Updated: May 12
As a family, we think about life a little differently since losing my dad in 2014. Things we used to think were important, are important no more, and we tend to take the saying ‘life’s too short’ with a lot more seriousness. In fact, it’s become a bit of a family mantra and something we aim to live by each and every day.
My mum has done a great job of living by that mantra, and spreading plenty of good in the process. Whilst I am the cautious individual who likes to methodically and carefully think things through, Selena Booth always throws said caution to the wind and relentlessly turns her dreams into a reality.
Her first dream became a reality when she launched Magnolia in 2018, a beautiful Centre for Health and Wellbeing that brings together the most amazing therapist community committed to making you feel your very best. I thought she was crazy when she first came up with the idea, having no business experience whatsoever since she left her last job as a cashier in Marks and Spencer's. But, what she created, blew me away so much that I wanted to quit my job and join her full-time. It hadn’t even been a year since we launched Magnolia, but she was soon onto the next…
For those who have ever seen ‘Channel 4’s’ enchanting documentary series, ‘Escape to the Chateau’, you may know how easy it is to become entwined in a hazy dream of French living. My grandmother on my dads side, Susan (or Nannie to me), became slightly obsessed with the programme and how so many daring Brits had found their fairytale property, and fearlessly tackled some huge renovations to design their dream life. Susan had soon dragged my mum into it, and understandably, she became hooked too.
A few too many episodes (and glasses of wine) later, Selena was booking a dream road trip for her and Susan to ‘Escape to the Chateau’ themselves. They jumped into the car, like some comical take on ‘Thelma and Louise’, and set off on their adventure of a lifetime. Their trip took them to stay in three beautiful Chateau hotels in the Loire Valley and Picardy region of Northern France. My grandmother felt quite at home…
In a bid to find our very own dream property, my mother had also booked in a few property viewings. The bookings alone sent my cautious brain spiralling, but my mum assured me she wouldn’t do anything without me and my brother viewing and approving first.
The first viewing was a flop, the house was practically falling down. They didn’t even go ahead with the second booking because the area it was located in, was pretty run down. Spirits had become dampened and my mum had resigned to thinking a search for ‘the one’ could take years, just like it did for Dick and Angel Strawbridge. This eased me slightly, we had enough on our plates trying to figure out how to run our first business without throwing a property renovation in France into the mix!
The night before the last viewing, my mum and Susan had driven a total of 7 hours, they were exhausted and were trying to locate the property with half an address. Following a failed attempt, they were on their way back to the hotel when they received an email which contained the full correct address. Susan convinced her to turn around and she reluctantly re-routed to find the property again.
Climbing up over a gate, and peering through years of overgrown trees and shrubs, Selena fell in love at first sight. There were some excited expletives, and my 5ft grandmother pulling at her leg, desperate to know what she could see. They returned to the hotel too excited to sleep, but filled with dreams of what could be.
The next day Selena and Susan returned to the property for the official viewing and worked their way around the extensive grounds and buildings. My mum was drawn immediately through the overgrown grass to the bottom of the garden, where the smallest outbuilding (now lovingly named ‘The Cwtch’) was hiding amongst the overgrowth. She fell in love again with this tiny stone hut, and from there on in the property just kept on giving, with one surprise after the next. Whilst this ‘Maison de Maître’ was not quite large or grand enough to be officially classed as a ‘Chateau’, it was already ‘Our Chateau’
As soon as Selena returned to the UK, emails were exchanged and although the asking price was very out of budget, she submitted an offer with a detailed explanation of what she wanted to create there. You see, my mum's idea of running a business is slightly different to most. Her aim is to give back with everything she does, and create something special to pass on to generations of Booths. As part of Magnolia, we launched Sanctuary Sundays, afternoons dedicated to providing free treatments (thanks to our incredible therapist family) for those in our local area battling cancer. Her vision for France is to create a wellbeing retreat, which will regularly be offered to terminally ill cancer patients to make incredibly special memories with their families. The Neny family adored my mum’s vision, and to our amazement and joy, accepted her crazy offer happily in the knowledge that their beloved family home would have its love and beauty restored.
Just two weeks later, we returned. This time as a family, to be introduced to our mother’s next dream. Despite a cautious mind on overdrive, it was impossible not to fall in love with the house just as my mum did. Walking into the grounds felt almost enchanting, the overgrowth adding to the magic and reminding me of a favourite novel from my childhood ‘The Secret Garden’.
With the family seal of approval, signing of documents and exchange of keys shortly followed. We received a beautiful welcome from the family, neighbours and even the village Mayor!
Fast forward to that Summer, and its blistering heat. My mum returned with an army of dear friends who were ready to help her start clearing the house and cut back the overgrowth ready for the winter. Over the course of a week, this amazing team of six worked their balls off and transformed the grounds to its former glory.
The house worked its charms on our guests too, and something fell into place better than we could have ever dreamed. Toby (my dad’s best friend since aged 4), his beautiful wife Cathie and their dog Jiffy were reluctant to return home having fallen in love so much with French living. When they did return home, they made a momentous decision which blew us away. They quit their jobs and returned to France to be ‘live-in’ project managers. There is no one more perfect to carry out and oversee the project for us, and we have been thrilled ever since.
It’s been nearly a year now since we received the keys to the property (all 28 of them!). There’s been a few drunken party weekends and an incredible amount of hard graft put in by Toby and Cathie. Things are progressing as quickly as French bureaucracy allows (that is extremely slowly!). We’re still awaiting planning approval, and naturally things have had to be put on hold because of the crazy situation the world currently finds itself in, but we will get there. In the meantime, we are brushing up on our French, and eagerly awaiting emails of news from our architect.
Last week, we received a video animation of how the finished project will look. The video reminded us to look forward to the amazing times ahead, all the good the project will do and the memories that will be made there.
I hope my mum inspires you to dream big, just as she inspires me on a daily basis. I’m so excited and grateful to be a small part of the journey that will make this incredibly special dream come true. We can’t wait to share our progress with you.