When you decide to change everything for a new life in the sun, literally anything can happen!
We never, ever thought that we would appear on TV but I guess that’s the thing; when you set off on a new adventure you don’t necessarily know what’s in store or where it will lead you.
We are Simon and Nadine of La Prairie Étoilée – a get-away-from-it-all luxury and eco friendly glamping experience, a little outside the village of Crozon-Sur-Vauvre in the southern, Centre-Val de Loire region of France.
We have just featured in Channels 4’s hit show, A New Life In The Sun, Series 7, Episodes 31 to 33 (which are available on catch up if you missed it!)
We’ve had a fair few questions since our episodes aired so, we thought we’d share some of our answers via this blog!
How did you come to be on channel 4’s “A New Life In The Sun”?
A throw away comment, on social media glamping group, led to a chat on messenger with a True North researcher.
A video call then followed with a producer and the next thing we knew we were arranging a date for a camera person to come out to start filming; it all happened so fast!
That was back in March 2021. It was all very exciting and a bit of a whirlwind.
You were introduced as a Northumberland Couple but your accents suggest you’re from elsewhere?
That’s right. We moved to France from Northumberland, having lived there for 20 years. Our grown up children are still there; if we have a home in the UK it’s there.
But no, we don’t have the accent. Simon is originally from Hastings and that’s where we met, a million years ago.
Old friends we’d lost touch with contacted us after the show and asked “Was that you? We thought it was but when they said you moved from Northumberland…”.
It’s been so nice to be back in touch as a result of the show.
When did you buy your French property & how extensive was your search?
We picked up the keys to our French house in July 2018, having found it April, three months earlier.
We’d come to France for a week for Simon’s birthday and combined house buying trip. We only saw 4 properties and the last, was the one.
And although it wasn’t one we’d been planning to see (the estate Agent brought us here) – we just knew it!
You seemed to get a bargain – Did the house need much work?
Our house had little, when we bought it, other than potential! There were absolutely no mod cons. The property needed full renovation and was completely uninhabitable.
We had power – just; 3 sockets and dodgy looking wires. It needed a complete rewire.
The walls were ringing wet and damp spoors were bubbling out of them. The once, lovely oak floors, on the left hand side of the house, had collapsed.
There was no bathroom, just a toilet in one cupboard and a sink in another. There was no heating or hot water.
The only way is up…a ladder
The only access to the upstairs (just a big attic space) was via a ladder, which just happened to lead up from inside the cupboard with the loo in!
It was fair to say we were house blind when we bought our little French pile – we only had eyes for the land! The fields, the space and location were amazing!
When we started filming, the downstairs had by then had new walls and a ceiling which was a bonus! 🙂
When did you move to France & did Brexit impact your move?
Of course we were lucky to move to a new life in the sun at a time when we qualified for a withdrawal agreement residency permit but Brexit made the whole move a lot more stressful and the logistics more complex.
The Brexit decision was the decision; that wasnt the issue. It was the implementation of that decision that had the impact; the multiple cliff edge/hard Brexit threats.
Had we known when Brexit was actually going to happen, it would have been soooo much easier!
March Brexit Deadline
With the first impending deadline being March 2019 and no withdrawal agreement in place or extension agreed, we came to France to claim our right to free movement and start to get into the French system, just in case.
Had the axe fallen on 31 March 2019, Simon would have needed to stay in France and I would have had to return to the UK alone. Luckily there was an 11th hour extension.
Then The October Brexit Deadline
For the next faux deadline (as it turned out!) we had got ourselves into a position to move anyway.
It took us 15 months from getting the keys to our French house to sell up and unpick our lives in the UK.
We moved to France on a permanent basis, in October 2019.
How long were you living in the caravan?
Given that we came here to set up a glamping business, perhaps it’s apt that for us, a new life in the sun started by camping out! Originally, we thought the renovation would take 6 to 9 months.
We’d camped out in the garden for three weeks when we first came to pick up the keys. We knew we couldn’t do that if we visited out of season, or indeed, when we moved here.
So, when we saw a caravan advertised for sale on our first trip, we snapped it up! We knew we were going to have to weather a winter in the caravan but we thought that would be ok – it was only one winter – ha!
We hadn’t planned for a worldwide pandemic which delayed everything considerably. So, we had 18 months of living between the caravan in the barn and our “bedroom” which was a bed in a tent, in the attic and yes, up the ladder!
We didn’t move out of the caravan & into the house until end of April 2021 after we’d started filming for A New Life In The Sun.
Is it True that only houses and wine are cheap in France?
Yes! Materials are expensive, so is employing artisans for any work you can’t do yourself (in our case electrics and some of the plumbing work).
You have to watch what you spend on renovations particularly in rural areas, as you don’t add the same sort of value as you would, doing up a house in the UK, that’s one of the reasons we bought our kitchen secondhand (but mainly because we wanted it to go with the old 60’s unit left by the previous owner!)
Although, that said, it has changed a little recently since Covid, with city folk moving to more rural areas, the prices have been puched up a little as, I’m sure, has happened elsewhere.
Was your property an existing campsite when you bought it, if not, how easy was it to get planning permission?
The property was not an existing campsite. We took a calculated risk, when we bought the property, that we would be able to get planning for a low impact campsite on the land; this, it turned out, was going to be easier said than done!
A New Life In The Sun style planning disaster!
The property we bought was an old farm house and outbuildings (including another house with a barn) with 2.5 acres of land attached and a further 7.5 acres just a hop skip and a jump across the lane. All of the land, when we bought it, was agricultural.
It was funny (not really) but we found out, once we’d picked up the keys that there had been a previous request to develop the fields for glamping, to include wooden pods. This request had been point blank refused.
Clearly it wasn’t going to be a simple case of asking the Mairie and pitching a few tents! There was going to be French red tape – lots of it.
And using a frequent narrative of A New Life In The Sun, this could have quite easilly been a disaster!
However, amazingly undeterred and resolute, we went to see the Mairie. With our French being a little on the basic side, we took a diagram along with us, our Eco Cycle Of Positive Effect to show and largely, point at, what we wanted to do here.
The Mairie loved our plans and our ecological ethos and of course, it helped that we had already taken the leap and put our money where our mouths were, so to speak and bought the house!
Not only that, we had arrived at the right time. A new urbanisation plan was being developed for the commune of Crozon-Sur-Vauvre. We had to submit our plans for them to be considered for inclusion into the future vision for the commune. That was in September 2018.
You couldn’t make it up
Spring forward to late February 2020. We’d just come back from the UK. We’d been to pick up another load of our belongings and to shop for the tents for our glamping site; we knew at this point the initial planning decision was imminent – now it was just formalities.
The consultation period was over and we were just waiting for the new urbanisation plan to be implemented on 5 March 2020, some 18 months after our plans were first submitted.
Well, we all know what happened in March 2020. Cue worldwide pandemic!
How did the worldwide pandemic affect your plans?
As we locked down, we came to the conclusion and acceptance, early on, that we were not going to be up and running in 2020. We knew that our hope for a new life in the sun, running a glamping business, was on pause; as was the rest of the world!
Luckily, we still had savings to fall back on and this took the pressure off somewhat. Instead, we set about planting our 600 trees (they arrived just before Covid!) in the field for shelter and wood. It was good to keep busy.
Later in 2020 the commune plan was implemented and this meant that the usage for our fields, changed from agriculture to tourism and leisure. Now all that was left to do was agree what was to go on them.
The re-wire of our house, that had also been due to start in March 2020, finally got underway a few months later in July. Another winter in the caravan was imminent!
Was your site temporary and why did it look like you were getting permission after putting up the tent up?
Unfortunately, due to a couple of false starts, causing more delays (a planning company we were using to help us, submitted the wrong form, twice – each time we lost 3 months!), planning for the main glampsite was going to arrive too late for the 2021 season.
It wasn’t until May 2021 that we got we got our construction permit for what was originally our main glampsite. This is what we are seen collecting in the show. It was good to know that we finally had all the permissions we would ever need but it didn’t help us for that year.
Not able to wait another year, In February of 2021 it was time for plan B!
We decided to move the location of our glampsite to the fields nearer the house for at least the first year – hence why a temporary site was referred to in the show.
We changed our plans as we realised that we could quickly get permission for a new building attached to our existing barn if we kept development under 20 square meters.
The new building would house 3 private bathrooms and 3 separate washing up areas.
Approvals for this type of development and the small campsite permissions can be achieved within 28 days, which is exactly what happened. All necessary permissions for our Plan B glampsite were in place before we started filming.
Plan B is the new plan A
During the filming of the final interview, we said that we’d fallen in love with what we had done and in fact, Plan B was now our plan A but that didn’t make the final cut.
We do hope to continue with our plans for the other fields one day but what we are doing now is by no means temporary anymore!
Were there any other issues you faced to get up and running?
Erm – yes. So if Brexit, French planning bureaucracy and Covid had not been sufficient complexities to navigate – next, our region suffered the worst summer weather in 15 years. It started raining in January 2021 and it pretty much forgot to stop.
A new life in the sun was a total misnomer, and delayed the bathhouse build considerably. It was June before we had a sufficient break in the weather to get the concrete slab laid!
If it had been “normal” times we could have called on friends and family. They had been lined up, from the off, to come over to help us with the build. In exchange for some hard graft they would have accommodation, good food and plenty of wine! But of course, they couldn’t come because of Covid travel restrictions.
Was the rush before the first guest the typical A New Life In The Sun faux drama?
Absolutely not! We don’t believe it’s ever faux. We had been working flat out for the 6 weeks – ever since we got the slab laid for the bathhouse. It had to be finished on time! The first guest booked in June for 24 July & at that point we closed off availability so no one else could book until after that time; we knew it was going to be really tight.
Simon literally built the composting loo on the morning our first guests arrived and we were still putting things away and finishing the bathroom, as you saw, hanging the shower curtain and trying to fix a leak, moments before they arrived.
The shower caddy didn’t make it and the mound of earth dug out of the footings was still to the side of the bathhouse and we had to place a bucket under the leaky sink! But you know what, it didn’t matter, they absolutely loved it!
Skin. Of. Our. Teeth!
Did A New Life In The Sun Get Your Location Right?
Ha! Yes – as there had been a couple of issues with location in early episodes, we did check that! We are in The Indre department and there’s a neighbouring one with a similar name, so we thought it best to make sure.
We did notice, especially in the first of our episodes, that most of the times Crozon-Sur-Vauvre was mentioned, that the footage shown was shots of Aigurande, the nearest town with a vibrant market and shops.
Crozon Sur-Vauvre is just a pretty little village with a river running through, with quaint houses, a beautiful church and lovely walks; which was shown on lots of other occasions.
Did Nadine do any work?
Ha! I said “folk will think I don’t do anything” when we watched the show!
Simon has done most of the renovation and he has done amazingly well but yes, I did and do work! We’re a real team; we’ve had to be.
We’ve both done loads and so much of that is stuff we’ve never done before. We are always stepping out of our comfort zones. But hey, that’s what we wanted from a new life in the sun!
You won’t see me balancing up a ladder (heights are a no go!) but I get stuck in with grass cutting, painting, concreting (although it makes me cry!) and the general day to day living stuff, including, i should add, all the meals – that’s despite Simon being the chef; he only cooks for guests!
I’m more on the creative and project management side of things. I designed the bathhouse and got it through planning. And designed and built the website from scratch – a total labour of love. I also do all the marketing and back office stuff for the business; which of course, doesn’t make great TV!
We love all the challenges our new life in the sun throws at us and somehow we get through them, together!
When did you film for A New Life In The Sun?
Filming was from March until October, there must have been so much footage to pore through and make sense of. We didn’t envy the editing team!
Is it all scripted – Does the production team tell you what to do?
No, not at all. It’s all as it happens. You have a contact in the True North production team and they keep in touch, you arrange filming dates based on what’s going on.
Some dates are agreed where you know key milestone events are happening, like launch parties, guests coming and going or particular work happening etc.
The camera person asked questions as we were just going about whatever we are doing and we answered, or they would just catch conversations that we are having anyway. No scripts.
Were there any things filmed and not included that you wished were?
There were a few things but there would have been way too much! These were some of the other highlights of our year that we would have loved to see footage of:-
The Launch Event
We had a launch event where the Mairie came and lots of neighbours, friends, other dignitaries and the even the local newspaper. It was a lovely day, although not weather wise! We had glasses of fizz, made s’mores on the campfire & everyone had chance to look round.
The previous owner came as our other guest of honour. Her family had built the houses & they were the only ones to have lived here before us. She gave a speech to that effect. It was all quite emotional.
Lots of friends and neighbours were interviewed as to what they thought of the place; we wish one of us had been a fly on the wall – it would have been so nice have to have heard their feedback!
We really felt for the camera person that day – she worked her socks off; I guess they all get used to filming so much and know that only a fraction can be used.
The Diary of a Châtelaine
As a bonus for us, one of our neighbours, Stephanie Jarvis, has a very successful Vlog, she came to the launch and took some footage to include in her Château Diaries.
So, if you would like to see a snippet of the launch day and a good look inside one of our tents, you can do so here – the whole thing is a good watch but we’re featured from about 13 minutes in!
With A Little Help From Our Friends
The week following the launch we had friends helping us to push the bathhouse over the line. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without Elaine & Steve and their little dog, Jack. Jack loved it here and spent his time tottering around, having the best time.
Incidently, we met Elaine and Steve because we answered their call out on social media for “does anyone want any bamboo?” Yes please! That’s what we built our gamping kitchens out of!
A New Life In The Sun appearance – In memory of Jack
I also made our sign during that week which, unfortunately, didn’t get shown, so hopefully, anyone who was interested, has been able to find us via the A New Life In The Sun Facebook page or by searching “Glamping, Crozon-Sur-Vauvre” – we know a number of people have found us like that!
It was quite remarkable just how much we achieved that week, we all worked like Trojans!
But the main reason we would have liked it to have featured is that Jack is sadly, no longer with us.
We hoped we’d see him tottering about on camera; it would have been a lovely tribute to our littlest helper!
One for the family album
And finally, the last bit we would have loved to have seen on TV was when our son Jake and his partner Megan, came to stay. They were the first family to come out to see what we had done here, due to covid travel restrictions.
We hire tandem bikes and Jake and Megan took one of out. Well, it was just hysterical, we think Jake must have forgotten how to ride a bike and it was all captured on film!
And to think the first thing Jake said to us, when we told him we were going to be on TV, was “Don’t be embarrassing!” Ha!
All of us, including Josh, our camera person that day, were crying with laughter. It would have been a hoot if it had been aired.
How was your A New Life In The Sun experience, would you do it again?
It was brilliant – we loved it – and actually, it really helped us get through last year. 2021 was tough at times, really tough but knowing we had filming dates booked in, kept up momentum and morale!
We’d recommend it to anyone thinking of applying.
Would we do it again? In a heartbeat! – maybe you’ll see us on a revisit, who knows.
If you have any questions please leave a comment below or do get in touch we’d love to here from you.
So now we are well on our way to getting our three beautiful, boutique tents, each with entirely private facilities, up and running for the 29 April 2022; the start of our first full season – and we can’t wait!
If you are interested in visiting our area, The Indre, a beautiful, unspoilt area of France, we have a free guide to download here or to find out more about La Prairie Étoilée, the romantic get-away-from-it-all glamping experience we have created, check out our website ww.laprairieetoilee.com or watch a short film about La Prairie Étoilée here.
We hope to welcome you soon!