We all fantasise about escape sometimes. Downing tools, running away, starting again. People on TV do it all the time. Whether it’s Barbara and Brian buying a retirement apartment in Marbs on A Place in The Sun, or care-worn, well-heeled Londoners who think a cottage in Wiltshire will solve all their problems, or nutjobs who buy vineyards from a guy in the pub, they all chase the dream – only to run head first into themselves.
So Channel Four’s Escape To The Chateau is familiar territory. Now on its third series, its protagonists are still showing those tutting pensioners on A Place In The Sun how its done. Go big or go home to your crap flat in Bognor Regis.
Yes, Britain’s most unlikely couple: Lieutenant-Colonel Dick Strawbridge and his wife, flame-haired siren Angel Adoreé (Angela to her mates), are back. They are the human equivalent of a Bake Off showstopper in the shape of the Palace of Versailles – you don’t know how, you don’t know why, but you can’t help but marvel.
Last year, Dick and Angel took on the ridiculous task of renovating the Chateau de la Motte Husson, which they picked up for 280 grand, complete with moat and walled garden in seemingly terminal decline. Crazy, eh? There was a bluebottle infestation and bats in the roof, perfect for anyone who enjoys watching people fail from the comfort of their sofa.
And yet Dick and Angel are strangely compelling. Dick is an affable, rotund ex-Army engineer with an Asterix moustache, who can fix a tank and has probably Seen Some Things. He’s the kind of bloke who could drink his own urine or bury a dead cat or survive for three months in the woods without batting an eyelid.
Dick is an affable, rotund ex-Army engineer with an Asterix moustache, who can fix a tank and has probably Seen Some Things
Angel is also what flat white-drinking idiot TV producers call ‘great value’. A vintage connoisseur with a trendy patisserie business and a series of cookery books under her belt, she saw nothing amiss about moving into a freezing cold, dilapidated chateau in the middle of February with a two-year-old and a baby in tow. “I like old things,” she said in the first episode, seemingly impervious to the desiccated plaster and broken bogs. “That’s why I like Dick.”
My God, it practically makes itself. All you have to do is point a camera and watch ’em go. There have been weddings, chickens, drama and duck confit. Somehow they manage not to kill each other (on camera, anyway). This time, they’ve only got 20 rooms still to renovate. They’re also testing the soil to grow truffle trees, hosting a blossom-filled romantic retreat for a couple with weird matching haircuts and painting some grout gold. Their dogged pursuit of their overblown, semi-deluded aspirations is almost heroic. They are living the dream so, thankfully, we don’t have to.