Dick Strawbridge and wife Angel Adoree relocated from the UK in 2015 to do up a run-down 5-storey chateau with 45 rooms in Mayenne, Pays de la Loire, France. “It was cheaper than a one-bedroom flat in East London” says Dick – but it needed a lot of work to transform it into the home and good life they wanted, and to create an income earning business.
Janine Marsh talks to Dick and Angel about life at the Chateau and their top tips for those who dream of escaping to the chateau…
A legion of fans
Millions have watched the intrepid couple, the stars of TV Series “Escape to the Chateau” as they’ve painstakingly restored the Chateau-de-La-Motte Husson with its tall towers and pretty orangerie where they now host weddings.
No strangers to TV, Dick with his distinctive moustache, has appeared in shows like Scrapheap Challenge, It’s Not Easy Being Green and Celebrity Masterchef. Red-head Angel has a passion for 1940s clothes and all things vintage, she’s an author and founder of The Vintage Patisserie which she presented on TV show Dragons Den in 2010, winning over the panel and public with her pluck and passion.
With Escape to the Chateau, they’ve inspired a huge audience with the dedication and hard work they’ve put into transforming their chateau into a gorgeous new home and business. Bringing up two young children, 5-year-old Arthur and 4-year-old Dorothy, renovating a huge home, creating a business which will earn them an income and pay for the work needed on the chateau hasn’t been easy. But it’s made for riveting viewing and has led to a spin off series “Escape to the Chateau DIY” in which we’ve seen more plucky Brits take on chateaux and get some advice and sometimes practical help from Dick and Angel.
Dick, 59, and Angel, 40, have also inspired a legion of fans to consider a move to France to start a new life. Leggett Immobillier, top estate agents in France say that each time an episode of the Escape to the Chateau DIY is shown, they see a massive jump in chateau search numbers on their website! They’ve not just seen viewings increase but sales too.
It seems that many of us dream of escaping to our very own chateau in France – but just how realistic is it?
What has been the worst job you’ve had to take on at the chateau and – knowing what you know now, would you have done it differently?
Probably clearing the bird droppings from the attic – it wasn’t the smell it was the very fine dust. And of course, we did it in the summer when it was extremely hot! Reckon we’d make it a winter job if we did it again.
Clearly renovating a chateau and starting a new business from scratch isn’t all a bed of roses – what motivates you to keep going?
We love that we’ve brought the chateau back to life! Yes, there are challenges and a project like this is a marathon not a sprint, but we are doing it for the family and that is more than enough motivation.
Millions watch you on the telly and dream about following in your footsteps – what three key pieces of advice would you give them when starting out?
Do it for the right reasons – know what you want and then go for it. That way problems will always be overcome rather than putting an end to your dream.
Have a plan. Planning ahead must include how you are going to live and earn money. This will also help you when you’re prioritising renovations.
Be patient, the search is all part of the journey so don’t settle for something that isn’t absolutely right for you. We know a wise lady who always says, ‘if it’s meant for you, it won’t go by you.’
What would be your top tips for starting any business in France that involves the hospitality service – gites, B&B, cafés, weddings etc.
Do the sums – a quaint tea room will not pay for a chateau. Know your target customers – if you are interested in the British market think about their travel.
There’s a lot of competition so what makes you stand out? Invest in good photography, a website and social media. This will be the most cost-effective way to promote your business.
One of the things people love when watching the show is that you seem very “real”. We can tell when Dick is exasperated with one of Angel’s ideas, and when Angel is peeved that Dick doesn’t get her vision! How do you manage to still make it seem such fun!
We have the same goal and although sometimes we may have different ideas about how things can/should be done. We trust each other’s instincts. There are always going to be challenges but we’re both equally focused. We’re in love with this project and creating the life we want for ourselves and Arthur and Dorothy.
What are you most proud of in your new life in France?
Not sure pride is the right term, but we know we have made the decision. And, we are bloody minded enough to succeed in all aspects of our venture.
Where do you find your best bargains?
Emmaus [charity shops where you’ll find a great range of furniture and more [read how to find an Emmaus store here]. Flea markets, brocantes and eBay! (How to find a brocante wherever you are in France).
Would you do it all again?
In a heartbeat. We really are living our dream and we wouldn’t change it for the world.
Were you ever afraid of taking on such a huge project or did you just believe that you could succeed?
We have always been sure we can do this, but it’s not just good luck, you have to plan. And, it’s worth remembering – you eat an elephant a bite at a time!
Can you tell us a bit about the events you’re running?
We currently host Weddings, Fun & Festivities and Gardening Work Days, as well as a few Food Lovers Weekends. We also have a new unique glamping experience ‘Chateau under the Stars’. All our events capitalise on the local produce that is so impressive in the Pays de le Loire. The Food Lovers Weekend at the Chateau means sampling plenty of amazing food and drink. The weekend starts with us hosting all the guests for a meal of many courses. Then, after a trip to the local market at Laval, we all cook together. It’s seasonal produce and dishes that many have not been brave enough to attempt.
What plans do you have for the future?
It’s fair to say there’s a lot left to do at the chateau. We haven’t really started some of the very big jobs, like re-doing our windows and replacing the roof. And, if you add converting the outbuildings to the ‘to do list’, there’s no shortage of things to keep us occupied.
There are also a couple of other very exciting projects in the pipeline for next year, but at the moment our lips are sealed!
See Dick and Angels top do’s and don’ts for those considering moving to France
Find out more about Chateau-de-la-Mote Husson events and Dick and Angel: chateaudelamottehusson.com
More on Chateaux stories in France
Chateau de Gudanes – a gorgeous abandoned chateau, rescued by a family who saw it on the internet!
Chateau Le Mung – rescued from ruin