BROADCASTING legend Esther Rantzen hosted a belated 80th birthday party to raise funds for a Hampshire charity.

Dame Esther visited Furzey Gardens in the New Forest and spent several hours rubbing shoulders with fellow celebrities including TV gardener Charlie Dimmock.

The ten-acre woodland garden is run by the Minstead Trust, which supports hundreds of people with learning disabilities.

Money raised by Dame Esther's birthday bash will help the charity recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

The event was attended by Lord and Lady Montagu and the trust's founder, Tim Selwood. Music was provided by the Michelmersh Silver Band, which was performing for the first time since the start of the Covid crisis.

Dame Esther, who has a house in the Forest, presented the long-running TV show That's Life! and also founded Childline.

She turned 80 last summer but was forced to postpone her birthday celebrations because of the pandemic.

Furzey Gardens, which is open to the public, will mark its centenary next year.

Describing it as one of the jewels in Hampshire's crown Dame Esther said: "I was thrilled to be able to celebrate my birthday there and introduce my friends to the fantastic work being done.

"The chocolate cake was the best I’ve ever eaten and it was lovely to catch up with the wonderful Charlie Dimmock."

A trust spokesperson added: "Furzey Gardens is a tranquil woodland garden nestled deep in the New Forest National Park. The gardens provide support and work experience for people with learning disabilities.

"Guests at the event had the opportunity to meet people supported by the Trust, as well as the head gardener, Pete White."

The amount raised by the event will be known later.