Nick Hewer, Lord Sugar’s right-hand man on the BBC’s The Apprentice, loves the French way of life and enjoys the tranquillity and civility of his adopted home in southwest France, as he tells Alison Brown
What is your earliest memory of France?Probably the earliest memory is when our family went to the south of France with an uncle and an aunt and their children. There were about six kids all together and we drove down there. I was about nine and we had a riotous holiday. I remember all the kids sitting at the bar in a long line drinking coloured drinks, bright blue drinks. And also the keys to the rooms were kept in a big jar on the table in the hall and we all made a rush for it and smashed the jar. We were very unpopular.
What is it about southwest France that made you choose to have a home there? My business partner bought a house near Toulouse (pictured below) many years ago and I borrowed it once or twice and started to look around there. It’s quite near to a motorway and local airports. France is a beautiful country and it’s well looked after and loved by its citizens. It’s underpopulated compared to Britain. The food is wonderful. I find the people entirely charming. I think they’re very civilised and have come to terms with a balance between work and life.
Didn’t you come out of retirement in France to work on The Apprentice? That’s quite a contrast.Yes I did, but I go back a lot. I think it’s a country of great balance. I dare say they have their problems in the cities but I think it’s a very well adjusted society. They’re not mad about making money. They’re not show-offs in terms of material things. I think they have a sense of tranquillity and calm – they’re not all charging after the almighty dollar or euro. Lunch is important and Sundays are very important. I find it is going home for me actually. Has France helped you to achieve that balance? Yes, absolutely, when I’m there I do very little. I’ve got friends there. I take my dog down. My partner Katherine comes down from time to time, she’s more a homebody in England. I really lead quite a quiet life there, which suits me fine. I have a very noisy existence in the UK. It’s all go – frantic, frantic, frantic, but when I get down to France that’s it – I switch off. It’s brilliant.
Does Lord Sugar ever visit you there? He has done. He’s got a house in Spain and he flies across and stops with us for a day or two before flying down to Spain. It’s a good opportunity for him to fly, which he loves.
What is your French like?My practical French is fine and I can complain to the garage that my gearbox is making a funny noise and I can go and buy light bulbs and things around the house. I feel entirely comfortable travelling around. Where I am less comfortable, and it’s my fault, is with conversational French at dinner. The French are very particular and they talk quite a lot. I’m not very good at dinner party chat, which doesn’t matter because I live a very quiet life there. One of the problems with where I live is there is a very thick patois, so even if I spoke brilliant French I wouldn’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Some of the residents here even speak Occitan.
What is your favourite place in France to visit? Well I’m very fond of Paris. I love road trips, so I like to drive from where I am to see friends in Italy and do that coast road and then up into the Alpes-Maritimes, or to drive up to Biarritz and cross into Spain, or to cross into Andorra. The Pyr�n�es are wonderful.
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Would you say that you prefer France to England? I would say that there are many aspects of France that I absolutely prefer to those in the UK. I think that France is essentially a rural country, everybody’s got a connection to the countryside, there’s always a family home somewhere so they have a love of the countryside and it shows. You walk into a boulangerie and the chap coming out says good morning. There is a politeness and civility in the society and long may that stay.
Nick Hewer recently drove a Renault 4 from London to Mongolia for the Hope and Homes charity for children. Find out more at www.hopeandhomes.org
What are your earliest memories of France?My earliest memories are when I was 14. I came over from England to Dinard, then a pretty fishing village near Saint-Malo in the north of France. I spent all my time on the beach and it was unlike any seaside resort I had ever known in England. I had great fun practising my schoolgirl French. The following summer my parents sent me to my uncle and aunt’s for my holidays. They lived in an apartment next to the Carlton Hotel overlooking the famous promenade, the Croisette, in Cannes. I could see the Carlton plage through the windows and whenever I was able I was down there, sunbathing.
How else did you spend your time?The rest of my time I spent window-shopping in the Rue d’Antibes. I certainly could not afford any of the beautiful clothes but I had great fun looking. I also discovered the nightlife in Juan-les-Pins too. People were talking about Saint-Tropez (pictured below) as an up and coming resort but Brigitte Bardot had yet to put it on the map. Juan-les-Pins seemed very lively to me.
What was the highlight of that visit?One of my most thrilling memories of that summer was the arrival of a telegram from my parents in England. A telegram, imagine it! It told me that a letter had arrived at home from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art confirming that I had been offered a place as a student for the following year. I was 15 years old, very young, but my future had just opened up for me.
How much time do you spend in France now and what do you most enjoy doing?I have a lovely house not too far from Saint-Tropez. Percy [Joan’s husband] and I spend about four months a year here. I love it. I do nothing, just laze by the pool, reading, sunbathing. I love entertaining and we have many guests who come to visit. We enjoy going out to restaurants. I write here too, always in longhand. At present I am at work on several articles that need to be delivered.
How’s your French? Do you get the opportunity to speak it frequently?Oh, I can string a few sentences together but I lack the vocabulary. I do not have a head for languages. I have a sharp, bright mind for learning lines. However, when I do speak in French, I have an excellent accent.
Which of your films/television series have proved most popular in France?Dynasty is without question the television series that I am most know for here. Also, a film I made quite a long time ago called The Land of the Pharaohs still seems to be quite popular. People remember it.
Which French actors or films are you a fan of?My favourite French actors are Jean Reno – I really like him – and Marion Cotillard. I don’t read French books and not many French films reach us in the United States.
What do you think abut the news that Carla Bruni might well appear in the next Woody Allen film?I applaud her decision to accept the offer of a role in a Woody Allen film. Just because she is a First Lady does not mean that she cannot have a career of her own. I would love to play in a Woody Allen film.
What are you working on at the moment?I have plenty of irons in the fire and I am at work on a new book, but like all of us actors, Carol, I am very superstitious about announcing anything before it is signed and delivered. Let us say that I am very busy at present.