UK
06/12/2013 06:04 GMT | Updated 06/12/2013 11:15 GMT

Nelson Mandela Revealed A Different Side When He Appeared On Ground Force With Alan Titchmarsh

Throughout his life, even as the first black president of South Africa, a Nobel Prize winner and father of a nation, Nelson Mandela remained resolutely the man of the people, keen on gardening and growing his own vegetables.

So much so, he appeared on the BBC's gardening show Ground Force, when Alan Titchmarsh, Charlie Dimmock and Tommie Walsh flew to his garden on South African's Eastern Cape, to give it a surprise makeover.

This is for real.

mandela ground force

A BBC trailer advertising the show

The BBC team flew to South Africa in 1999, to film for the show's millennium special. Mandela's wife Graca Machel and Ahmed Kathrada, one of Mandela's fellow prisoners on Robben Island, pitched in to help the team transform the garden.

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Help for the tricky task came from Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, and one of his closest friends, former political prisoner Ahmed Kathrada.

They built a pergola, and two water features - two long ponds crossed by a bridge and commissioned some large terracotta pots from a nearby pottery.

Alan Titchmarsh, unsurprisingly, said it was "one garden I would never have dreamt I'd find myself making," in an interview with the BBC.

"Nelson Mandela is one of the world's most inspirational figures. His struggle has been a lesson to us all and I was particularly struck reading in his memoirs how important gardening became to him during his imprisonment.

"We were all incredibly excited and a bit nervous about this transformation. Pulling it off is a real once in a lifetime moment for everyone."

Mandela was on a trip to the US at the time, and returned to find his garden transformed.

His first reaction was bemusement. Carol Haslam, the executive producer of Ground Force, told the Guardian at the time that Mandela seemed confused to find the BBC team in his garden.

"We had to explain that we'd come from the BBC to do his garden, but he was charming."

It wasn't his all-time favourite moment, however. Mandela described meeting the Spice Girls as "the best day of my life."

A heroic leader, with an awesome sense of humour.