I met comedian and TV presenter Dara O Briain for lunch at the Hay Festival last year and although he was passionate and animated when talking about ‘stargazing’, it’s fair to say that he visibly squirmed when the conversation turned to gardening.
“I have the same sort of interest in my garden as I have in my kitchen appliances,” he confessed. “I inherited both the garden and the appliances with the house; they are functional but I don’t have any interest in them. I like being in the garden but not to work. I get people in to help out with that. I don’t even mow the lawn, my father never did either. My only point of interaction with the garden is to pick rosemary to go with a lamb dish occasionally,” he grins, adding “it took me three days to get the sprinklers sorted out recently; one side of the garden was flooded and the other half bone dry. I’m probably responsible for the drought in the South.”
Having recently become a dad again, Dara’s own childhood memories of gardening are not exactly inspiring either. “My mother was a professional florist so she obviously loved and appreciated flowers and all I remember about gardening whilst growing up is being told off for kicking a football into the flowerbeds and breaking all the flowers.”
“I appreciate the beauty of flowers and I quite like fruit; I’ve got a couple of fruit trees in my garden and even a banana tree but none of them ever quite manages to produce any fruit.
‘No plans to compete with Fyffes bananas then?’ I ask.
“No, but did you know that Fyffes is an Irish company and is the largest importer and exporter of bananas? They buy in all the Costa Rican bananas and then export them,” he is suddenly quite animated. “I learnt that on QI. We were also asked what would we do if I saw a bee dying; the answer was to give it sugar or honey or something but I said stamp on it to put it out of its misery.”
He is completely unrepentant when I share that I’m a beekeeper. “Oh yeah? I keep flies,” he retorts, “got a house full of them and a few wasps. I’m not really into all the country stuff; I’m more of a city person,” he admits. “My cat used to catch frogs and there is no noise quite like a frog screaming for its life; the same cat killed a squirrel and hid it in the cupboard once; they are slices of Nature I don’t miss in the City.” he shrugs.
Famously unsupportive of holistic medicine and the healing properties of plants, Dara explains, “I’ve got nothing against plants but lets’ not go giving them super powers. People grab a fragment of science and run with it; they think a metaphor is science. Talking to plants for example, what’s that about? Sound is simply a difference in air pressure, plants aren’t going to recognise that. It’s bull s**t. It’s true that that there are certain genomes in humans and plants that are the same and 50% of our genes are in common with a banana but it doesn’t mean we can have a conversation with them.”