From Broke Student to Flower Show Heartthrob: Monty Don’s Unlikely Journey After Running Away with Another Man’s Wife

Monty Don steals hearts as he returns to host RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Monty Don, the beloved gardener with an easy-going charm and soothing voice, has returned to our screens to present the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The 67-year-old has been dubbed an “absolute fitty” by viewers who swoon over him. Monty is the nation’s favourite gardener and has over one million Instagram followers. Despite his popularity, he keeps his family life fiercely private. Who is the man behind the spade? In this article, we reveal how Monty’s incredible journey to becoming one of the leading UK gardeners involved bankruptcy, depression, and “running off with another man’s wife”.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.” Monty had a minor stroke in 2008 and told his wife to hold him so he could ‘die in her arms’.

Monty’s beloved golden retriever, Nigel, was his co-host on Gardeners’ World and had a huge following. Monty lost Nigel in May 2020, six days before his 12th birthday, and paid tribute to him during the Chelsea Flower Show. Fans were moved to tears as Monty spoke about Nigel, who had become a household name. Despite his fame and success, Monty has faced many challenges in his life. However, his love for gardening has been a constant throughout, and he has inspired millions to take up the hobby.

Categories: Garden