Do you know how sexy plumbing is? asks Dick Strawbridge. “It’s not! But it’s so, so important,” he laughs. In fact, corrects his wife, Angel, “our thermal store is a sexy thing, it’s like the London Underground, but in copper. It’s really amazing.
The Strawbridges and their bubbly banter need no introduction. Their hit show, Getaway to the Castlebroadcast on Channel 4 over the past six years, has seen millions of viewers tune in to follow the couple as they set out to restore the 150-year-old Chateau de la Motte-Husson to its former glory.
Accompanied by their children Arthur and Dorothy, the couple rolled up their sleeves to renovate every inch of the property themselves. The chateau has six floors, 45 bedrooms (“ish”, they joke, “it depends how you define ‘chamber’”, an orangery, a barn, a pigsty, an enclosed garden, a “lavoire-du-chateau” , a ditch and 12 acres of woods, its scale representing eight series.With the couple’s easy way in front of the cameras, it’s the ultimate feel-good TV.
The upcoming ninth series will be their last and while the headlines followed that the show had been canceled by Channel 4 when they made the announcement earlier this month, the gossip couldn’t be further from the truth.
“You know what, we wanted to go out on a high,” smiled Angel. “Rather than someone asking us to stop!” Dick chimes, and the couple quickly break down in laughter. “There’s still so much to do in the house, we could probably go on for a few more years, but every year we say to ourselves, does it feel good to do another series? Because it’s not a format as such, it’s our family life. With Arthur turning 10 in January and Dorothy turning nine next year, it was a natural time to stop. Instead, the duo turn to uncovering French artisanal secrets for a new show that will air in 2023.
During their original program so far, they have pooled all their resources to transform their home, with former British army colonel and engineer turned TV presenter Dick, 63, tackling the work of construction and construction and founder and founder of The Vintage Patisserie. vintage tea author Angel, 44, applying her creative vision to her decoration. The result is an eclectic mix of cool British and French sights wrapped in retro charm.
“There’s a lot of whimsy, but there are also times when it’s regal with my love of old royal memorabilia, which comes from my vintage tea years,” she says. “We’re very proud to be British and it’s strewn all over the place, intermingled with areas of French history.”
When its former aristocratic Italian owners, the Baglioni family, left the castle, they took “what they considered valuable,” says Angel, “but what they thought was no treasure took it. been for us.Found daybeds, trunks, records, recently a train – we always find bits of it everywhere.
The couple are famous for their pride in reusing and restoring virtually everything. “The mindset of taking care of old things rather than buying new ones is so important,” says Dick, who, when he’s not designing the layouts of the house, makes furniture. “We have an understated sustainability message going on, from the food we grow in the walled garden to everything we conserve and restore, we always do our best to go to our stuff store before we spend – which may sound silly considering we live in a castle, but that’s our philosophy.
One of the most famous heirlooms were vintage wallpaper samples that Angel found perfectly preserved and turned into wallpaper for their turret library. So many people asked where they could buy it, it formed the basis of his homeware collection, now in its third year.
And to think that it almost never was. After meeting in 2010, the couple started house hunting in Morocco only to find everything was out of their price range. It was on Christmas holidays together in a simple rental near Carcassonne later in the year that they were seduced by “the simple life” and the €10,000 property price in the area, and refocused their research. Initially, they were settled in a small house like the one in which they lived. ‘ said Dick.
“It didn’t help at all, we had just watched A good year with Russell Crowe and, of course, I was completely sold,” Angel laughs. “One evening while we were still there I started looking at the lower price brackets, then some higher ones, and by the end of the evening I was looking at 6 million pound castles! I think that’s when I said, “Let’s go get the stars and see what we get.”
Casting their net wide from the Pyrenees to Pas-de-Calais, it took nightly searches, 10 trips, four years and “a lot of relatives” before they were alerted by a real estate agent they had previously hired that “a small castle” in the French market town of Martigné-sur-Mayenne was about to hit the market. As fate would have it, they were in France at the time and had already decided to film their journey. “like a TV adventure,” so had brought along a cameraman friend. “I knew it was the one as soon as we saw it,” says Angel, who “practically didn’t wait for the front door is opened before you make an offer,” divulged Dick.
They bought it for €345,000 in October 2014, plus an additional €50,000 for land in the walled garden which was essential for their privacy. The following January they packed up the car in east London and moved to France with the Channel 4 cameras in tow.
With the castle empty for 40 years, Dick spent the first month sorting out “the grimy stuff that made it unsafe for kids”. Surviving with a basic heating system that lasted three hours straight, they had only one power outlet (“We had quite a few extension cords sticking out of it”) and a massive wake-up call from flies. But as the weather warmed, their grand plan began to take shape.
The following summer, the couple held their own wedding at the castle, paving the way for a lucrative business that benefits from Angel’s vintage hospitality past and now sees them host up to 15 ceremonies a year and the six suites of eight rooms that they renovated fully occupied. Catering to eight courses for 80 people at a time requires Angel’s famous collection of china and glassware to be polished and presented in all their glory. “Oh my God, I’m going to sit down and count it all one day, but I’m going to guess and say there’s maybe 10,000 items,” she admits.
Nearly a decade later, the pair are still brimming with the same enthusiasm that made them such welcome guests in people’s living rooms. “It might not be everyone’s dream, but I think a lot of people can relate to a family going on an adventure,” says Dick. “We always smile when we walk down the aisle, so it must still work for us after all these years of transplants.”
Their advice to anyone who wants to do the same? “Do it,” he said. “People make excuses, but taking the first step and going all out is what you have to do. It may not be about buying a castle, but about having an adventure. Life is all about it: you only get one pass. It’s like the Chinese proverb: “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.”
The new series of Escape to the Château starts on October 30 at 8 p.m. on Channel 4 (lechateau.tv)