Interview: Ellen Bosque, Chateau Renovation (Part 3)
Ellen Bosque
Ellen Bosque • Jun 23

Interview: Ellen Bosque, Chateau Renovation (Part 3)

by Ellen Bosque and Taryn Ward

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: You answered the question as far as people who know you and are close to you, because they get to feel your energy and charisma. I'm wondering if you could say a little bit about your experience of people who don't know you. So, you and I met when I found this project through a social media group. I think the context was that you were looking to hire somebody to help with the chateau. You explained just briefly what you were doing to provide context. And the response you got back was, to me, surprising. Could you say a few words about that and whether you found it surprising or if you were prepared for it.

Ellen: I was absolutely shocked. The response was completely vitriolic. I mean, not completely. I would say about 70% vitriolic. People were hating me. And I'm shocked because I have my own small social media presence…you know, like, I have a Facebook group. I have Instagram. People are so wonderful on those forums, they are kind of bought into the project and super supportive of what we do, and I don't have to filter what I say to such an extent because they hopefully know that it's coming from a good heart, somebody who's trying to do something good. I treat everybody to the best of my ability like equals. Like, everybody is important and all work is honorable.

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I was raised to make sure that you know the names of the people who are helping you to do your job. That's the front office staff, it's the people who are cleaning. I treat everybody that helps and works for me like my family. I try never to distinguish because I am very, very much convinced that I am here because of the grace of God and the fact that my parents were able to afford me an education. And not everybody has that. I absolutely hope and pray that people think that of me and they know that I value good people. 

The thing that kills me is that I actively look to hire single mothers, people who are struggling, because I see it as my absolute duty to be on this planet and help and provide employment. That's the one thing I'm good at, is marketing and employing and galvanizing people to action and getting the best out of them. It's what I do as a manager and a leader every day.

So, I went on this page. And I had a picture that I bought from some site. Somebody had taken an overhead shot of our chateau. They had done it from some kind of hang-glider or...I forget what it's called kind of thing. It was amazing when I found it. I was so happy to find this. I bought the rights to it. And I wanted to give it to my husband for a birthday present. But it was before we cut this tree down, and the tree was horrible and huge and dead. It was like a black eye on this photo.

My immediate instinct was to hire somebody to fix it, and to go to the group of American women. Because we’ve hired people from there to redo our bathrooms, we’ve hired somebody from there to help me with our social media stuff. We've hired people from there before, we buy all their products, and we're doing everything that we can do to support them. It was my pool of talent. And they're American. So, of course, I want to help them. You read on these groups how [some people] struggle when they come here. The situation that they found themselves in, especially in the midst of what we're all living through right now, people are losing their jobs. My immediate thought was, “Go to that pool of talent because that's where you get everybody.”

I cringe every time I think about it. I remember putting the picture up and saying, "Hi. Are there any Photoshop wizards out there that can help me remove this tree from the front of my chateau?" And I hit send, and it just exploded. I don't think that was necessarily because there was a whole bunch of people who thought the project was stupid or whatever. There were a whole bunch of people with pent up sadness and rage and frustration and they thought that I was bragging. That's how I have to view it, that it was my fault for the way that I put it out there.

There were a whole bunch of people with pent up sadness and rage and frustration and they thought that I was bragging. That's how I have to view it, that it was my fault for the way that I put it out there.

And then I stupidly went back in to try to explain it. And everybody started calling me rich, and that pissed me off. The reason it pisses me off isn't because I don't think I'm not. I struggle with that for numerous reasons. One, my parents came from parents who moved to New York from the Caribbean when they were teenagers. They had nothing. They worked really hard and were able to put their kids through school, and never had anything for themselves because of that. And later in life, they had more because their kids, obviously, gave them more.

My parents moved away from New York City, moved us to the sticks to a house that they could afford, with a good school system. And my parents worked two jobs. I never saw them. They never came to anything because they were always working. We lived a life of pretend, I went to private schools with a whole bunch of other people who were really well-off whilst we tried to keep up. But what I lost out on because of that was, I didn't see my parents – they worked all the time. And they didn't see me. But they thought that was more important.

Then I left home, went to a really good university, but saw that it was putting my parents in debt, and I couldn't do that. I got into a massive row with them where they basically cut me off. I refused to go back to that school because at the time it was about thirty grand a year and that was in the '90s. It was sick. It was disgusting. And also, I wasn't doing well. I went from this tiny little parochial kind of school to this place where I was just a number. I had no self-discipline because I didn't need it. And I recognized that. And that's an amazing thing, to have that kind of level of insight when you're that young. 

So I changed schools and went to a city university where I was taught law by people who were practicing it and were doing this at night. At that time, I fell into an amazing career where I got, again, lucky, because I took somebody for an interview  and they offered me a job, too. I did that well, really well. I did that until I saw that it didn't really have much longevity. And again, made a decision from a risk perspective to go to law and I went to law school. I went to school and I killed myself to do all of this. Got married too young. It was a terrible marriage and I left that marriage with nothing. I remember I had the guest furniture. I had a bed, a dresser, two night-stands, and about eight boxes of law books, and clothes. And moved to the UK and had nothing.

And so, yes, I've built everything back. I did. More. But I'm not rich according to my understanding of the world, and nobody gets to define me that way. Because that's not my biggest characteristic. I find it really upsetting. But I know that it's privileged for me to feel upset about that, and I know that people don't have a lot and I suffer for them. But I was pissed off because they didn't get to define me. And I felt bad, and I apologized that I didn't make it clear from the start that I was trying to offer somebody a job. I had to delete it because it was just horrible. But I think that's something lacking in me. I haven't figured it out. So, I'll never, ever, ever say anything in those groups again. I'll just be in the space where I get to attract people who want to be with me.

Taryn: Thank you for sharing all of that. It is hard, and I think you had done something really important. In that group, nobody really knew anything about you. They saw the post and had a gut reaction. And I think your description is very gracious, that it’s an unhappiness in them. And it’s remarkably forgiving, given what some of these comments looked like. I remember them. I'm on social media a lot, but this really stood out to me.

I think you're right. I think creating a space for yourself where you get to attract people who get it and who care. And I love what you said, too., that everybody's welcome if they can be nice. You cannot be horrible. Come and sit with me. Otherwise, I'll pass. I think that's wonderful. And I'm so happy to hear your story about moving here.

In these groups we do see a lot of people struggling through different things. I think people underestimate sometimes what it is to be an expat even between two countries that supposedly share a common language.

Ellen: Yeah, I know. I think what really pissed me off as well was they were like, "Oh, these rich Americans coming here." I'm here like, "Are you kidding me? The Visa process alone is a great equalizer." It was horrible. I was turned down the first time and had to do it all over again, not knowing why they turned me down. After spending so much money, and then, it was more money for you to appeal and then all of a sudden, it was fine, you’re approved without understanding why you were originally rejected. It was absolutely mad. It was just crazy.

Every single person on there has a story and has value. What it showed to me is that there are only certain people whose stories are acceptable.

Every single person on there has a story and has value. What it showed to me is that there are only certain people whose stories are acceptable. And I think that's wrong because I seek to learn from people who are doing things better than I am. I seek to learn from people who've made mistakes, that have fixed their mistakes so that I could avoid what they've done and learn from how they fixed them. I've lived a life where I've made horrible mistakes. And somehow, I've been able to sort it all out and get to a place where I love my life.

This is a different period of time and I get it. Covid is just the great destroyer of our time. But if we don't look for the sparks, if we don't look for the lessons learned, if we don't look at the survival that has happened within this kind of thing, what happens? Again, we're back to where we started. So, you have to look for people who are figuring it out.

Taryn: I love that, look for the spark. I think you do have to look for the sparks now probably more than ever. 

I can't wait to see what happens next and where you go next. I want to hear about what happens when you actually go to France. Because that's going to be a whole new expat adventure. And, I'd love to see photos as it comes along. It sounds like there's going to be a lot happening this summer, which is amazing.

Ellen: Yes. It's going to be a big adventure for our family. I'm really looking forward to it, just to be able to offer this to my son as well. I have already had this adventure in terms of coming from another country. And to offer him the chance to be bilingual, I think, is a gift especially if he wants what we're building. He needs to speak French. So, it's a really good opportunity.

Taryn: Wonderful! Thank you for sharing part of your journey with us!

Ellen: It was a pleasure.

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Ellen Bosque
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.

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