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Tim Smit: A Profile

TUESDAY 3rd September 2002
His humble mission is to tell the world the story of plants that changed history. With £40 million of lottery money and a will of iron, Tim Smit has spearheaded a campaign to turn a pit into a paradise.

Eden Project

His Eden Project in Cornwall boasts a convention of hexagonal eco-bubbles, massive greenhouses encapsulating Mediterranean landscapes, tropical rainforests and what Smit calls "a living theatre of plants". At the last count, 250,000 of them. The scale and beauty of his vision cannot fail to impress.

Nor can Smit himself, the 45-year-old Anglo-Dutch impresario blowing these giant bubbles. For the man some call the Richard Branson of Cornwall, this achievement follows success in many fields.

Record producer turned gardener

A disenchanted archaeology student turned millionaire record producer, Smit enjoyed popular triumph with artists including Barry Manilow and the Nolan Sisters. He reflects that his greatest contribution to music was to "do a Captain Oates and leave".

Eden isn't the first time Smit has dug a hole in the ground and struck gold. He moved to Cornwall in 1987. Underneath the next door bramble bushes, he discovered the remains of sumptious gardens dating back to the 12th century.

After two years of restoration, his Lost Gardens of Heligan became the subject of a television documentary and, with 350,000 visitors a year, one of the county's top tourist attractions.

Eden has provided challenges for even the scarily undaunted Smit. Complex finances and pioneering drainage systems are just two aspects of turning 900,000 tonnes of clay into fertile earth. He's also faced a royalty lawsuit from his original collaborator, but his chin remains high. He says, "If you are already perceived as a maverick, which I am, stuff like this doesn't damage you."

"An optimistic future"

Such stuff, then, is small, probably organic, potatoes for a man whose mission is a major ecological statement, to change the world into one where "plants provide a canvas on which we can paint an optimistic future."

The first reaction Smit wants from visitors to Eden is "a big wow". It seems that, for this dynamic botanical guru, not all his entertainment instincts have been left in the recording studio.