Escape to the Château: DIY films a Yorkshire couple at their château in Limousin
PUBLISHED: 12:29 31 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:20 21 April 2020
In the latest series of the popular Channel 4 show, Yorkshire couple Debbie Bell and Nigel Lawson tackled multiple projects at Château Gioux in Limousin
Having appeared in the fourth series of Escape to the Château: DIY, which is available to watch on demand on All 4 now, Debbie explains how fate – and Facebook – played a hand in helping them to buy Château Gioux and to be on the programme.
Have you always had a connection with France?
Nigel and I have been together for five years and when we met we discovered we had a mutual love of France. Nigel had previously lived in Allier for four years and was fluent in French, and I had spent many holidays there. Nigel’s mum absolutely adores France too and wanted to buy a holiday home here, and while other family members had been resisting it I really supported the idea! So Nigel started looking and the family bought a four-bedroom cottage three years ago.
What prompted you to buy your own home?
We were both self-employed and were coming over to stay at the cottage as often as we could. We came so frequently that we began to think about moving here. Nigel had a heart attack three years ago and we were both working really hard, so we re-evaluated our lives and decided it was perhaps time to slow down a bit. We were both in our fifties and we didn’t want to wait too long and then be too old to do it.
Why did you choose Limousin and how would you describe life there?
We focused on Limousin because the family cottage is here and we didn’t want to be more than an hour from an airport, and Limoges is just about an hour from us here in Creuse. It’s so peaceful and calm, and so rural and green – it’s very much like Yorkshire in many ways but with better weather. It feels like stepping back in time a little bit, it’s like England used to be in the 1960s is how I would describe it.
Were you specifically looking for a château?
We knew we would need to work out here and thought we would run a B&B or something along those lines, so we started looking at properties with that in mind. We weren’t specifically looking at châteaux although we would have loved one. We considered both old and new properties and had found an old mill about half an hour from here that we wanted to buy but we couldn’t come to an agreement with the vendor. We went back to the cottage feeling very disappointed.
So what led you to Château Gioux?
Fate! Nigel happened to go on Facebook and saw a post from an English estate agent saying that for one week only, the château was being reduced by €100,000, which brought it within our price range. Nigel had actually viewed it previously and told me it was beautiful, but we’d discounted it because it was beyond our budget and we couldn’t afford it. We contacted the estate agent immediately and put in an offer, which was accepted that evening. That was in October and we moved in last April.
Did it need lots of work?
As Nigel had already viewed it we knew it wasn’t in such a poor state that we couldn’t afford to do the work ourselves. We couldn’t have bought anything too ramshackle because we didn’t have a pot of money to dip into it, which is why we’ve been doing all the work ourselves. We knew we would have to work on some of the rooms fairly quickly, but the kitchen was in good condition and the property was liveable.
How soon were you able to open to guests?
We started working on the bedrooms as soon as we moved in and we had three letting rooms ready for the summer season. We have recently completed a fourth. We had our first guests last May which was incredible as we’d only been here for 6 weeks. By early July we were inundated with guests and we were busy all summer which we hadn’t expected at such an early stage.
How did you come to appear on Escape to the Château: DIY?
I’m a big fan of the programme and I follow the Facebook page, and I posted a picture of the château when we bought it saying that we were hoping to move in the following year. One of the producers then got in touch and asked if we’d like to talk to them about appearing on the show. We were in France at the time so we did a Skype interview with them in London, and fortunately they wanted us take part. They filmed us from moving in on 9 April all through the summer to autumn, and we have just been filming again.
What was it like during filming?
It was great and really interesting. Nigel has found it a bit frustrating that I’m pushing him to do things but being filmed does spur you on! It was quite hard to have the cameras there all the time, especially as we had guests and lots of other things to do, but it does make you get things done and to the best of your ability too. Two of the letting rooms had en suites but the third had a separate bathroom so the cameras filmed us knocking through from the bedroom. We were going to put in a door and then we came up with the idea of having a secret cupboard to connect the two rooms instead – it’s like the lion, the witch and the wardrobe! We found an old wardrobe in the cellar, which was previously used as a priest’s confessional, and as we were trying to utilise as much as we could find in the château itself, we put it in the bathroom. They also filmed us painting and decorating and upcycling furniture, and renovating a sunroom that had been very neglected. We did a lot of clearing work in the garden too as it was very overgrown and we made a lovely little vegetable garden.
What was it like meeting Dick and Angel?
They haven’t been here yet but we went to visit them at their château in Mayenne recently and we had a lovely chat with them there. They’re really lovely people, and Dick was making a few suggestions to Nigel about our projects and plans.
What are your future plans for the château?
We have lots of plans but a major project will be turning a very ugly and rundown conservatory into an orangery, and we want to add a swimming pool and hot tub too. We’re also planning to go down into the cellar where we eventually intend to create a self-contained gîte. It all comes down to costs though so we’re doing it bit by bit. I think we have many years of work ahead of us but we want to keep enhancing it and I don’t want to leave until it’s finished. We still go back to the UK a lot as we have family there but we love being in France so much that it’s difficult to be away from the château.