Let’s hope you aren’t underwhelmed at the revelation of which prime-time TV show we were featured on! We certainly weren’t, it was a wonderfully interesting and fun experience for both of us.
What’s the show?
You must have heard of it surely? ‘Escape to the Country‘ is described as a British daytime television reality property-buying programme. It’s been running for years and seems to be sold all over the world so is fairly well known. We’ve seen a lot of episodes on and off over the years in different parts of the world.
How did we get on the show?
On a rainy day in early May we found ourselves watching ETTC (I’m sure no-one ever calls it that) and at the end Jo was intrigued by the ‘if you want to appear‘ advert as the show finished. After a brief chat we decided to apply and the initial application was followed by a member of the Fremantle casting team phoning me two days later. Quick eh?
Over the following week we had a phone interview, had to film ourselves in a variety of situations, went through a 2 hour Zoom call, and spent the day with a casting film crew here in Welwyn Garden City. None of this was for the show though, it was all part of the application process. The lovely casting researcher Lucy put together a presentation film to pitch us to the main series production team.
Two days later we heard from Lucy that they loved our back story, who wouldn’t? Next day we were on another Zoom interview with the production team and overnight got told we would be filming the following week! Talk about moving fast.
As part of the application process we had to obviously decide on criteria for the property search. We asked for something with character in Wiltshire within our minimal budget so were told to meet the film crew at the Guyers House hotel in Corsham near Chippenham.
That was an early start with a long walk, train, tube, train, and taxi to get to Guyers House Hotel. Lovely weather and a stunning location. Imagine us in a posh hotel in the Wiltshire countryside (with complimentary breakfast too). How exciting.
So Tuesday afternoon was spent meeting the crew and having a brief outline of what we would be doing. Then off to the lovely town of Devizes for some filming. We weren’t seeing any properties yet but they wanted us walking down the street, looking in shop windows, and generally acting naturally for the camera. Not easy when you’ve never done it before. They had us looking around the charming Little Eco Shop meeting Jen, a friend of the owner, and chatting before meeting the producer over a pizza in the Aroma Restaurant. Very nice and great to start getting to know everyone.
Wednesday saw us hit the ground running! Early start when we met the one of the faces of the show Alistair Appleton who would be presenting our programme. He seemed a lovely friendly guy and was so interested in our whole lifestyle and travelling story. We filmed lots of intro sections with him about what we wanted and why, with the continual reshooting of every conversation from multiple angles taking a while to get used to.
It may seem obvious to everyone but when they film a chat from the front, then over your shoulder, then over the presenters shoulder, then from distance, it does become very tiring and difficult to keep saying the same things with the initial enthusiasm. We did our best though and Jo was brilliant.
They took us to three properties during the day starting with a tiny terraced cottage in the beautiful village of Kington St Michael. Loved the village but the cottage needed complete renovation, had a really long garden (at the front), and was so small. Not a match for our wishlist at all but it was only the first.
Then we headed for Calne and the tiny village of Quemerford to see a barn conversion. Once again nothing really matching our criteria as it was miles from the village, was pretty small, and was virtually a holiday home. Nicely decorated inside to a high standard but really not at all suitable. Only the second one though.
After a nice sandwich lunch in Calne we headed south towards the lovely village of Pewsey. Now we know Pewsey quite well as we housesat there a while back for James and Harriot and their two dogs Baloo and Mowgli. You may remember Baloo escaped for several hours and caused us a fair bit of worry before his casual return in the middle of the night (The Bare Necessities of Pewsey).
The house they chose wasn’t a house, it was a top floor apartment in a huge country house. Beautifully decorated to an extremely high finish with amazing views out across the village it looked fabulous. But we didn’t want an apartment plus it was a really odd setup. There were four apartments in the house but there were no front doors, everyone had multiple rooms leading off the main hall and stairwell. It was like a big commune. With a huge communal garden too. Probably the opposite of everything on our wishlist.
From Pewsey we headed back to Devizes to the marina. They had organised a chat between us and a chap that lived on a wide beamed narrowboat. Amazingly interesting as he was a fascinating fella that I especially could have chatted to all day. What a way to live? But we were also there to view the fourth property of the day which was a park home in the Devizes Marina Village.
Once again really well finished and a beautiful place for a second home or a holiday getaway but really unsuitable as a main residence. The place was a real surprise with hidden shower rooms, and a hot tub, and wonderful views across the marina. But not a home. Shame once again and that was the first four properties done.
The Mystery House
Anyone that watches ETTC (is it catching on yet?) will know that the final property they view is always called ‘The Mystery House‘. It’s often either over budget or bigger than requested but is usually impressive and we were holding out hope for a big surprise. After the disappointing first four surely they were keeping something special to last?
We headed to the lovely town of Malmesbury with it’s impressive Abbey and quaint independent shops.
After initial ‘walking and looking’ filming we ended up outside a small doorway off the main street. The building was listed (once again one of our no-no’s) and on a busy road (another no-no) and looked tiny. Upon entry it did turn out to be much bigger than expected with wooden beams and hidden stairways giving it oodles of character. It was in need of a total refurb though as very very tired and both kitchen and bathroom would have to be completely rebuilt.
Disappointed? Yes, very. Although we were always positive and upbeat about every property we saw and tried not to moan or be critical we were both extremely disappointed. Not one property was anywhere near what we had asked for and I suspect the film crew knew that. The programme seems to have changed from ‘finding a home‘ to ‘showcasing an area‘ unfortunately which wasn’t exactly what we were after.
Escape to the Country
It may sound like we didn’t enjoy the experience but that isn’t true at all. We had a wonderful week in a fabulous hotel and got to visit so many towns and villages in Wiltshire that we had previously only seen on a map. It brought the whole area to life and gave us a real insight into how lovely Wiltshire really is. And of course staying in a plush country hotel was a real treat for us, not our normal style at all.
We found the filming experience fascinating too although neither of us are naturals in front of the camera as we are both a bit self-conscious and not at all comfortable being the centre of attention. However it was great fun to meet Alistair and the crew of Chel, Rosie, Chris, Julia and Teresa. They were all so professional and really made us feel at home in their ‘world’.
It’s a shame we didn’t find our dream home and we were disappointed that every one of the five properties were well below our budget, in some cases £50K below. I’m not totally sure we were seriously expecting to find anywhere but we had been a little hopeful. But we thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and tried to make the most of each part of it.
Neither of us is planning on a career in front of the cameras very soon but you may find us cropping up on a screen near you sometime in the next six months. Be warned!
01/06 – 04/06/2021