How Monty Don went from skint student who ‘ran away with another man’s wife’ to unlikely Chelsea Flower Show heartthrob | The Sun

HE'S 'the Don' of the gardening world, loved by millions for his soothing voice and easy-going charm.

This week Monty Don returned to our screens to present the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, with viewers swooning over the 67-year-old, branding him an "absolute fitty".

And the horticultural heartthrob had fans in tears when he paid tribute to his late 'co-host', Nigel the golden retriever, who he lost in May 2020 – six days before his 12th birthday.

Despite keeping his family life fiercely private, the Gardeners' World presenter has more than one million Instagram followers.

So who is the man behind the spade? Here we reveal how Monty's incredible journey to becoming the one of the leading UK gardeners involved bankruptcy, depression and "running off with another man's wife".

'Love at first sight'

Monty has been married to wife Sarah, 68, for 40 years, and the couple share three children – sons Adam and Tom, and daughter Freya – as well as two grandchildren.


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They met at Cambridge University, where Monty studied English at Magdelene College – however Sarah was married at the time to a postgraduate student.

In an attempt to woo her, Monty told the Edinburgh Literary Festival he cut her lawn by hand using kitchen scissors because he couldn't find the keys to the shed containing the lawn mower.

In their joint book, The Jewel Garden, Sarah – a trained jeweller and architect, who only refers to her husband by his full name – explains how she left her wealthy spouse to be with 'Montagu'.

In a passage which reads more like a Jilly Cooper novel, she recalls: "In 1979, I left my well-off husband for this penniless student… Trying to escape the inevitable mess that we had created, Montagu and I ran away together to the North York Moors, where we were offered rooms in a house for winter."

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Monty and Sarah on their wedding day
The couple have been together for 40 yearsCredit: Rex

She told how they paid their way by riding the owner's horse every day and painting the windows, adding: "We now look back on that time as a rich experience… But there was real hardship."

Monty wrote how he knew Sarah was "the one" from the moment he saw her, adding: "It took a little time and a divorce to sort things out, but I was right."

The couple, who married in 1983, struggled to get by in the early days, with Monty working on a local farm to fund his dream of publishing a novel, while Sarah began making jewellery.

They eventually set up their own jewellery company – and it took off.

It took a little time and a divorce to sort things out, but I was right

Their pieces were sold in 30 countries all over the world, featured in Vogue, and boasted celebrity fans including Princess Diana and Michael Jackson.

The brand – Monty Don Jewellery – was stocked in Harrods and Harvey Nichols, and the couple went on to open their own store in London's posh Knightsbridge.

Monty previously told the Independent that Sarah was “75 per cent of the designing brains” while he was the salesman.

Sarah has admitted she sometimes felt "invisible" as suave Monty was very much the face of the brand.

She said: "I would spend months working on a creation, drawing, refining, going backwards and forwards to the factory, checking samples, sorting out publicity.

“It was always a collaboration, though the factory owner who made up our jewellery only seems to listen to [Monty]. I was invisible.”

Bankruptcy and depression

Sadly their business went under in 1987 following the Wall Street Crash, and the couple faced bankruptcy.

Don described their collapse as "spectacular", adding: "We were all along pretending to be businessmen and now our cover had been blown.

“But I was working with someone I loved. And I loved the tools and the skills that came with it. We certainly learnt a good deal from the whole experience."

The couple lost everything and it took its toll on Monty's mental health, with him spiralling into depression.

"We lost our house, our business. We sold every stick of furniture we had at Leominster market," Monty explained.

We lost our house, our business. We sold every stick of furniture we had at Leominster market

Sarah pleaded with him to get help, and the breaking point came when the children asked, "Why is daddy always crying?"

Monty told The Times: "She said you have to see a doctor because I can't cope with you and three small children and our life as it is.

"I need help and the only way I can get help is for you to get help."

“So I did that classic thing of going to the doctor and saying my knee hurt and then he said, 'Anything else the matter?'

"Antidepressants helped initially and I had cognitive behavioural therapy on the NHS, which was very good. And I did use a lightbox; that was also good."

Brushes with death

Monty had a terrifying brush with death in August 2007 while filming his show Around the World in 80 Gardens.

He contracted peritonitis, a life-threatening infection of the inner stomach lining which covers vital organs.

He told Amateur Gardening magazine: "My wife found me collapsed. If she had not found me I would have died.

My wife found me collapsed. If she had not found me I would have died

"I got into an ambulance at 2am and they stuck morphine into my veins.”

In 2008, Monty suffered what was later diagnosed as a minor stroke which saw him give up presenting Gardeners' World for three years – having taken over from Alan Titchmarsh in 2003.

After waking up in the night feeling "strange and dizzy", Monty later began to suspect he was having a stroke on a walk around the garden.

He told how he turned to Sarah and said "Hold me because I think I'm dying and, if I am, I want to die in your arms".

'Bodged' birth

Sarah faced her own health struggles after giving birth to their daughter Freya.

In their book she revealed she was "unable to walk or stand properly" for over a year after suffering a "bodged" delivery.

She wrote: "I was ill months after our daughter was born despite having had a supposedly film-star birth at an enormously expensive private London hospital.

"I had slipped a disc and was so anaemic that I needed a blood transfusion."

Sarah added that as soon as she was discharged, she had to stump up the cost of her medical treatment on the spot, as if she was "checking out of a hotel".

Accidental TV star

Monty began his TV career with an appearance on ITV's This Morning in 1989, and was their gardening expert for eight years – despite being self-taught.

At the time he wasn't keen on becoming a presenter – preferring to pursue a writing career – but he reportedly accepted the work as he was desperate, and quickly became a household name.

Monty, who was made an OBE in 2018, still describes himself as primarily a writer "who happens to have lots of television work" – having had numerous newspaper columns over the years and published 27 books.

During lockdown he – and his dogs – attracted a swathe of new younger fans, when gardening became a hot trend.

The star was devastated when he lost his beloved pooch Nigel, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme how his furry companion had helped him through difficult times.

He said: "He was a bear of slightly limited brain, what he had was this absolute sense of purity.

"He exuded a kind of unsullied innocence and we all love our dogs, everybody thinks their dog is special, I've had lots of dogs and there was something special about Nigel."

Monty has always attributed his success to Sarah and claims every decision they've made about their own Hertfordshire garden – Longmeadow, where Gardeners' World is filmed – is a joint one.

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Speaking on the show's podcast, he said: "One of the things I always say privately and I should say publicly at every opportunity, it's her garden as much as mine.

“This is not my garden, it's our garden. It's 'we' always."

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