I’m a mum. Trying to figure out how to make the best of my time here on earth. Looking to leave something that’s enduring so that people will know that we cared. Working with my husband to lovingly restore a derelict chateau in France.
Ellen Bosque: I’m a mum. Trying to figure out how to make the best of my time here on earth. Looking to leave something that’s enduring so that people will know that we cared. Working with my husband to lovingly restore a derelict chateau in France.
Taryn: That's amazing. You know, I've been following your story for a while. But I guess I didn't realise that, really, this project is a love story. It's a leap of faith and trust. And it wasn't that you just got this idea to go and do this. It was your husband. So, first, I just want to note, 7 hectares is about 17 acres. I definitely looked that up while you were talking. But also, while you were talking, I muted because - at certain points, I was laughing, but also, I got a bit teary. I think hearing you talk about making this leap of faith and being out of your comfort zone is really moving. How did other people who were close to you react to that? When you tell this story to friends and family, are they like, "Wow. That's so amazing," or, "You're out of your mind," or a healthy mix of both?
Ellen: I think my immediate family have such pure faith in me. I don't know why, I've made such mistakes in my life. But my sisters, my mother, my aunts, my uncles, all of them just absolutely have this blind faith that every decision I make will come to good. I think that has been a hugely Mathew beneficial thing in my life in terms of all of my achievements, my career. It comes from the fact that they just have blind faith in everything that I do. So, from my family's side, I can't believe how keen they were actually that I went and did this. But I think that they had already come to terms with the fact that I wasn't moving back to the US after I moved to England. This to them was just another 380 miles in terms of distance. It wasn't a massive, "Oh my goodness. She's moving again even further away from us." They didn't see it that way.
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They always knew that, historically, in America, I would always buy, I would always look to buy property in areas that were up and coming. I would fix them up, I'd sell them, I'd buy the next one. I did it a few times in my life. And so, they always knew that I liked the idea of buying something, fixing it up, and then moving on. But “I” never fixed it up. I always paid for people to fix it up. I never had to personally fix it up.
Then when I came to the UK, we did something similar and I moved with my husband into a beautiful old Victorian terrace. We fixed it up, we sold it. And then we moved to this heap of a house. It was such a mess, and it was in a lovely up and coming area within London. It's got such diversity. It's perfect for the way I want to raise my son. And I love it. But the house was a hell hole. And slowly, we have fixed it up. But again, my husband's done a lot of the DIY himself and we have also paid people – but I’ve done none of it.
My family, I think, conceptually in their heads, just thought, "This is another thing that she's going to do where she'll go in and she'll fix it up. And then she'll move on." Even though I sent them pictures of it, they didn't understand what it was that we had bought and how long it will take us to fix it up. It was really wonderful because we bought it in December 2017 and then they came the following summer. And then they got to see that this is different. There have been so many people that have come who worry - totally natural. And I feed off it, I want people to recognize that this IS scary and that there is a bit of worry. You know what I mean?
It was really wonderful because we bought it in December 2017 and then they came the following summer. And then they got to see that this is different.
But my family just assumed I could do it. I think they also probably trust Mathew even more than they trust me. But they just assumed that he could do it. You know, they just thought, "Yeah, okay. She's nuts. This is nuts, but she'll do it. She'll just do it." And I haven't yet believed that about myself. And it's the first time that I haven't believed that I could do something.
The people that have come and scared me are mostly tradesmen. When we went and said, "Okay. We're going to be ecofriendly. We're going to put a ground source heat pump to heat it. And then we got this guy to come over, and he just laughed at us. He was like, "You need to dig up a football field in order to have enough space to heat this with a ground source heat pump. You can't do that because it's such hard bedrock down here that you'll never get through it. So, you're not heating it with a ground source heat pump. You need to think of something else." And left, and chuckled. He was laughing at us.
And so, you kind of think, "Oh my. What have we done?" We bought a place we can't heat. But that was easy to ignore because we were fixing another building up. We were like, "Worse case we can sell up. We'll think about that later. Let's not worry about that just now." Just worry about one of the outbuildings, you know, the place that we need to make livable for us now. You have to put that kind of reaction to the back of your mind. That was probably in 2018. It's now 2021. I still haven't thought of a way to heat the chateau, but it's fine. I'm still looking. It'll be fine.
Mathew’s brother, he has been amazing. I think Mathew’s mom probably goes through ups and down with it. You know, when she first went out there; I think it was just her and Mathew. They were cleaning and she had purpose and she understood what she was doing and where she fit into it. And it was fine. There was no need to think of the bigger problem. Then she went home and thought about it, "What have they done?" and I think she got very anxious about it. But then she'd come out again. I tend to be a naturally enthusiastic person anyway. And so, my enthusiasm probably got her through that like, "Oh, this is brilliant. It's amazing. Look, my family's here. They're all having a great time. They think it's fantastic." And she was in it and there with us. But then she went home and thought, "Oh my god. What have they done." So, that's a different kind of experience, I think, in terms of her worry about it, which I understand.
And then I think we started tracking our progress on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook first. I think when we started the Facebook thing, I posted this picture of the Chateau. So, I put up this picture of the chateau and just said, Brexit-induced kind of excuses, really, for why we did this. And then put it out there that if anybody ever wanted to come, they're more than welcome, without really thinking people would come because it's crazy. Right?
But I got so much positive feedback. I would say 95% of people, a lot of them my old friends from America, were like, "Oh my god. That is just amazing." I didn't know if it was because of the advent of all of these house shows where people are doing and seeing lots of renovation. I don't know what they were thinking, but it was overwhelmingly positive. People thought we could do this. People thought it was an amazing project. And then people asked to help. And I kind of figured out what else I was good at.
I don't know what they were thinking, but it was overwhelmingly positive. People thought we could do this. People thought it was an amazing project. And then people asked to help. And I kind of figured out what else I was good at.
I can't even open a ladder. I'm humiliated at times about the things that I find that I'm not really good at. I spent a good 45 minutes cleaning windows and not understanding why the view wasn't getting any clearer, not knowing I had to do the other side of the window. This is not something that's natural to me. The excuse is that growing up, my parents wanted me to study, to focus on school to get a great education so that I could be a lawyer. And everything else, they would sort out. So, I was a bit spoiled in that respect, in terms of not really having to do much in terms of chores. But I worked hard. I studied. I gave them everything and everything they asked me to do - I did it.
So, cleaning was just not something I was good at. And I have really bad allergies as well. So, dusting, all of that, my eyes swell up. It's just not going to happen. Sawdust, I'm sneezing for hours. I'm not good at it. And I think I made that my mantra, "I'm not good at it." But in order for me to feel as though I was a part of this, I had to find out what I was good at. I think my family and my friends all told me, "You can tell stories. And you can get people interested." Although we're not looking at this as a going concern in terms of a business, I want people to be interested, because we are actually trying to turn this into a building that's reflective of its period in time, its space in country, and what we think they built it for. And we're doing it thoughtfully.
And I'm proud. I'm so proud of what we are doing that I want people to see it, and I want people to understand it, and I want people to be excited about it. Because it's going to hopefully be there longer than me. Especially now in this world, there are so many opportunities to be narcissistic, especially when you're a lawyer, especially when you work in what we do, and you're being paid for your ability to think. And that makes you think that you're smart. It builds this sense of being within you that you think you’re the shit, really. But really, you're just doing a job that is actually sucking every single bit of your life out of you.
And the returns on just that job are, yes, you get to give your kid an amazing education so that they can have a job that sucks every bit of life out of them. And yes, you get to go on amazing holidays that last two weeks and that you have memories in the form of pictures, and experiences that you forget. I think back to some of the holidays I've been on that were apparently the best when I was there, that I barely remember. Now, all my thoughts that are not taken up by my son or captured by my work are captured by a building that is going to be here longer than me, that will be a forever memory that I will never forget. That does cater to a different type of narcissism, not at all about how smart I am, but how hard I worked and how thoughtful I was, and that you get to put a fingerprint on the planet that immortalizes your family; that lives longer than you.
Everybody says you will live in the memories of others. That absolutely is true, but those memories fade and they're not concrete, and they change because they're not carved in anything. Here's a chance for us to put a memory of our family and what we've done onto a building that others might visit and see later. It's cool. Narcissistic in a very different way. I try to balance that narcissism by the thought that I won't just keep it for me. And anybody who wants to come can come… if they're nice. They don't have to think that we're clever, and they don't have to think that what we're doing is amazing. If they just want to be peaceful and they want to experience something and they want to help or they want to laugh and they want to just relax, my house is open to them.
That's the kind of narcissism I still struggle with a little bit in terms of, "Is it awful that I want to be remembered?" But I think I balance it with, "No, but I'm going to share it and other people will be remembered too."
Taryn: That's amazing. I love that. At the very beginning, you talked about the community element of all this, and bringing people together. I think that's really wonderful. I'm not sure what you're going to do when loads of people start hearing this. You know, lines outside of the gate being like, "I heard this is a cool place to come just relax." But that's amazing. I think what you said, too, about bringing lots of different kinds of people together, different interests, different backgrounds, and sharing your feeling of inspiration. I think a lot of people are feeling what you described, this sort of, like, "I worked really hard in my life for the opportunity to work more." My husband describes his time in big law as an all-you-can-eat competition where the prize is more food.
And that really is what it is. It's the privilege of being able to maybe hand that same thing onto your kids. And it is exhausting. It's really brave that you're doing this and showing people that there are other choices.
One thing I wanted to go back to - you talked about in the beginning, that feeling of almost wanting somebody to tell you, "You can't do this. This is impossible. It's not going to happen," because actually when we started this project [Bright], I was kind of waiting for the same thing. You know, I put this whole thing together. And at first, I sent it just to some really close friends who are very level-headed and who would be honest with me. And I really expected them, especially one, to come back and be like, "Yeah. I mean, right. All of this is right, but you're never going to be able to build this. And here's why." And when they didn't, I started to get nervous, but also excited about the idea of making it come together. And I think that is really cool.
Have you, along the way, come across anyone who has said to you...other than the guy about the heating, has any of your reception been less positive?
Ellen: No. I think that also comes down to the fact that you can attract what you want. Right? I have been very good at showing people who I am. I'm loud. I'm charismatic. I laugh all the time. And I love that about me. And sometimes that laughter is because I'm nervous. Sometimes that laughter is because I'm anxious. But it's a better reaction for me than to appear to be nervous and anxious. But I think that kind of charismatic attraction does attract people who buy into you. And I think what we have done is we've attracted people who have bought into it and us. We have people who work for us who are big believers that we can turn this into whatever we want.
We've also surrounded ourselves with people who are living a life that we admire. There's a couple that we work with very closely and I've learned so much from them because they, to me, are truly "We work to live." It's hard to find those people that are in law or that are in all these, kind of high-profile careers. Up until this, I was absolutely living to work. And it was exhausting because I was living to work with the absolute knowledge that I didn't want my son to feel that. So, you were working even more in order to pretend that you weren't living to work. I was living to work, and didn't want my husband to feel that. So, I worked even more in order for that not to happen.
I think we've just made conscious decisions to surround ourselves with people who believe in this. And that, I think, is a hard thing to do, especially when you're somebody who works with risk. On a daily basis, I’m always looking for where I’m exposed. I’m always trying to limit those exposures. And so, what I usually do is to try to bring in… in the same way I build my team, to find people who think differently, so that they're identifying all of the risks so that I can make informed decisions about what the risk is and how to mitigate it.
But with a project like this, you can’t do that. You can’t surround yourself with people telling you what the risk is. The risk…? I don't have a proper survey other than, "Tell me where the lead is and the asbestos and the real electrical problems." I have no survey that's going to tell me whether this building could fall down because it's been standing since, the 1700s or 1800s. It's not going to fall down. If I got a report that told me how impossible this task was, well, I don't know how you buy that. I just don't know how you do it. And there are people that have done it, and I admire them.
For me to do this kind of project, if I became overwhelmed with the thousands of reasons why it wouldn't work, I couldn't do it. So, there's a bit of going into it blindly, of dealing with it as it comes along. You have plenty of things to focus on. Something's not working. Just divert your focus to something that's easier to fix. I mean this has caused us to do things backwards as well. We have made mistakes. I think I've always had a motto of, you work really hard, success will follow, and it will absolutely happen. And I think this project has basically allowed me for the first time to really think, "What's the worst that could happen?" It's so freeing. You know what, maybe success doesn’t have to follow? That is the most freeing motto. What is the worst that could happen?
And I think this project has basically allowed me for the first time to really think, "What's the worst that could happen?" It's so freeing. You know what, maybe success doesn’t have to follow? That is the most freeing motto. What is the worst that could happen?
The worst that could happen is I'd lose my investment. I'm not going to die. I'll be poorer, and I'll work for longer or... What's the worst that can happen? I don't get to fix the chateau and I wind up living in one of the gites (outbuildings), in seven hectares of beautiful French countryside. That's cool. All right. What's the worst that could happen? Everybody around me, who believes in me or who I've convinced that I can do this, and that I've convinced to help me, they realize that I've failed. That's the worst that can happen.
Taryn: That’s interesting because I think in law school, one thing they really drill into us is to worst case scenario everything. “Imagine all of the things that could go wrong and proceed accordingly.” And I love that you're turning that on its head and being like, "Yes, I did that. And I decided I don't care."
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