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.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

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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