Dales cottage hits the high notes thanks to singer’s labour of love
Opera star Dame Josephine Barstow is selling her home in the Dales vilage of Starbotton. Sharon Dale reports.
ONE of the world’s most celebrated sopranos, Dame Josephine Barstow is feted by audiences and opera critics alike. She has sung with Pavarotti and Domingo and her performances have been described as “a tour de force” and “a marvel to watch”.
What her many fans may not realise is that one of her off-stage talents is property renovation.
“I’ve always bought old property to do up. I enjoy it. It’s creative and fun and it means you can get a house just how you like it,” says Dame Josephine, who also breeds Arabian horses.
Her cottage in the Dales village of Starbotton, which is now on the market for £450,000 with Savills, is testament to her design skills and her love of rooting round in salvage yards and sale rooms.
She bought it at Christmas-time 1996 after her beloved husband Ande Anderson passed away and says the project was therapeutic, giving her something to focus on other than the overwhelming grief.
She and Ande, a former opera director, had bought a property on the fellside in Starbottom and were all set to work on it together when he died. The house held too many memories and she decided to sell.
“We bought it on April 16 1996 with visions of doing it up and letting it, as well as using it ourselves, then he died on June 19. I was in a bad way and couldn’t cope with the house,” she says.
“He had been so keen and had all these ideas for it. It had too many associations with my husband, so I decided to let it go. I still loved the village though and so when this cottage came up for tender I put in an offer and got it.”
Although she has a house in Devon, she longed for a second home in her native Yorkshire.
She was born in Sheffield but her mother was from Otley and her father from Leeds and the family often visited the Dales.
“I loved the Dales. It is in my psyche, always has been,” says Dame Josephine, who moved to London aged eight after her father relocated there to run a weighing machines company.
As a teenager she adored the theatre, regularly travelling on the tube from Cockfosters to the Old Vic and she dreamed of being an actress until, aged 17, she went on a school exchange visit to France.
“The family I was staying with took me to see The Barber of Seville at a romantic outdoor auditorium in Aix en Provence and that was it. I thought: ‘I am going to be an opera singer.’ I just assumed I could do it. My parents were very good considering it was a completely off the wall idea in 1956 when there wasn’t much opera going on in Britain.”
They paid for singing lessons but insisted she do her degree in English, after which she made her operatic debut in 1964.
She is now recognised as one of the leading singing actresses, enjoying starring roles with the English National Opera, Sadlers Wells and, most recently, as the Countess in Queen of Spades at Opera North.
At the age of 71, and after almost 50 years in the business, her voice has never changed.
“I still have the same range, which is unusual but inconvenient because roles for older women tend to require you to be low so I have had to manufacture a bottom to my voice. But I’m lucky to be working. I think I’ll be the oldest woman on the operatic stage before long,” she laughs.
Slim and full of verve, she looks at least 10 years younger and puts it down to being constantly on the go. “My body just has to keep up,” she says.
As well as singing, teaching and looking after her stud farm, she oversaw the work on her 17th century cottage, which she renovated and remodelled.
On the ground floor, a separate sitting room and kitchen have been knocked into one to create a large living kitchen that is still cosy thanks to her Aga and a wood burning stove.
In the second sitting room, she installed a stone fireplace made from a lintel she found in a salvage yard.
“I found this carved lintel lying in the grass and thought it was perfect. All I needed was the sides to support it and I found some in another salvage yard. When I put everything together it was perfect.”
Upstairs, she created a third bedroom in what was a large bathroom and she has moved the bathroom into a space at the end of the landing.
Keen to lower the high ceilings on the first floor, and after a sleepless night staring up at them, she climbed up into the attic with a tape measure and came up with idea of lowering the ceilings to create two loft rooms.
They are packed with boxes and her sale room finds. She loves Andrew Hartley’s auctions in Ilkley, where she has picked up everything from chairs and paintings to a salt box.
“I love old things and I rarely buy anything new. It’s a sensible idea because if you want to change them you can easily sell them,” she says.
Outside, she has planted a pretty cottage garden that makes the most of the stunning views.
The work done, she has enjoyed being there. She loves gardening and walking, often up to 20 miles at a time, and says the cottage offers peace and an escape from her busy schedule.
“It has a wonderful feel. It wraps its arms around you and makes you feel better.”
It does have a lovely atmosphere and one she has helped create. She is definitely no diva. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, she is down to earth, lots of fun and delightful company. She will miss her Dales haven when she sells it along with her Devon home to buy one house in Sussex.
“I’m trying to rationalise everything now I am in my 70s but I will miss this house,” she says. “It was a very therapeutic project. I was in a bad way when I lost my husband and this cottage was something to care about. I poured all my love into it.”
The cottage has been renovated and now boasts three bedrooms and two attic rooms. Dame Josephine, above left, has furnished with sale room finds from Andrew Hartley in Ilkley and she has created a fireplace in the sitting room using a carved lintel...
The house is cosy inside with an electric Aga, a wood burning stove and open fire. Outside, there is a cottage garden with views of the stunning Dales.
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