Lyn­d­say and Richard Wat­ter­son’s new life in the south-west of France has made them stars of the screen, as Ca­tri­ona Burns finds out dur­ing her ex­clu­sive in­ter­view

Living France - - Contents - lux­u­ry­gite­

We meet the ex­pat gîte own­ers who are stars of a new tele­vi­sion series

Walk­ing up to meet Lyn­d­say and Richard Wat­ter­son is like some­thing out of a film. Stand­ing out­side a lemon-yel­low house is the sun-kissed, smil­ing cou­ple, wav­ing to greet me as I walk up the tree-lined path to their home in the heart of the French coun­try­side, sur­rounded by the rolling hills and vineyards of south-west France.

Our first meet­ing might not be made for the sil­ver screen but it is part of a Chan­nel 4 series, A New Life in the Sun, a pro­gramme about ex­pats forg­ing new lives in sun­nier climes. On our screens un­til the end of Fe­bru­ary, Lyn­d­say and Richard are stars of the show. “The pro­duc­tion com­pany had an ad­vert on its Face­book page, look­ing for peo­ple who were do­ing the same thing that we were, so I ap­proached them,” Richard says of how they be­came in­volved with the show.

Despite be­ing on a tight film­ing sched­ule and run­ning a busy gîte, Lyn­d­say and Richard are the per­fect hosts, chat­ting over a pot of cof­fee, un­fazed by the cam­era lurk­ing be­hind. It is this re­laxed mind­set that drew them to France in the first place. “We wanted a change of pace,” Richard ex­plains. “I had been in the army for 28 years and I had moved once too of­ten. I think with the last job I just didn’t want to go and then I met Lyn­d­say who wanted to move to France and I thought, ‘Why not?’”

“It was lit­er­ally just like that! It’s en­tirely my fault,” says Lyn­d­say of their whirl­wind move across the Chan­nel. While it was a spur-of-the-mo­ment de­ci­sion for Richard, the dream of mov­ing to France had been one of Lyn­d­say’s am­bi­tions for many years, as she ex­plains. “It’s been my dream since I was about 13. I just never met any­one to do it with un­til now.”

Despite hav­ing har­boured the dream for so long, when it came down to it, the move hap­pened in a short space of time, but, as Lyn­d­say ex­plains, there was good rea­son be­hind the rush.

“I’ve been an am­putee for seven years now and I know I’ve only got so many mo­bile years left,” she ex­plains. “This is one of the things that I wanted to do and there’s no point sit­ting around un­til I’m 65 think­ing, ‘Oh now it’s time to re­tire to France’ be­cause by then I could be in a worse state than I am now.”

Re­solved to make the move sooner rather than later, the cou­ple’s only de­lib­er­a­tion was where in France they would re­lo­cate to, but it would seem that the coun­try­side of the Gers de­part­ment had ev­ery­thing that the cou­ple were look­ing for.

“Our plan was to come over to France, be in Europe, where we’re not far Spain, and not far from lovely towns in France, and to be able to go off to ski and have nice trips at the weekend,” Richard ex­plains. “It was all to do with ski­ing, re­ally, so it was ei­ther go­ing to be within driv­ing dis­tance of the Pyrénées or the Alps.”

Nar­row­ing their search to the south­west, the cou­ple trav­elled out to the area at Easter 2016 to look at prop­er­ties and their cur­rent home, just out­side the com­mune of Pan­jas in Gers, was one of the last that they looked at. But it seems the de­ci­sion was not en­tirely theirs, as Lyn­d­say re­mem­bers. “The dog wouldn’t get back into the car. He found him­self a spot by the back door and he wouldn’t move. He still sits there now.”

The es­tate com­prised a con­sid­er­able amount of land and two prop­er­ties – one that could be used as the cou­ple’s pri­vate home and another that could be rented out as a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity. The pair could see that the prop­erty had a lot of po­ten­tial, though it was in need of a great deal of work, but that doesn’t seem to have fazed them at all. “We’re not here to re­tire; we can’t re­tire,” says Lyn­d­say. “We’re here to have a suc­cess­ful busi­ness and make money.”

Rather than em­ploy­ing trades­peo­ple, the can-do pair be­came pros at DIY, par­tic­u­larly Richard who sur­prised both him­self and Lyn­d­say with his handy­man skill set. “It was a lot of work but I got a real kick out of it. It was great fun to do and there was a real sense of achieve­ment,” he beams.

As Lyn­d­say shows me through each room of the gîte, named Mai­son Coeur à Pon­tacq, it’s clear she’s still en­joy­ing the re­wards of her hus­band’s hand­i­work. “The bath­room is amaz­ing,” she says. “I

don’t know how on earth he did it… it just amazes me, even now. I still think we had elves in overnight,” she laughs.

But, aside from their gor­geous prop­erty, some­thing that the cou­ple relish most about their life in France is the sim­ple plea­sure of spend­ing time together. “We just love be­ing together and en­joy hav­ing a chal­lenge to work at together,” says Lyn­d­say. “I also love the open space we have here; it’s un­be­liev­able.”

And it’s clear that Lyn­d­say and Richard aren’t the only ones to en­joy the sprawl­ing space, as I later learn when their three dogs come bound­ing across the lawn to the lux­u­ri­ous out­door pool. “I wish the dogs could talk,” sighs Richard. “I don’t know what they must think.”

“It’s like a sa­fari park to them,” says Lyn­d­say, of the three-hectare es­tate that sur­rounds the prop­erty. “They love it.”

The gîte may be in idyl­lic coun­try­side, but the vil­lage of Pan­jas is only a short drive away. “There’s a boulan­gerie, a mar­ket, a lovely restau­rant and a bar and it’s quite lively dur­ing the sum­mer,” Lyn­d­say ex­plains. “We spend a lot of time

“We just love be­ing together and en­joy hav­ing a chal­lenge to work at”

there. We’ve made some re­ally lovely friends, both French and English, just by ac­ci­dent – by be­ing friendly and chatty.” Learn­ing the lan­guage has also helped the pair to in­te­grate, but this was one of the draws of mov­ing in the first place.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to speak French and live in a for­eign lan­guage,” says Lyn­d­say, who uses chil­dren’s books as a learn­ing aid. “I’m cur­rently work­ing at about age six,” she laughs. “It’s not com­pli­cated, but it’s com­pli­cated enough.” Although Richard ini­tially strug­gled with the lan­guage, he, like Lyn­d­say, has been very cre­ative when it comes to learn­ing French and has found play­ing the trum­pet in a lo­cal French band to be par­tic­u­larly help­ful. “It’s the best way to learn,” he says. “Mu­sic has no bar­ri­ers.”

The cou­ple im­ple­mented a no-holds­barred mantra when it came to film­ing the tele­vi­sion series. “It’s about life,” says Lyn­d­say of their heart-on-sleeves ap­proach. “It’s not just about the gîte and work­ing, it’s about life in gen­eral. We don’t cre­ate sit­u­a­tions; none of it is scripted. We’d maybe do some­thing and the cam­era­man would say ‘can you do it again?’. There’s noth­ing fake about it. It’s all been real. And it’s been very, very real. It’s been very per­sonal.”

While their move to France has been filled with hap­pi­ness, the pair have faced some chal­lenges along the way, as Lyn­d­say ex­plains. “At Christ­mas I be­gan to suf­fer prob­lems with my pros­thetic leg. As soon as we ar­rived here I was un­able to walk and I spent five months sat in my wheel­chair while I waited for a new leg. For me the hard­est part was not be­ing able to con­trib­ute as much as we’d planned to the restora­tion process. Sud­denly, a lot was trans­ferred on to Richard, and I found that chal­leng­ing,” she re­mem­bers.

But if any­one can come out the

other side even stronger, it’s surely Richard and Lyn­d­say, who rise to any chal­lenge they are faced with; their sunny out­look see­ing them through what­ever comes their way.

For their new life in France and their gîte busi­ness, it looks like it’s on­wards and up­wards from here. The lux­u­ri­ous Mai­son Coeur à Pon­tacq, which can sleep up to 10 peo­ple, has al­ready en­joyed a busy first sea­son, and the pair are hope­ful that they will build on this suc­cess.

“Hope­fully with the tele­vi­sion pro­gramme, we’ll get a lot of in­ter­est and get a good rep­u­ta­tion for the gîte,” says Richard. “For the first sea­son, I think we’ve done re­ally well. We’ll just keep chip­ping away.”

Although the ma­jor­ity of the restora­tion work is done, the pair are adamant that their hard work will be main­tained with a lit­tle-and-of­ten ap­proach. “You’ve got to ac­cept that things need re­plac­ing,” says Lyn­d­say. “For ex­am­ple, a shower cur­tain isn’t go­ing to last years; you have to change things af­ter each sea­son. We want to make sure that ev­ery guest who comes gets that feel­ing that it’s just been fin­ished. That fresh paint feel­ing… can you get that in an aerosol?”

Despite the cou­ple be­ing open to ev­ery and any ad­ven­ture that comes their way, they plan to en­joy their idyl­lic way of life here in France for the fore­see­able fu­ture. “We’ve in­vested so much of our­selves here,” says Lyn­d­say. “It wasn’t just a turn of the key – we’ve put our heart and soul and a lot of our per­son­al­ity into the place. It feels like home. I love walk­ing through the front door.”

Hav­ing mar­ried and moved to France within a year of meet­ing one another, Lyn­d­say and Richard couldn’t have imag­ined liv­ing in such a beau­ti­ful part of France together not so long ago. But both have em­braced their good for­tune with open arms.

“Sur­prises come round ev­ery cor­ner,” Lyn­d­say rea­sons. “You’ve just got to go with it. I’ve be­come a ‘yes per­son’. When you lose a limb, you of­ten hear that you won’t be able to do this and you won’t be able to do that. But I de­cided you can. You’ve just got to find a way to do it.”

So, can we ex­pect to see any of these sur­prises in the tele­vi­sion series? “There’s ev­ery­thing,” says Lyn­d­say. “There’s ar­gu­ing, bick­er­ing, there’s him shout­ing at me, there’s tears along the way... all sorts. It’s just been about life,” she smiles. What­ever’s in store for this in­spir­ing cou­ple, we’ll be watch­ing.

“We’ve put our heart and soul into the place”

Lyn­d­say and Richard with some of their guests

Fac­ing page, top and

bot­tom: Richard and Lyn­d­say on their wed­ding day in 2015; Lyn­d­say works on the sub­stan­tial gar­dens

Left: The cou­ple talk to Liv­ing France’s Staff Writer, Ca­tri­ona Burns, for the Chan­nel 4 series A New Life in the Sun

Above: The gîte has been fur­nished with a fresh, mod­ern style

Clock­wise from top left: En­joy­ing the gar­den’s open space; the cou­ple take ad­van­tage of the nearby ski­ing; soak­ing up some sun

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