Angel Strawbridge on life with Dick and launching her new interiors range
As Angel Strawbridge from Escape to the Chateau launches her interiors collection in Harvey Norman stores in NI, she tells Stephanie Bell how she and Ballyclare-born husband Dick transformed their fairytale castle in the north west of France
Millions have watched Co Antrim man Dick Strawbridge and his wife, Angel, transform a run-down French chateau into a fairytale family home and magical wedding venue.
The stars of Channel Four's Escape to the Chateau, one of the most popular shows on TV, are frequent visitors to Northern Ireland because Dick's family still lives in Ballyclare.
They are celebrating at the moment ahead of Angel launching her new interiors collection in Harvey Norman stores here this week.
In a special interview to coincide with the release of the range, which includes curtains, cushions, bedding, furniture and wallpaper, Angel gave me a glimpse of some of the challenges and joys the couple have experienced since buying their abandoned 19th century home, Chateau de la Motte Husson, four years ago.
Their work on the castle has been a triumph - it is booked solid as a wedding venue right through until 2022.
While the building has to pay for itself as a glamorous events setting, for Angel (41) it is first and foremost a home for her, Dick (59) and their two children, Arthur (6) and Dorothy (5).
Even though they have been labouring non-stop for the past four years, it is a never-ending project, as Angel explains.
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"I don't know if we are ever going to have it entirely finished," she admits.
"We probably have about half of it still to do and there are also a lot of projects outside.
"We have just finished getting electric to all the rooms and are working on converting an outbuilding for my mum and dad.
"We haven't touched the windows yet - there are 50 of them - and we haven't started the roof, which will be a huge project. We'll have to do a bit at a time. The kids also want a swimming pool, so there is a lot of stuff still to do."
The beauty of what has been achieved so far has wowed Channel Four viewers and caught the attention of the media at home in the UK.
The couple, who met in 2010, achieved fame before appearing on Escape to the Chateau.
Dick, who grew up as the third of seven children in Ballyclare, joined the Army and in 1993 was awarded an MBE for distinguished service in Northern Ireland.
He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Corps of Signals in 2001.
Dick then pursued a successful career as a programme manager before becoming a full-time TV presenter and author.
Known for having "arguably the best moustache in showbusiness", he hit our TV screens on Scrapheap Challenge, MasterChef and Hungry Sailors, to name but a few of the programmes he has made.
For a BBC documentary, he worked with a group of local engineers and craftsmen to recreate Harry Ferguson's aeroplane from the early 1900s.
A successful author, his Practical Self Sufficiency book is published all around the world.
Londoner Angel, who's known for her distinctive red hair and vintage-style clothing, is just as accomplished.
She set up a glamorous hospitality company called The Vintage Patisserie and is also author of the bestselling book series Vintage Tea Party.
Angel and Dick met in 2010 and married in 2015 at their chateau. "Ours was the first wedding in the chateau," she says. "We bought it in November 2014, moved in January 2015 and married that November.
"I know that it sounds a bit cheesy, but our agent introduced us and it was love at first sight for both of us.
"Shortly after we met, we went for a holiday together in France, which for both of us was our first holiday in about 10 years. We fell in love with the place.
"We were staying in this five-storey gite (holiday home) with one room on each floor. We thought about how quaint and peaceful it was and how lovely it would be to live there.
"The gite we were living in was beautiful and you could have bought it for €30,000. What you could get for your money in France was a real eye-opener.
"The seed was sown then, but it took four years of searching before we found the chateau. I must have looked at tens of thousands of properties in that time.
"We didn't set out to find something big, but we did want it to be elegant and to have the wow factor.
"When we started looking at chateaux, for me it had to have turrets because every young girl growing up dreams of a castle with turrets. Dick still takes the mickey out of me about that.
"He wanted a walled garden because he is a country man and very private. When we saw our chateau, it had everything on our wishlist and more. It also had this amazing glass orangerie, which was really beautiful."
The couple paid £280,000 for the vast castle, which is surrounded by a moat.
It had no sewage facilities, electricity, running water or heating when they moved in.
They have been hands-on in the restoration of the interior, a project inspired by Angel's love of vintage style.
She named her favourite room, which forms part of the honeymoon suite, the 'wallpaper museum'.
It features salvaged original wallpapers that Angel was overjoyed to discover in a cupboard in the attic.
She cut the papers into diamond shapes and created a bespoke harlequin-style wallpaper for the room.
Her beloved orangerie has also been lovingly updated in an Art Deco style. It now serves as a wedding breakfast room that seats 80 people.
"The house was a beautiful shell when we got it, but it needed everything done to it cosmetically," Angel says.
"There are 80 rooms over five floors, but a lot of them are the size of a dressing room with a window and door, so technically they are classified as rooms but really we have about 50 good rooms.
"My style is always inspired by vintage - I love the 1920s and 30s and am very inspired by the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements.
"I also like my interiors to be a bit playful, so I have some taxidermy in the house and a lot of foliage.
"My favourite room has to be the wallpaper museum. I was in the attic when I opened a cupboard and found clippings and rolls of all the original wallpapers from the house dating back to around 1860. It was heaven for me to find.
"I used them to create the wallpaper museum in a harlequin-style pattern, which inspired some of the designs in my new interiors range."
Angel found inspiration for most of her new collection, which is being sold in Harvey Norman stores and online, from the stunning interior she created in her home.
Aptly called The Chateau, each piece in her range tells a story of hidden treasures uncovered by the family and of the distinctive character of the property.
The Wallpaper Collection is inspired by the original wallpapers Angel found in the attic.
There is also The Heron Collection, inspired by Angel's love of Art Deco and the herons that occupy her new home and eat their fish.
The Potagerie Collection brings a touch of nature into the range and was inspired by the walled garden which Dick fell in love with.
"We have a room which overlooks the walled garden. Dick named it The Potagerie Suite and the collection has been styled to reflect its name," Angel says.
"Dick planted a wildflower garden for the kids and all the family picked the flowers.
"We dried them and have them all over the turret room, which makes it feel like it has a massive family vibe."
Finally, The Oriental Collection is inspired by another part of the garden and Angel's love for oriental design.
"I am always going around in a kimono and we have a bamboo plantation behind the walled garden - we used lots of the bamboo from it in the house," she says.
"It was important for me that the designs in the collection tell a story, and each of them does."
Angel and her husband arrive with their children in Northern Ireland this week for an early 60th birthday celebration for Dick with his mum Jenny and family in Ballyclare.
"We've planned this trip home for months and we are really excited," Angel says.
"We're hiring a minibus and touring all the sights in Co Antrim with Dick's mum and his three sisters. We will be stopping at lovely restaurants. It is his 60th in September, so it is an early celebration of that as the kids will be back to school then."
- Angel Strawbridge's first interiors collection, The Chateau, is available both in-store at Harvey Norman and online at harvey-norman.co.uk