celebs, people watching is the main event at the Show and has been for the past 100 years. There are definite types but there are ten major ones. If you identify more please let me know.
1. The chinless wonders
Male or female, these dress in florals (men and women) and navy jackets, wearing boaters or any form of hat that would befit a regatta more than a flower show. Trousers could be red, pink, light blue. They will assiduously try to make eye contact – when you do acknowledge them eventually, they take pleasure in snubbing you, even if you are a celeb. They are there for the champagne and something to do after lunch at a nearby brasserie – and probably only there because work paid for them to be there to entertain clients they don’t like. They haven’t got a clue how to grow anything.
2. The high summers
The girls and ladies who bought the frock or the models who are asked to stand with a winner or present something to someone or sing something (there were two opera singers this year although admittedly one wore the full corset and full skirt). Whatever the weather they dress for high summer, in pretty florals, cotton nothingness, the goose bumps peeping through the fake tan and fake smiles.
3. The living gnome
This is the first year gnomes have been allowed but every year since inception there have been examples of living gnomes stalking the aisles. Men who dress top to toe in stripes with bowler hats with long white beards, poking the air with long canes with ivory handles that look better place in India and the Raj. They stroll about as if looking for someone to make their tea and having to make do with Café Nero.
4. The major general
Portly usually short, dressed in blue and often wearing medals (although what for they will never tell you), this lot are usually the marshalls, although I’m never quite sure what or who they are marshalling? Perhaps they’re there to some coked up celebrity or a WI member who’s going through midlife crisis and wants to trash the camellia stand. This type have fog horn loud voices, big egos and small hands.
5. The envelope celebrity
I can’t name names or rather I won’t (Matthew is far braver than I) but lets say those who were famous in the 70s and 80s and wish they could get back on the A-list again. They’re still recognisable but have to call the RHS rather than the other way round and smile at everyone to make sure they are seen if not recognised.
6. The eccentric aunts
They dress weird. No other way of putting it. I took a few back shots to avoid the innocent being identified but their outfits would look better on three-piece suites (if there is still such a thing). Large multi-coloured kaftans that resemble exotic coloured tents or so many layers they look like psychedelic gypsies. They wander round and round the show, loudly dressed but not uttering a word, trying to look inscrutable and interesting. I followed one who went round three times, but then again, perhaps that was because I was following her.
7. The WI
So knowledgeable, the Hyacinth Buckets, with their M&S picnics ready made because the outlets at the Show are so overpriced and they make much better sandwiches at home. They come for the day out and to get away from the husband who doesn’t do a thing in the garden, ever.
8. The Chelsea Pensioners
Looking bemused but kindly they are happy to have photos taken with them and happy knowing that it only lasts a week. They are the cherries on the icing on the cake of the Chelsea Flower Show. It wouldn’t be the same without them.
9. The ladies who mulch
The serious gardeners. Ugly as sin, usually quite manly looking and taller than the average woman, they know their stuff and sniff at the riff-raff who come for anything other than the green stuff. I admit I asked one what tree beats honey fungus and she didn’t know. Perhaps I asked a duff one.
10. The cool dudes
For the women who have given up on match.com, give the show a go. There are some sexy young gardeners with their own stands (and I’m not talking Alan Titchmarsh sexy (for those who consider him sexy) I’m talking Daniel Craig sexy). These gardeners have their own company, are good with their hands, are usually called Tom or Charlie and are the sort of men women would like to play Lady Chatterley too. The other cool dudes are the cameramen who look bored and worldy. And probably are.
Sarah Tucker is an award winning travel journalist, novelist, producer and broadcaster. She has edited, produced and presented her own radio and TV series as well as presenting reports for BBC Holiday Programme and anchored I Want That House on ITV. She is the author of best selling novels The Playground Mafia (short listed for the Good Housekeeping book of the year 2007) The Battle for Big School, The Last Year of Being Single, and The Control Freak Chronicles.
For more information about Sarah Tucker, go to: http://www.sarahtucker.info
Buy The Playground Mafia on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Playground-Mafia-Sarah-Tucker/dp/0099498456/ref=sr_1_7/202-9265101-5575054?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1193856472&sr=1-7
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