Deni Daniel and Doug Ibbs became TV stars in 2004 when having bought a house in France off the internet – see our introduction To the Manoir Born Part I and Part II – they were filmed for UK TV’s Grand Designs series rebuilding the wreck of Chez Jallot in Creuse in the Limousin region.
Here they reveal how the beginning of their new life and career as mine hosts in France was filmed – the good and the not so good in the Grand Designs French House series…
TV companies are always looking to inject a bit of drama no matter what the subject matter of the programme. Even a programme like Grand Designs which is about renovating, restoring and designing houses has to hike the viewer’s interest. A bit of “will they, won’t they” and making a mountain out of a small problem always grabs attention and so it was for us.
Of course we had seen Grand Designs on the telly before and we were amazed to see one couple let themselves be seen arguing (in a very childish way) whilst the cameras were rolling. “For Heaven’ Sake” we said to each other, “you only have to be nice for about two days a month, what is the problem?”
When it came to our “performance” for the cameras, we never argued (at least not in front of the cameras!) so the things they chose to highlight were our lack of French, a worry over the delivery of the slate and a carpenter whose idea of a deadline was flexible to say the least. His usual answer to “when” was “une quinzieme”, which basically means 15 days or any time thereafter. Each time we visited his workshop we were served champagne, a great delaying tactic but he turned up trumps in the end. Even the TV Company didn’t have to make a drama out of that one, it was for real.
People often ask us if it is really difficult being filmed, did we feel self-conscious? Were we embarrassed? Well, actually the answer is no, not really. The director and her assistant became our good friends over the year of filming, so being in front of a camera wasn’t at all traumatic and it was very much a fly on the wall approach. It was just like having someone talking over your shoulder whilst working, and not at all intrusive.
When the programme presenter, Kevin McCloud, was on site, all work stopped for two days and we had to be ready to do certain tasks and take part in interviews. These were rest days for us. We got to wear clean clothes and were taken out for good meals in a nice local restaurant. Quite a treat for a couple of scruffy builders living in a site caravan and roughing it every day.
We were amazed at the hours the crew put in over the filming period, often working 12 hour days, setting up and moving loads of equipment for each shot or location. At one point there was a small railway line to take a camera running through our lounge, across the hall and into the kitchen. The end shot took about 10 minutes to do and two hours to set up and dismantle.
There are a few memories that will haunt us for ever regarding the filming. Waiting outside our main bathroom, the director ushered all the crew inside and then came out and said, “Just act natural, and concentrate on Kevin”. When we walked into the bathroom – the sound man was sat on the toilet, the director on the bidet and there was a cameraman and an assistant standing in the bath! Acting natural in a moment like that wasn’t easy when you’re trying really hard not to laugh.
Another thing we had to remember was that during film days we were fitted with a microphone and transmitter so where ever we were, whatever we said and whatever noises we made were recorded. And did we remember to switch it off when answering a call of nature? Oh no.
Would we do it again? The filming yes. The building? We’re not so sure. Even after ten years we’re still finding projects to do. It’s a labour of love and despite us saying “no more projects” there is always another one lurking around the corner.
Of course once the excitement of the filming was over we had to find a way to make a living. Funds were very, very [OK one more for luck] very low so with just two completed bedrooms, a kitchen and dining room, we opened the doors of Chez Jallot to guests, as a chambres d’hôtes.
Our first visitors must have been total enthusiasts because the house was less than half finished. Our day consisted of – get up, prepare breakfast, clear up breakfast, service the rooms, change clothes, do about 6 hours work on the house, clear up the mess, shower, change clothes, prepare an evening meal, eat with our guests, fall in to bed exhausted.
Somehow amongst all this Deni managed to keep a large vegetable garden on the go and we both had to be involved with food shopping, washing and ironing. We look back now and wonder where all the energy came from. Perhaps it was the thought of leaving our lovely house and having to get real jobs that kept us going.
Our guest list is truly international thanks to the TV programme. The UK figures highly but is closely followed by Australia and New Zealand, most European countries, America, Canada, South Africa, Japan, Middle East, Malaysia and so it goes on.
People come here for a holiday and we try very hard to make sure that they relax and chill out. One of our biggest problems it stopping guests helping during the evening meal. We encourage everyone to help themselves to tea/coffee if we’re not around, but clearing the table? Definitely not, that’s our job although it is good to know that our guests feel so at home here.
We love the whole business of hosting guests. It doesn’t seem to matter what mix of people there are around the table, the evenings are always lively and the conversation rolls from one subject to the next with hardly a break. We share the meal with our guests and have been lucky to meet some amazing characters. Travel stories always interest us, but just some stories of everyday life make you think either, wow, that’s great or at the other end of the spectrum, we’re glad that never happened to us. There’s nothing like real life to make a good story and for us to be able to share with our guests is a real bonus that we never envisaged.