As she launches her Sainsbury's Home range, Gabrielle Fagan talks to Escape To The Chateau's Angel Strawbridge about style, dreams and finding joy.
Meeting Angel Strawbridge – unmistakable with her bright red hair and trademark mega-watt smile – is like encountering a whirlwind of energy and enthusiasm.
She and her husband, Dick, have found fame as the eccentric and totally irresistible couple on Channel 4’s popular series, Escape To The Chateau.
Viewers have been enthralled by their challenging journey renovating and transforming the dilapidated 19th century Chateau-de- la-Motte-Husson in France into a stunning family home and wedding venue, where they live with their children, Arthur, six, and Dorothy, five.
Their love for each other is as much a part of the show’s success as their love for the chateau. Dick, as cheery as he appears on screen, keeps a vigilant eye out for Angel’s pet dread – spiders – whenever they crop up.
“That’s so lovely but the only trouble is he often mistakes my false eye lashes for spiders and throws them away too,” says Angel, 41, giggling affectionately.
“But ours truly is a big, fat love story. It was love at first sight when Dick and I met. My heart literally was fluttering and pounding when I saw him. After our first date, we both knew we didn’t ever want to leave each other.
“Then we moved to France and I had another love-at-first-sight moment, when I saw a picture of the chateau online. I really trust my instinct and would have bought it without visiting, but Dick sensibly insisted we check it out first!”
That life-changing moment came in 2015, just after they’d traded in their two-bedroom flat in Essex to move to France – and has undoubtedly paid dividends. They paid just £280,000 for the 45-room property and endless grounds, but it’s now a hugely successful enterprise.
They’re just about to embark on a nationwide UK tour (Feb 23-March 23) talking about their adventures – and Angel’s launched her own home accessories and fragrance range, The Chateau by Angel Strawbridge, for Sainsbury’s Home.
The pair seem perfectly matched in skills as well as outlook. A former Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army, engineer and chef Dick has a wealth of TV experience – appearing on Scrapheap Challenge, It’s Not Easy Being Green, and Celebrity MasterChef.
Angel is an entrepreneur, designer, author of The Vintage Tea Party book series, and a successful Dragons’ Den contestant.
“We’re both genuine grafters, who aren’t afraid of hard work,” says Angel. “Dick’s a brilliant troubleshooter and totally practical. His favourite expression is: ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’.
“I have the view that if you just have the courage to give something a go, you can achieve anything you want, so we’re a good combination. We didn’t want to just dream about a fantastic life in France, we wanted to create it.”
What does the chateau mean to you?
“We’ve given this our all but it’s been a real bonding experience too. It’s definitely our forever home. The work transforming it has felt relentless at times but so enjoyable.
“We’re both so proud of it – when we first moved here in the middle of winter there was no running water, heating or electricity, bats in the bedrooms and the only sanitation was the moat surrounding the property. You had to love the place, otherwise you’d have given up.
“For me, it’s a brilliant combination – a truly beautiful home, where we can raise our kids and run our weddings business. I’m a total wedding junkie and would carry on doing them even if I ever became a millionaire.”
How would you describe your style?
“Eclectic, whimsical and always vintage, because that’s the underpinning of everything I do. I’ve been a fan from five-years old and spent my pocket money collecting Fifties’ trinkets and tea sets from car-boot sales and second-hand shops, then moved onto clothes as a teenager.
“My mega collection of tea sets and British and royalist memorabilia is brilliant for curated displays. I can never resist a little bit of fantasy, like one wall decorated with 3D butterflies, and the kids’ playroom with its vintage helter-skelter.
“I’m always using foliage from our garden to bring nature into the rooms. In my book, you can create anything you want in your home – it’s a place to have fun, explore and be creative.”
Where do you get your inspiration?
“I have a very open mind, partly because I’m dyslexic – I didn’t learn to read until I was 11. In a way, it was brilliant because I never had my brain swamped by academics, which allowed my creative side to flourish. I was always good at business though, I’m a qualified accountant, and the two skills are a great blend.
“Often, something inspires me when Dick and I go ‘thrifting’ – one of our favourites outings – when we browse French second-hand markets and antique shops for everything from linens, china and glasses through to taxidermy.
“The children love it too. Dorothy’s inherited my passion for tea sets. She’ll squeal with excitement and say, ‘Mum, you will love this!’, if she spots something.”
What’s your colour palette?
“When I was living in London, it was very much red, white and blue and a little bit of Victorian darkness. But now the house reflects a brighter kind of French Provincial style, with loads of ochre, dusty pink, lavender, and greens.
“I’ve used the same soft colour palette for my new Escape To The Chateau fragrance range for Sainsbury’s, and the scents are inspired by the plants and flowers that surround the house.
“I rely a lot on my sixth sense, my intuition, and I’ll just shut my eyes and think, ‘Will this look or that colour look right?’, and make my decision based on that. It usually works.”
Do you and Dick agree on all the decor decisions?
“Dick pretty well allows me a free rein. We never fall out but we have passionate discussions – if you’re madly in love like we are, those are just fluff around the outside. We’re not arguing about values – just the little details.
“He has one rule that we’re not allowed to redo decorating while we’re still finishing the chateau. But I’m naughty and can’t resist adding new details and changes here and there while Dick’s away! It’s a bit of a joke between us.”
How do you feel about this time in your life?
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. There’s never enough hours in the day – I often get up at 2am so I can get a head-start on work before the kids rampage into our room. This year, we both want to focus on a bit of ‘me’ time – the nearest I get is half an hour soaking in a bath!
“But it’s wonderful being together as a family – my parents live in a converted outhouse next door and are a great support. Although people may recognise us from the TV when we go back to London, in France we’re just ‘the people who do weddings and live in the chateau’.
“It’s wonderful watching the kids grow up here and they’re involved with everything we do, helping with the cooking and chores.
“You can have a really tough day but when they get home from school, we spend time with them, no computers or phones on, and it’s like a natural medicine. Any problems melt away.”
What’s your ambition for the future?
“We are literally in this whirlwind of amazing-ness and it’s been such a journey, with ups and downs and huge highs. We’re always just trying to be better at doing what we do, and be a great example for the kids.
“But really we don’t look too far ahead, because what we’re really good at is enjoying every moment and never taking anything for granted.”