Sheffield’s allotment challenge star aims for the final

Rob Smith’s television journey began with a Twitter message received out of the blue.

The producers of the BBC series The Big Allotment Challenge were looking for contestants for the programme’s second series - and would Rob be interested in trying out for a screen test?

“I’d had a couple of drinks and thought it was a good idea so I agreed,” he said. And after meeting Rob the producers liked what they saw - offering him a place on the show the very same day as the test.

The 35-year-old - who grew up just over the North East Derbyshire border in Killamarsh, but firmly identifies as a Sheffielder - is now one of the leading faces in the Allotment Challenge, broadcast on BBC Two on Friday nights.

This week’s show sees Rob battling through the semi-final, in the hope of making it all the way to the last episode and being crowned winner.

Each challenge comprises three tasks - grow, make and eat - overseen by judges Jim Buttress, Jonathan Moseley and Thane Prince.

Last week Rob impressed with his cherry tomatoes - praised for their ‘lovely sheen’ - and picked up best in show for a Rudbeckia arrangement, but a pair of sweet and savoury jams drew some disapproving comments.

Tomorrow he can be seen growing okra, making a helichrysum table swag and getting to grips with pickles and chutneys.

“It’s brilliant that I’ve managed to get so far,” said Rob.

“It’s quite daunting now that it’s real and I’m in with a chance of winning.”

He was filmed on location in the walled garden at the Mapledurham Estate in Oxfordshire from April to August last year, so must keep the outcome a secret, although the thrill of public recognition is still to come. “No-one has come up to me and said ‘Are you that guy off the Big Allotment Challenge?’ yet!”

The programme has been pegged as the gardening version of the Great British Bake Off, but there are differences.

“Sometimes on the Bake Off, if a contestant messes up on a bake they can throw it away, but if we can’t do that. We grow for a set date and if you mess up that’s your chance gone, really.”

Rob became a keen allotment grower as a child, using a patch of land beside his parents’ house.

A move to an apartment in Brighton meant his allotment work was put on hold, but eight years ago he moved back up to Kiveton Park and took a plot in Todwick, Rotherham.

The allotment is a welcome break from his day job as a cabin crew member for Virgin Atlantic.

“Sometimes when you’re flying around the world you just want to be at home - it does ground you, although I know that sounds like a pun!”