Chelsea Flower Show: The stars – and the gnomes – come out ahead of royal launch

Helen Mirren and Joanna Lumley were at the centre of a media scrum as the RHS prepared to welcome HRH in the year that a century-long ban on gnomes was lifted

“Can you tell us what you think about the gnomes,” a journalist with a microphone and a weird news agenda shouted at Helen Mirren above the clamour of cameramen and film crews. With the Chelsea Flower Show organiser the Royal Horticultural Society lifting its 100-year ban on the miniature garden adornments (for one year only) it was the question on everyone’s lips.  

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Jerry Hall, who arrived under grey and threatening skies with sunglasses and becoming smile, admitted she had gnomes in her garden and Rob Brydon, one of the celebrities to have painted a gnome for RHS charities, announced himself as “the Damian Hirst of the gnome art world.” It was that kind of morning in SW3.  

Maureen Lipman sat astride a rocking horse she had painted for a fundraising auction – “I was out of work for three months I couldn’t do anything but decorate this horse” – while Hall ate garlic pizza for the cameras. With 900 journalists, films crews and cameramen from around the world present, she also managed to bring the place to a standstill.


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Inside the grand marquee there was pandemonium as Mirren and fellow showbiz royalty Joanna Lumley promoted their respective good causes just a few feet apart. “It’s a feeding frenzy,” laughed Lumley. “But this is what Chelsea is all about. It’s the oldest, grandest and buzziest flower show anywhere in the world.” The man from the Dutch TV station couldn’t but agree as his camera was sent flying by an over keen colleague.

Showbiz royalty is displaced by the real thing later this afternoon (Monday 20 May) when the Royal Hospital site is cleared of all but the exhibitors, and the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by Prince Harry, tour and officially open the show. For Harry there’s a certain poignancy to the visit. He’ll be showing his grandparents a garden designed in memory of his mother, Princess Diana.

“He is really looking forward to showing them the garden,” said its designer Jinny Blom. The B&Q garden has been commissioned to raise funds for, and awareness of, Harry’s charity Sentebale, which helps vulnerable children in Lesotho. He paid a surprise visit to the showground on Friday while Blom was putting the finishing touches to it. “He loved it,” she told Radio Times. “He spent 30-40 minutes here talking to the guys who built it, which meant an awful lot to them.”

Blom learns tomorrow whether the garden has received a coveted gold medal. Whatever the outcome, she is convinced the experience has converted Harry to the joys of gardening. “I am sure when he gets his own home he will make his own garden,” says Blom. “You can tell when people have a feel for nature, and he definitely has that feel.”

Coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show begins tonight at 7:30pm on BBC1


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