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Ground Force's tribute to Dando

PUBLISHED: 14:51 21 August 2001 | UPDATED: 10:28 03 March 2010

By DEBBIE WATSON



When Jill Dando tragically lost her life two years ago, few felt the pain of her death more than her former colleagues at the Evening Star's sister paper, The Weston Mercury.

By DEBBIE WATSON

When Jill Dando tragically lost her life two years ago, few felt the pain of her death more than her former colleagues at the Evening Star's sister paper, The Weston Mercury.

This week those friends, with the help of the BBC Ground Force team, will finally unveil their concept for a beautiful garden tribute in Jill's name.

Debbie Watson exclusively previews the creation of Jill's Garden, to be screened on televsion this Friday.

Hers was a face that had smiled into the homes of millions of TV viewers.

Bursting with energy, enthusiasm and beauty, Jill Dando was one of life's rare and natural finds.

And so, when news of her cruel death broke on that day back in April 1999, the entire country was quite simply stunned.

She had left a huge and irreplaceable hole.

Few felt that immediate sense of grief more so than her former journalistic colleagues. They knew of her wit, her wisdom and her charm – they would feel its loss so greatly.

In the picturesque town of Weston super Mare, Jill had long been known as the 'town's favourite daughter'.

She was a true 'star' in the eyes of all who had met her, and that affectionate title became a fitting reminder of the girl who rose to national recognition on the TV screens of homes everywhere.

The young Dando had first cut her teeth as a reporter with the Weston and Somerset Mercury, after initial training in Wales.

It was there that she would begin to show the radiant personality for which she became so well liked. It was there that she would make so many firm and life-long friends – and there that her death would be felt as a huge and horrific blow.

It was even in the height of their grief, that the Mercury team began to imagine the concept of a lasting memorial in their "daughter's" name.

They wanted something special to mark the beauty and joy which only Jill Dando had been able to give.

And, what better than a garden to do just that.

They imagined a place with as much physical, visual and pleasing presence as the TV star had been able to offer.

It would celebrate a life. It would remember a true one-off.

Before long, talk was translating into action with great speed. The newspaper knew the perfect venue for a home town tribute to Jill, and they knew just who they wanted to fulfil their dream.

"We contacted Ground Force and, working closely with North Somerset Council, the team agreed to transform the sunken rose garden at the front of Grove House," explained Mercury's managing editor, Judy Kisiel.

"Ground Force agreed to a summer visit as long as there were two conditions: the plans had to remain a closely guarded secret, and the council had to provide disabled access."

Of all the thousands of requests received by the BBC team, Jill's memorial was granted their attention. It was the start of a heart-rending and deeply emotional horticultural quest.

In the early morning of July 2nd – the same day that Barry George was found guilty of Jill's murder – work finally began on the mammoth project.

Alan Titchmarsh surveyed his new canvas. He knew it was up to him to design a real masterpiece, and he was not about to let any of Jill's many friends, family or colleagues down.

Together with Charlie Dimmock, Tommy Walsh and Will Shanahan, Alan led the creation of the place which would simply be called 'Jill's Garden'.

In just three days, a host of volunteers and friends would help to transform a tired old garden into a place of genuine beauty, a place which would reflect the love that Jill's grief-stricken family and colleagues had all felt so desperately for the star.

Truck loads of roses were planted, a dreary pond was given new life, and four trees was placed in the garden's corners to reflect each season.

It was a huge event – but a rewarding one for sure.

Even Jill's former co-host, Nick Ross, arrived to place specially designed ceramic tiles in a wall – they bore one simple word…. 'Jill'.

In true Ground Force style, the team found themselves struggling to beat the clock in the final stages, but driven by an unusual motivation, they completed their incredible, unique, and truly beautiful project on time.

It was a perfect vision in the eyes of the people who will miss Jill the most.

Her brother, her father, her fiancé and her colleagues, were all able to share in the breath-taking transformation which now stands proudly at the heart of Weston-Super-Mare.

To all those who took part in this labour of love, it was a fitting, a painstaking, and a well-deserved mark to one woman's life.

Week by week, and all year through, this garden will go on exuding colour, scent and beauty, in the self same way that Jill Dando's spirit lives on in her small and treasured home town.

Weblink:

www.thewestonmercury.co.uk

nVarious flowers have been used in the garden to capture Jill's radiance. These include French Lavender, Turkish Hazel and white wonder bells.

nA new species of roses, named the Jill Dando, were also planted in the garden by her brother.

nThe Ground Force special 'A garden for Jill' will be shown on Friday on BBC 1 at 8.30pm.

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