Monty Don has said his family has “a great big Nigel-shaped hole” in their lives after the death of their golden retriever.
His pet became the surprise star of BBC Two’s Gardeners’ World, receiving his own fan mail, social media fan accounts and lent his name to Don’s book Nigel: My Family And Other Dogs.
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I am very sorry to announce that Nigel has died. To the end he was happy, healthy and his usual calm, lovely self. But he was suddenly taken ill and he slipped quietly away with no pain or suffering and is now buried in the garden with lots of tennis balls. Rest now old friend. See you in the sweet bye and bye.
Earlier this week the presenter revealed Nigel had died after he was taken ill and is now buried with “lots of tennis balls”.
Don told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that Nigel had been more than a companion and had helped him with his struggles with depression.
He said: “I think if you suffer from any kind of mental illness, whether be it depression or anxiety or whatever, having someone to look after, who returns that attention with completely unqualified love, is very powerful, it’s powerful medicine.
“There’s just the basics – if you have a dog you have to take it for a walk, which means you have to go outside, you have to put your boots on and put a coat on and as anybody listening knows, when you are depressed, you don’t do any of that.
“If you get out of bed you just sort of eat badly, you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, you don’t do what you want to do because you don’t really want to do anything and so on and so forth, so having a dog that needs food and water and a walk and attention and who just loves you is extraordinary.
“At the moment there is sort of a simmering level of anxiety and people are being very brave and they’re resourceful and extraordinary but at the same time everybody is scared and anxious and pets, and in my case dogs, leaven that, they hold it steady, they tie you to a better reality.
“I think for all of us that happens and I think for millions of people who watch Gardeners’ World, clearly Nigel was part of that.”
Don added: “He was a member of our family and there’s a great big Nigel-shaped hole in our lives.
“But he was 12, he had a lovely life. His death was shocking for us but it was quick and his last day we went for a walk and he ate and he was just super.
“It was just a lovely day and I think we were blessed. I’ve had lots of dogs and I hope I have more but that one relationship lightened our lives and we were lucky, we were really, really lucky.”
Don also said that Nigel was unrivalled in his star power on the set of Gardeners’ World, where he was frequently seen playing with tennis balls.
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.
“It’s really hard to put your finger on it. Apart from that, he loved the limelight, we never wanted really to include him in Gardeners’ World but he always found the light, he always found the spot.
“He would come out with me in the morning at half past seven and just stay with me all day, and wait for his call and then just steal the scene, every time, every single time.”