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TV Interview

Ruth Watson ('Country House Rescue')

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Ruth Watson ('Country House Rescue')
Ruth Watson is probably best known for fronting three series of Five's Hotel Inspector, replacing grotty mattresses, rating cooked breakfasts and modernising decor in some of Britain's most under-performing hotels. Now, having moved across to Channel 4, she's aiming to revive the fortunes of six stately homes on Country House Rescue. Intrigued, we called the ever formidable hotelier, cookery writer and businesswoman to find out more.

What attracted you to Country House Rescue?
"Well, my husband and I have owned Grade 1 listed country properties, we're farmers and we understand country life and the problems surrounding country houses. The only reservation I had was to do with time frame. With English Heritage regulations and building bricks and everything else, you're not going to get the instant transformations you get on Hotel Inspector. But you can put people on the right path and hopefully that's what we managed to do."

What's the biggest problem facing owners of country houses?
"Cash flow. It's easy to look at the owners and think, 'What's your problem mate? You're living in a fantastic house in the middle of 1200 acres'. But these people are often asset rich but cash poor. If you've got a crumbling wing or stable block, you need a big chunk of money to fix it. The expenses are just staggering. Often you need a very particular finish when decorating a room - a single mahogany door at one of our houses cost £5,000."

Does your role vary from house to house?
"Yes, inasmuch as sometimes people have established ideas about what they want to do with the property and we just challenge them. Then there are times when people don't know what to do, so we introduce fresh ideas. It very much depends on how much people take on board and whether they're prepared to listen."

Were some of the owners very resistant to your ideas?
"Well, this might sound like I have a chip on my shoulder, but I have been aware for many, many years that I have a problem with men of a certain era because I'm middle-aged and female. That was probably a universal thing when making the series - they didn't like to be quizzed and queried and challenged by me. But I'm so aware of the syndrome now that it doesn't really bother me."

How was working on this series different to Hotel Inspector?
"I think the owners weren't always as prepared just to suck it all up. On Hotel Inspector I was a successful hotelier going in to help failing hotels, so there was a much clearer understanding of my role. This was slightly more muddy. People didn't actually say, 'Who do you think you are and why are doing this?' but there was definitely a bit more wariness and there was more argument. But I'm not averse to that, I like to be challenged too."

Do you miss Hotel Inspector?
"Well, I start filming something to do with hospitality in two weeks' time. It's kind of a Grand Designs meets Hotel Inspector show. It's about people who are new to the industry who are setting out with a building that's in appalling condition. My role, perhaps in more of a Kevin McCloud vein, is to comment on what they're doing and perhaps disagree with them. I'm not telling them what do do and it's not a rival to Hotel Inspector."

Did you watch the recent series of Hotel Inspector?
"I saw the last 20 minutes of the last one. I think... well... formatted programmes succeed because they have a format that the audience likes. Sometimes when you change the protagonist, the format still works very well. The recent series still got a very good audience for Five, but it was about half of our audience at its peak. I wouldn't want to be put into a format that somebody else established."

Do you think Alex Polizzi struggled with that?
"I don't think I want to answer that! You know, I'd done 19 episodes of Hotel Inspector and I didn't think I had anything more to say in that format. I'd had enough of talking about sausages and clutter!"

Country House Rescue begins Tuesday at 9pm on Channel 4.

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