From Coun­try­file to the south of France

TV ad­ven­turer He­len Skel­ton re­veals all about her new life in Pyrénées-ori­en­tales

French Property News - - Contents -

When she’s not film­ing in the great Bri­tish coun­try­side, He­len Skel­ton is liv­ing the life of dreams in the south of France. The Coun­try­file pre­sen­ter re­cently moved to Per­pig­nan af­ter her hus­band, rugby league player, Richie Myler, signed with the Cata­lan Dragons.

The bub­bly TV star, who bright­ened up the Olympics in Rio last sum­mer when she pre­sented the BBC’S cov­er­age of the swim­ming and div­ing, has also hosted News­round and Blue Peter, dur­ing which she de­vel­oped a thirst for ac­tion and ad­ven­ture that has seen her un­der­take in­cred­i­ble chal­lenges for char­ity. She’s not only kayaked 2,000 miles down the Ama­zon (break­ing two Guin­ness World Records), but trav­elled 500 miles across Antarc­tica to the South Pole, be­com­ing the fastest per­son to ski 100km (62 miles), break­ing yet more World Records.

How are you adapt­ing to life in France? We’re so lucky – we’re in CanetPlage, right on the coast. We’ve been made to feel very wel­come here, which is a credit to the rugby club and the area. It’s good that my hus­band Richie plays rugby and that he went to a job – I think it would have been dif­fer­ent had we come here cold. We’ve got good friends and we’re lov­ing our life here!

Have you ex­pe­ri­enced any cul­ture shocks? Ob­vi­ously a lot of life is very dif­fer­ent. We can’t get over how re­laxed ev­ery­thing is, tak­ing two hours for lunch and the im­por­tance of fam­ily. It’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent in that sense and that’s been re­ally good for us. The big­gest cul­ture shock is the shops be­ing shut on a Sun­day!

How of­ten do you com­mute to the UK for work and how do you man­age with a tod­dler in tow? Quite of­ten, but my work is un­pre­dictable, so there’s no typ­i­cal month. Some­times I travel as of­ten as two or three times a month, other months not at all. My fam­ily is bril­liant and come and meet me wher­ever. I’m re­ally lucky. And my lit­tle boy, Ernie, loves fly­ing on aero­planes! All those peo­ple in a con­fined space… he loves go­ing around say­ing ‘hello!’

Can you de­scribe your prop­erty? Un­til re­cently, we were in an apart­ment over­look­ing the har­bour and the sea and, as I was al­ways up early with Ernie, I watched the sun­rise over the ocean ev­ery morn­ing, which was in­cred­i­ble. Now, we’re rent­ing a brand-new, eco-friendly, three­bed­room villa with a pool. It’s modern, white and open-plan,

sit­u­ated right by the beach and on the edge of a vine­yard. We can get five litres of wine for €5!

Are you con­sid­er­ing pur­chas­ing a prop­erty in Per­pig­nan in the fu­ture? We’d like to buy a house, but it re­ally de­pends on what hap­pens next. Plus we’ve got to be prac­ti­cal with a tod­dler and an­other baby on the way!

Had you vis­ited the area be­fore the move? Fun­nily enough, my par­ents found a photo of me at a camp­site which is just down the road! I think it was the first for­eign hol­i­day they took me on. So yes, I first came here some time ago.

What do you love most about France, and the Per­pig­nan area? The weather, of course, the im­por­tance of life and the food, which is great. Lunch takes ages and Ernie is wel­come ev­ery­where. It’s re­ally nice for kids, es­pe­cially in sum­mer (it’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent place in win­ter!). The peo­ple here work to live rather than live to work, which is a good ap­proach. I think we can learn a lot from that. Noth­ing is done on a Sun­day, which is bril­liant! It’s a bit like Eng­land 20 years ago. Ev­ery­one smokes though, which isn’t so great. And they don’t pick up dog poo, which is also a bit like Eng­land 20 years ago!

What are your favourite things to do in the area? We spend all our time out­side in the sum­mer. We’re of­ten on the beach. There’s 4km of prom­e­nade and when Ernie was a baby I walked the pushchair up and down there ev­ery day. I’m try­ing to get him to use his bal­ance bike along it now. We go on the carousel most days. There’s a restau­rant that’s open year-round. It looks out onto the beach but also onto the square, so on mar­ket days we sit out­side and watch ev­ery­body go by while we eat. We’re in there so much, they’ve be­come a bit like an ex­ten­sion of our fam­ily! There’s also a nice spa ho­tel, some great bars on the beach and some fancy restau­rants with soft play ar­eas… chil­dren are very well catered for.

Have you spent much time ex­plor­ing the re­gion? We love vis­it­ing Mont­pel­lier, Car­cas­sonne, Nice and Col­lioure, which has an amaz­ing light show at Christ­mas and New Year. We go to the nearby hot wa­ter springs. We’re re­ally close to Spain, so we travel down the Span­ish coast a lot, to Barcelona, Girona… We also love vis­it­ing a lit­tle white­washed fish­ing vil­lage, Cadaqués, where we sit on the jetty, eat­ing tapas.

How’s the lo­cal gas­tron­omy ? It’s amaz­ing! We’ve never had a bad, or ex­pen­sive, meal in Per­pig­nan. You can get a fan­tas­tic salad, main course and wine for around £15 each. Richie loves mus­sels, but I’m al­ler­gic. We never go to the su­per­mar­ket, we use the lo­cal mar­ket; it’s so cheap and easy and it’s all there.

The re­gion’s also renowned for its amaz­ing an­tiques mar­kets. Do you ever visit them? Yes, we go to the lo­cal one in Canet and there’s a big one in Per­pig­nan ev­ery Satur­day. They have some re­ally weird and won­der­ful stuff, such as Egyp­tian masks and wooden carv­ings.

As an adrenaline junkie, do you en­joy a sporty, out­door life­style? I bought a pad­dle­board when we first came here and we rollerblade on the prom­e­nade. We’re only an hour and half away from the moun­tains so we some­times go ski­ing. I’ve yet to go canyon­ing, and there are loads of other sports to try, like pothol­ing.

This is­sue is a Good Life spe­cial – does that res­onate with you? I feel very lucky to be liv­ing ‘a’ good life. I get qual­ity time with peo­ple I love and we live close to beau­ti­ful moun­tains and lovely beaches. There is no one good life – ev­ery­one’s mea­sure­ment is dif­fer­ent – but liv­ing in the south of France means I can jug­gle my fam­ily, my work and my free time, which is pretty good to me!

How’s your French? When I’ve had a drink of wine, my French is ex­cel­lent! In a so­cial en­vi­ron­ment with my girl­friends, it’s great. I did French A-level and then worked in a fish restau­rant in the big fruit and veg square in Nice to im­prove my lan­guage skills. It was an amaz­ing ad­ven­ture and fan­tas­tic fun. Richie has three lessons a week. He’s do­ing well but it’s a chal­lenge. His pre­vi­ously very English ac­cent has re­ally im­proved. Ernie starts nurs­ery soon and hope­fully he’ll start pick­ing up a few words then. He al­ready says Oh là là – a lot!

Do you so­cialise with the other rugby wives? Yes, I’ve been out with the French girls, which has been re­ally help­ful. There are no mummy/ baby groups here so that’s been a bit of chal­lenge. It’s a dif­fer­ent lan­guage and cul­ture, but ev­ery­one’s in the same boat with kids and stuff, so top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion are the same.

Fi­nally, you re­cently cy­cled across north­ern France to com­mem­o­rate 100 years since the Bat­tle of the Somme, dur­ing which you dis­cov­ered a fam­ily rev­e­la­tion… Yes, it was sombre but amaz­ing to see… I knew I had rel­a­tives serv­ing in WWII but didn’t know about the WWI. My grandad’s un­cle was on the front line and, for­tu­nately, sur­vived.

He­len can be seen pre­sent­ing BBC1’S Coun­try­file on Sun­day nights. She is an am­bas­sador for Kar­ri­mor cloth­ing, Sports Re­lief and Comic Re­lief.

“I feel lucky to be liv­ing a Good Life in the south of France – I can jug­gle my fam­ily, my work and my free time, which is pretty good to me!”

The fam­ily live in a modern, open-plan villa with pool

He­len loves hik­ing in the French moun­tains

Richie, Ernie and He­len en­joy­ing the south­ern sun­shine

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