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Gardeners' World presenter Monty Don: 'My dog Nigel was a star around the world but he was just part of our family and I miss him all the time'

The Gardeners' World presenter reflects on the death of his beloved dog who became an unlikely celebrity. By Hannah Stephenson

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Monty Don and his dog, Nigel, who died in May.

Monty Don and his dog, Nigel, who died in May.

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Nigel

Nigel

Press Association Images

Monty Don and his dog, Nigel, who died in May.

Gardeners' World presenter Monty Don is still mourning the death of his dog, Nigel, who became almost as famous as the presenter himself, thanks to his numerous appearances on the BBC show.

"I miss him all the time," says Don (65). "If Nigel was here now, he'd probably be bringing me a ball and rolling it on the desk and saying, 'Come on, get off the phone'.

"I have other dogs - my golden retriever Nellie; Patti, a little Yorkshire terrier, and two dachshunds, who never appear on telly. It's a houseful of dogs. We will probably get more. We don't plan these things, they just sort of happen."

Nigel, a golden retriever, became the unlikely star of Gardeners' World - filmed at Don's garden, Longmeadow, at his home in Herefordshire - and died in May, aged 12.

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Monty Don's dog, Nigel

Monty Don's dog, Nigel

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Monty Don's dog, Nigel

Don, who writes about the dog movingly in his latest book, My Garden World, still cannot quite believe how famous Nigel was.

"He was such a part of the garden and so loved around the world - and when I say that, I'm not exaggerating. I remember being stopped in the street in Tokyo, and checking in for a flight in the mid-west in America, and the guy checking me in said, 'Hey, why didn't you bring your dog?' And I thought, 'How do you know about Nigel?' For some reason, he was loved all over the world."

Nigel died completely unexpectedly the day after Don finished the book. "The day he died we went for a nice walk and he enjoyed it. He ate his meals perfectly well, I put him to bed and he was really happy. He got ill around midnight and was dead by midday the next day," he recalls.

The dog suffered a major seizure at around 1am on May 4. "We held and calmed him, but he did not appear to know who we were or where he was, and seemed to have lost his sight," Don writes in My Garden World.

The fits continued all night and after a few hours, Don admits he wanted Nigel to die in his arms to end the dog's suffering.

At dawn, he took him to the vet's surgery and, observing social distancing, carried him to the theatre where Nigel was tranquillised. They were told the prognosis wasn't good. Finally they were told there was nothing more the vet could do, so they agreed Nigel should be gently put to sleep.

Looking back, Don says now: "It happened with no warning at all. It was a shock, it was very sudden. We were filming the day it happened and I had to go on filming while it was going on. That was quite tricky."

But he is grateful that his four-legged friend did not have a prolonged illness. "I now see it as a good thing because he had no illness, he had a lovely last day and was quite happy. He'd lived a long life and he didn't have that decline. He didn't have that stage of old dog, getting a bit blind, going deaf, and a bit incontinent."

Of course, he still misses him terribly. "It was upsetting and very sad. We didn't tell anyone for a week after he died because we just wanted to process it privately. He might have been a star around the world, but he was just part of our family.

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Monty Don's dog, Nigel, in winter.

Monty Don's dog, Nigel, in winter.

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Monty Don's dog, Nigel, in winter.

"Then I put the news out and it was front page news in The Times. It was on the radio and on the television. Somebody contacted me from Tonga, saying, 'I've just heard the news.' In a way, because you share it with the rest of the world, it slightly takes it away from you."

Nigel is now buried in the garden at Longmeadow. "We really miss him, his presence. But I feel very strongly that when you get a dog, you know that at some point in about 10 years' time either you or they are going to die. And depending how old you are, it's probably going to be them," Don reflects.

"You have to own that, you have to deal with it. You can be upset by it but you shouldn't be shocked by it. You need to prepare yourself for things. I've put down about five dogs now. It doesn't get any easier, but it's something you have to do."

Nigel was buried with 50 yellow tennis balls, his bowl full of an extra helping of food, biscuits and a bunch of May flowers, with a stone set above him surrounded by foxgloves, anemones and primroses.

"Life will flow on all around him," Don concludes.

My Garden World by Monty Don is published by Two Roads, £20.

See page 26 for a further interview with Monty in which he talks about his new book and how to attract more wildlife to your garden

'Nigel was a star around the world but he was just part of our family and I miss him all the time'

Belfast Telegraph