Vicky Farncombe talks to a man who discovered a hidden talent for creating stunning gardens.
When his beloved father died 12 years ago, grief threw David Robinson into a major life crisis.
Working long hours as a top sales and marketing manager, he rarely saw his wife and three children and suddenly realised time was running out if he wanted to leave his mark on the world.
Having always loved doodling and creating gardens for friends, the impulsive handyman decided to pack in his job and retrain as a garden designer.
“I had a nine-year-old son, a mortgage and no savings,” says David, aged 56, reclining on a swinging wicker chair beside a swimming pool in one of his creations in Sutton Coldfield.
“But I bit the bullet and went back to college. I suppose I’d just realised life isn’t as long as you think it is. You should be doing something you love. Luckily my wife was very supportive.”
It may have seemed reckless but David is no stranger to risk.
Like entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson and Alan Sugar, the Burntwood-based grandfather was no academic and was expelled from college for truancy.
Eager to earn money, he trained as an electrician and by the age of 21 was running his own business. When that failed to make enough money, David moved into the interior design business – running a kitchen and bathroom showroom.
After that firm went bust, he moved into double glazing, which is where he discovered he had a talent for sales.
“But it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” says David. “I realised I wanted to leave a legacy. I wanted the name David Robinson to mean something. I wanted to be the best at something.”
When he decided to retrain, David was forced to downsize every aspect of his life. In his first year as a qualified designer he earned just £12,000. But his drive to be the best saw him grabbing every opportunity to develop, from designing gardens for free to showcasing his creations at home shows.
His hard work paid off.
Today the Birmingham-born businessman is regarded as one of the best designers in the country and for the second year running has been chosen to create the only show garden at Grand Designs Live, the exhibition behind the Channel Four TV programme hosted by Kevin McCloud.
More importantly for him he now has time to spend with his children and two grandchildren.
“I probably work harder now than I did in my last life but it’s my time. I can now go and watch my 30-year-old daughter play hockey and see my son play cricket. I’m a family man, I like to spend as much time as possible with my family. The dog’s wagging the tail now. I still work loads of hours but they are my hours,” he said.
Grand Designs Live will be held at Birmingham’s NEC from Friday (October8) until Sunday (October 10).
With a budget of just £8,000 David has created an autumnal/metallic garden that will form the centre-piece of the show.
“There’s going to be rusty steel pergolas, trees painted gold, conkers, pumpkins, leaves scattered everywhere. The colours will be fantastic,” says David, who keeps a note pad with him at all times to scribble down his ideas. “People will be able to talk through the garden and touch things.”