Real Life: a makeup artist in Charente

Carey Hawkins

Carey Hawkins - Credit: Archant

Having fallen in love with France on happy childhood holidays, Carey Hawkins explains how the arrival of her own daughter inspired her to finally live her dream

Carey's home near La Rochefoucauld, Charente

Carey's home near La Rochefoucauld, Charente - Credit: Archant

As a teenager I always wanted to live abroad and spent many happy family holidays in France, taking a great interest in the language and culture of the country. I thought about working as an au pair in France after leaving school and even dreamt of one day marrying a Frenchman.

When my husband (a Londoner born and bred) and I met we discussed our shared love of France and the possibility of buying a holiday home together there. We visited many different regions, but after a holiday in Charente we decided that we loved the area and to make a permanent move there.

Our daughter Isabelle was eight months old at the time and we felt that it was important that we had this experience with her while she was very young, so that she had no attachments to the UK and would grow up bilingual.

We started investigating rental properties in that area when luckily a friend of ours mentioned an opportunity to house-sit an eight-bedroom home over winter, to the south of Bergerac in the beautiful bastide town of Monflanquin. This was the push that we needed and in a 48-hour whirlwind visit to the house to meet the owners (who are now great friends) and see the property, we agreed to begin the house-sit in the September of 2010.

Both of us are organised people so we created a huge to-do list flip chart to get everything done, bought or investigated before we made the move. This included healthcare, the car, starting a small business in France and so on.

We decided that we would rent our house out in London (and put all our furniture in storage) so if we were not happy we had a safety net and also a little bit of income too.

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The next challenge was finding and establishing work for both of us. I am a freelance make-up artist/hairstylist with 10 years’ experience in the industry, mainly working for television and film.

I had also worked on weddings in Surrey and London and so decided that this would be my key to finding work. I contacted various wedding planners, photographers and venues around the area we were moving to and was pleased to find out that they all needed this type of service for their brides. So I basically took my existing website and had a duplicate site translated into French too. I did 10 weddings in my first year, and five years on I do around 30 per year all over France.

Once we arrived at the house and settled into our routine, we decided to put Isabelle into crèche three mornings a week to help with her French. We felt that it was very important for her to be exposed to the language as much as possible right at the start. We spent time reading basic French books to her and listening to French nursery rhymes, but were told very quickly by the crèche that they would take care of the French and our job was to teach our daughter English. This is the fastest way for a child to become bilingual.

She loved crèche but did not utter a word in French for at least a year. I now understand this is normal but at the time thought it was all just too hard for her.

The initial excitement of finding ourselves in France changed to the harsh reality of our first French winter. A large eight-bedroom, three-storey house is a dream place but so cold in the winter. In 2010 France had its coldest winter in over a decade and we even had a white Christmas. The town we lived in was really a summer tourist town so most of the shops and restaurants were closed, with the nearest supermarket a 20-minute drive away. You suddenly miss the 24-hour society you left behind, and simple pleasures like a takeaway.

Four years on we own a gorgeous house near La Rochefoucauld in Charente. Isabelle has been in the local school for the same amount of time and she amazes us every day when we hear her speaking two languages fluently. I am actively involved in school life, going there once a week to read to the maternelle children in English.

We have fantastic neighbours and try to go to all the local events in our commune, which has helped us integrate quickly. There are many funny stories to tell about the many mistakes we have made with the language over the years, but the one thing that has helped us both is not worrying if you do make them.

Tom now has two jobs. He runs a mobile car-valeting company and is an agent commercial for a Charente-based estate agent.

We are always asked why we moved to France and there really are too many reasons to list. My favourites are that our daughter can be bilingual, the lifestyle and climate, the family values of the French, the simpler life, and, of course, the open spaces and sky.