A whole pile of trouble! How did TV’s Ruth Watson stop this family’s Cornish mansion from crumbling to pieces? With drastic action – and some very tough love…
Georgina Le Grice is no stranger to horror stories, thanks to her job as a London-based literary agent. But she never expected to find herself in one, at her family’s Cornish mansion, Trereife House. The picturesque 18th-century property was falling apart, and there was no money to save it.
‘I moved into Trereife House when I was just two,’ says Georgina, 24, ‘and my elderly grandmother moved out. It had 80 acres of land, 14 rooms and six enormous, ornate bedrooms. We never had heating, and I went to bed in winter in layers of clothes and with two duvets. But I didn’t mind, because I loved the house.’
From a young age, Georgina knew she and her younger brother Peter, 23, were heirs to an estate with a remarkable history. The house has been home to the Le Grice family since 1798.
Saviour: Ruth Watson at Trereife House in Penzance with Tim, Peter, Georgina and Elizabeth Le Grice
But generation after generation was hit by crippling death duties and running costs.
In 1982, it was inherited by Georgina’s father Tim, who runs a law firm. He moved his wife, Liz, and their two children in a few years later.
With running costs of £40,000 a year to meet, Tim, now 68, poured money into a series of projects that proved disastrous. A gypsy caravan theme park, a zoo and a restaurant all failed to thrive and instead ran up considerable debts.
By the beginning of last year, the house – and the family – were battling to stay afloat.
It was then that Georgina, whose career as a literary agent in London was flourishing, realised just how bad things were. She says, ‘I wanted to help, but didn’t know which way to turn. I had seen Country House Rescue before, and hoped Ruth Watson might be able to give us some answers.’
But could Ruth, a millionaire hotelier and businesswoman who does to crumbling country piles what Gordon Ramsay does to failing restaurants, save the family home?
The first meeting in May last year was a disaster.
Beautiful B&B: With running costs of £40,000 a year to meet, the Le Grices have had to turn their home into a hotel
After inspecting the house, Ruth gave the family her assessment. She suggested a large-scale bed and breakfast business, but when Georgina’s mother Liz, 62, was unwilling to help, Ruth wasn’t best pleased. Georgina recalls, ‘Ruth suggested that Mum give up her job as a librarian to run a B&B.
Mum objected and said she wasn’t domestic. Then Ruth snapped back with, “I can see that from the way you keep your house.” Mum held it together while the cameras were filming, but then she ended up in floods of tears. I felt absolutely awful.’
But Ruth believes tough words were needed.
She says, ‘I found the house in a complete state of dilapidation. There were holes in the roof, damp throughout, damaged plaster cornices and trees growing in the middle of the outbuildings.
It was in such a state Georgina and her brother were set to inherit a pile of rubbish.’
She set the family tasks: prepare four of the bedrooms for paying guests; investigate the possibility of hiring out luxury yurts for highend camping in the walled garden; and organise a literary event, bringing visitors to the estate.
Before Ruth came to help, I was so desperate I bought 60 scratchcards in the hope of a miracle to save my family home. I didn’t win a single penny
‘In the end the bed and breakfast trial was a success,’ says Georgina, ‘with guests saying they loved the house and camping out in the grounds. We knew there was potential, but Ruth wanted me to give up my job in London and move to Cornwall. At the same time I was offered a promotion – and I felt utterly torn.’
Ruth suggested she dedicate two years of her life to launch the B&B, and Georgina agreed.
Work started on the renovations, with the family ploughing every penny they could spare into fixing the roof and making the four bedrooms fit for paying guests. ‘By the time of my last visit in October,’ says Ruth, ‘I was happy that some progress was being made – but I didn’t know how far the family would push to make their business work.’
Four months later, and Georgina is finally lady of her manor, while still hanging on to her career. She arrives in Cornwall at 11pm every Friday, and catches the 5am train for London on Mondays. It’s a punishing regime, but one which is breathing life into the family estate.
Weddings are a booming business, and the bed and breakfast rooms are coming along well.
Georgina says, ‘Before Ruth came to help us, I was so desperate that I bought myself 60 Lottery scratchcards in the hope of a miracle to save my family home. I didn’t win a single penny.
Now, thanks to Ruth, we’ve prepared the house for a thriving future.’
Country House Rescue, 9pm, Sundays, Channel 4.