Tributes to Wellingborough gardening guru Dave who welcomed Bob Marley to county

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Dave Watkins ran Fantasia nightclub and music venue before becoming a radio presenter

A Wellingborough schoolboy who went from managing a Northampton music venue to being a host of a county tourist attraction and radio programme has died after a short illness.

Dave Watkins was not only a much-loved voice as presenter BBC Radio Northampton's gardening programme for more than 25 years, but also a well-known face as host at Turner's Musical Merry-Go-Round in Northampton.

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His first management job in hospitality led to him giving a break in 1973 to a then little-known Jamaican artist and his band - Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Dave WatkinsDave Watkins
Dave Watkins

Married to wife Geraldine, known as Gedge, for 50 years, the father-of-three and devoted grandfather had been diagnosed with lung cancer before Christmas and chose to forgo treatment.

She said: "The first time he saw me he said he had just seen his future wife. He always said he was a lucky man, to meet me and have his children. He enjoyed every bit of his life, and although he came from, as he said, 'humble beginnings' he had a good life.

"We had a lovely life together. On his last day, we woke up and from his bed he could see the sunrise. The sky was on fire. Then it started to snow and it snowed all day long.

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"He could see it was snowing - he always loved the snow. Ryan, our son-in-law ,put a snowball in his hand and Dave put it on his face. It was the right day for him to go."

Geraldine 'Gedge' Watkins and Dave WatkinsGeraldine 'Gedge' Watkins and Dave Watkins
Geraldine 'Gedge' Watkins and Dave Watkins

Dave was born in London, in the middle of the Second World War on March 2, 1943, the son of Barbara, from a Wollaston family.

Being a single mum, Barbara moved in with her parents who owned a hotel in Margate where David had a happy childhood mucking in with the family business - cleaning rugs and even vacating his bedroom to make way for extra guests.

A very bright boy, after passing the eleven plus, Dave won a scholarship to Chartwell School, a place he had to give up when the family moved back to Northamptonshire and a house in Westfield Road. Dave carried on his schooling at the then Wellingborough Grammar School.

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After he left school he had a succession of jobs in the town and married his first wife - they had two children, Tim and Kirsty.

Dave Watkins with Noel EdmondsDave Watkins with Noel Edmonds
Dave Watkins with Noel Edmonds

It was whilst working as an events manager at The Salon Ballroom in Northampton, in 1969, that Geraldine and Dave's eyes met across the room. They married a year later and celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on December 12, 2020.

Geraldine said: "At least he was here to celebrate."

Using their experience in the hospitality trade, Dave and Gedge were headhunted to manage a new Northampton night spot - the Fantasia night club in Kings Heath, a brand new pub and disco.

Geraldine said: "Noel Edmonds from Radio 1 came to open it on July 1, 1971. We had some marvellous acts. We had gigs on Tuesdays and Thursdays which meant we would get the bands. Some of the groups had their own tour buses and slept there overnight.

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"We had Bob Marley and the Wailers do a gig and it snowed, they had never seen snow.

"People would come from all over the country. Admission was free but we would put a couple of pence on the drinks to cover the cost. It was very popular - we had band nights and discos the rest of the week.

"After three or four years, we were worn out. The hours were really long."

The couple left the pub trade and Dave enrolled on a horticultural course in Wisbech, hitch hiking back home to Hartwell at the weekends.

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Looking for work experience, Dave knocked on the door of a plant nursery in Harpole, the business of Nigel and Susan Turner.

As well as getting the experience he needed, the couples became firm friends.

Working at the nursery also led to Dave in 1982 being chosen to host the gardening show on the new BBC Radio station in Northampton.

Geraldine said: "They came to the nursery and said to Dave 'you've got good knowledge and a good radio speaking voice'. After a trial run he did the 'Over The Garden Fence' programme for 25 years.

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"He put together a panel of gardening experts and raised thousands of pounds for charities with their gardener's questions panel. "

A joint venture between Nigel and Susan and Geraldine and Dave saw the opening of Turner's Musical Merry-Go-Round in Northampton in 1983 - a collection of fairground organs and amusements with on site catering, with Dave as the first host.

Geraldine said: "David's life was the fun of the chase. He didn't like to be confined within four walls, he wanted to go out and do his gardening.

"His horticultural work took him to America and New Zealand, he was the special guest on a cruise ship - that's when we started going on cruises.

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"Our daughter Jenny who was born in 1981, got engaged on a cruise, and married her husband Ryan on a cruise ship by the captain."

Geraldine and Dave moved to Irthlingborough to a house overlooking the Nene Valley, to be close to Jenny and her family, and despite living with worsening COPD, the couple created their dream garden.

Jenny Reece said: "He was a lucky, happy man that always wanted a family. It was my job to look after him, make him proud and carry his legacy.

"He was a very funny chap and would go out of his way for people."

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The family are asking for donations for Marie Curie who supported Dave in his last weeks.

Jenny added: "Without the support of these nurses my father would have suffered more than he had too or needed too. We have found the most caring compassionate normal people doing a job that most of us couldn’t face."

Dave is survived by wife Geraldine, children Tim, Kirsty and Jenny and grandchildren Pippa, Kieran, Thomas and Aimee.

His funeral will be at St Peter's Church, Irthlingborough on February 16 at 2.30pm. The Last Post will be played after the service before a private committal at Nene Valley Crematorium, Wellingborough.