A whole lot of trouble! How did broadcaster Ruth Watson prevent the destruction of this family’s mansion in Cornwall? With determined action – and a little bit of very tough love…
Georgina Le Grice is familiar with horror films through her work as a literary agent in London. But she never expected to be in one of them, her family’s Cornish mansion, Trereife House. The picturesque 18th century estate was falling apart, and there was no money to save it.
“I moved to Trereife House when I was only two years old,” says Georgina, 24, “and my elderly grandmother moved away. It had 80 acres of land, 14 rooms and six huge ornate bedrooms. We never had heating, and in winter I went to bed in several layers of clothes and with two duvets. But I didn’t mind because I liked the house.”
Georgina knew from a young age that she and her 23-year-old younger brother Peter were heirs to an estate with a remarkable history. The house has been home to the Le Grice family since 1798.
Rescuer: Ruth Watson at Trereife House in Penzance with Tim, Peter, Georgina and Elizabeth Le Grice.
But generation after generation suffered from stifling tariffs and running costs.
Georgina’s father Tim, who runs a law firm, inherited it in 1982. A few years later, he moved his wife, Liz, and two children.
With running costs of £40,000 a year, Tim, now 68, has poured the money into a series of projects that have proved disastrous. The gypsy caravan theme park, zoo, and restaurant failed to thrive and instead went into heavy debt.
By early last year, the house and family were struggling to stay afloat.
It was then that Georgina, whose career as a literary agent in London was flourishing, realized how bad things were. She says, “I wanted to help, but I didn’t know where to turn. I’ve already seen Country House Rescue and was hoping Ruth Watson could give us some answers.
But can Ruth, a millionaire hotelier and businesswoman who does to crumbling country pilings what Gordon Ramsay does to failing restaurants, save the family home?
The first meeting last May was a disaster.
Beautiful B&B: With an operating cost of £40,000 a year, the Le Gris family had to turn their home into a hotel.
After looking around the house, Ruth gave the family her assessment. She offered a large-scale bed and breakfast business, but when Georgina’s 62-year-old mother Liz refused to help, Ruth wasn’t overjoyed. Georgina recalls: “Ruth suggested to my mother that she quit her job as a librarian and open a bed and breakfast.
Mom objected and said that she was not at home. Then Ruth snapped, “I can see it in the way you keep your house.” Mom held him together while the cameras were filming, but then she burst into tears. I felt absolutely terrible.”
But Ruth thinks tough words were needed.
She says, “I found the house in complete disrepair. There were holes in the roof, dampness all over, damaged plaster cornices, and trees growing in the middle of outbuildings.
In this state, Georgina and her brother should have inherited a pile of rubbish.”
She set tasks for the family: prepare four bedrooms for paying guests; explore the possibility of renting luxury yurts for elite camping in the walled garden; and organize a literary event by inviting visitors to the estate.
Before Ruth came to the rescue, I was so desperate that I bought 60 scratch cards in hopes of a miracle to save my family home. I didn’t win a dime
“In the end, the B&B trial was a success,” Georgina says. “Guests said they liked the house and they camped on site. We knew I had potential, but Ruth wanted me to quit my job in London and move to Cornwall. At the same time, I was offered a promotion – and I felt completely overwhelmed.”
Ruth invited her to dedicate two years of her life to starting a B&B, and Georgina accepted.
Renovation work began, and the family poured every penny they could spare into repairing the roof and making four bedrooms available for paying guests. “By the time of my last visit in October,” says Ruth, “I was happy that some progress had been made, but I didn’t know how far the family would go to keep their business running.”
Four months later, Georgina finally becomes the mistress of her estate, yet still clings to her career. She arrives in Cornwall at 23:00 every Friday and takes the 5:00 train to London on Mondays. This is a punitive regime, but it breathes life into the family estate.
Weddings are a booming business and breakfast rooms are doing well.
Georgina says: “Before Ruth came to help us, I was so desperate that I bought myself 60 lottery scratch cards in hopes of a miracle to save my family’s house. I didn’t win a dime.
Now, thanks to Ruth, we have prepared the house for a prosperous future.”
Rescue of a country house, 21:00, Sunday, channel 4.