Earlier this year Channel 4 told the story of two City lawyers who gave up their legal careers to renovate a 17th century château in the heart of South West France. Why did they do it? Anyone who saw the series No Going Back: Chaos at the Castle. will already have some idea. For those that didn’t, here’s why.
Patrick Bergot was a senior associate in the employment department at Herbert Smith. His wife Colette was a senior assistant in Thomas Eggar’s pensions department. “Many people who do this sort of thing hate their jobs and are desperate to quit the rat race,” explains Patrick. “But we both really enjoyed our jobs. What we hated was commuting and we wanted to spend more time together and with our two girls.”
Both had always dreamt of owning a restaurant and so they started looking at locations. Following an extended period of working longer than normal hours, a holiday abroad and the birth of their second child, they wondered whether their restaurant could be in France.
“We saw Château de Ribagnac quite by chance,” says Colette. “We knew it was too big and far too expensive for our budget, but we thought we’d have a look all the same. It was breathtakingly beautiful and we both fell instantly in love with it.” They researched the area thoroughly and had meetings with the mayor (a must in France) and the Chamber of Commerce in Limoges, the nearest city. The idea now grew to running a small, high-class family hotel with a private dining room. But despite all the preparation, there was still one major move left to make.
“The scariest thing was giving up our jobs and the comfort of a regular income for a great big shot in the dark, and hopefully not in the foot,” says Patrick. Neither had ever run their own business but they were determined to make it succeed. They did as much preparation as they could, which is where Channel 4 came in. After an initial email enquiry from Colette about being on the No Going Back series of programmes, the couple was told they would be the subject of their own six-part series.
Four-hundred and fifty hours filming and 22 shoots later, Patrick and Colette were exhausted. The series showed them climbing trees, harvesting fruit and veg, ploughing, demolishing walls, painting, tiling, cooking and going to bed and getting up again a few hours later. They even followed them around the supermarket two days before Christmas, making shoppers mistake them for French soap stars. After all, it’s not every day that someone walks into a supermarket with a camera crew. “We enjoyed the filming but it was very demanding,” says Patrick. “But we were less pleased with the stereotyping in the programme itself,” added Colette, referring to the judicious editing that turned the moment she lost her temper with the camera crew into a row with her husband.
For the renovation they had the help of both sets of parents, quite a
few friends (many of them lawyers themselves) and some local artisans, all with penalty clauses in their contracts if they finished late (they didn’t) – so their legal skills came in handy.
The worst moment was realising they had spent nearly three months demolishing things, leaving only two months for the actual rebuild. But five new bathrooms, a few hundred square metres of plastering and lots of plumbing later, they opened their doors to their first guests in May 2004.
As for the highs, there have been many. “Every time we look around our dinner table full of guests, enjoying the food, drink and ambience,’ says Patrick, “that’s when we know we’ve made the right decision.”
Contact Patrick or Colette at www.chateauribagnac.com or on 00 33 5 55 39 77 91