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TV blog: Britain’s Most Expensive House: Building for a Billionaire

Benjie Goodhart / 31 January 2020

Our TV blogger takes a look at Britain’s Most Expensive House: Building for a Billionaire and Our Coast, plus the best of the rest...

Britain’s Most Expensive House: Building for a Billionaire, Wednesday 5th February, 9pm, Channel 4

Now, I know this will ruffle a few feathers, but this week I am going to recommend a bit of porn for you all to watch.

I should probably clarify that I don’t mean the kind of porn where a plumber with an extravagant moustache comes round to fix a woman’s boiler, which has gone on the blink and made the house far too hot, forcing her to greet him in her negligee. Or something. I mean, obviously I know not that whereof I speak.

No, this is far better. This is property porn. And this one-off, hour-long documentary is the gold standard of property porn. Billionaire mobile phone magnate John Caudwell bought Ancaster House in Mayfair for £81 million. In anybody’s book, that seems excessive, seeing as you can buy a house in Mayfair for £200, and a hotel there for £1000. Although, admittedly, that is only in Monopoly. Either way, £81m is a wallop of cash.

He wasn’t done there, either. Since then, he’s shelled out £65 million on refurbishing the place – a cool £55 million over budget. This film follows the refurb over its final months, as those involved try to finish the 43,000 square foot property to the new owner’s exacting standards. Welcome to Grand Designs on steroids.

As you may have already twigged, this isn’t your average refurbishment – stick a washing machine in there, change the curtains to a roller blind and paint everything magnolia. How many houses, for example, do you know that have a car stacking system, so that you can park your car at ground level, and then have it automatically stacked in a subterranean car park that holds eight cars and displays two of them to the games room situated 15 metres below?

The plans are nothing if not ambitious. The property is actually two mansions, connected by a courtyard and a basement. The place has a gym. That’s not that impressive, I have a gym. Well, an exercise bike in the living room. But, unlike John Caudwell, I don’t have a spa, a bar, a nightclub for 100 people, a games room, a cinema, and a ballroom. A ballroom??? Who needs a ballroom? Who actually has balls these days? (Apart from the moustachioed plumber referred to earlier.)

The devil is in the detail. The swimming pool has a lava-effect wall that costs £200,000. The building boasts 20,000 sheets of gold leaf, at a cost of £28,000. The upstairs, Thai-inspired dining room features a river, complete with tropical fish, and a tree adorned with silk cherry blossom. Over £6 million is going on furniture across the 110 rooms. In short – and I very much suspect you’re getting the gist of this now – you wouldn’t use the word ‘understated’ to describe this property. So it comes as something of a surprise when Cauldwell himself suggests that, when he bought the property, it was a little too ostentatious for his tastes.

As the deadline for moving in draws near, the tension is ratcheted up. Caudwell, who is, it seems, not a man to be trifled with, is keen to inspect everything, and has an eye for the very tiniest details. I can walk into a room and not notice that it’s been painted vivid baby pink. He can spot a slightly misaligned stitch on a cushion from 500 paces.

Before moving in, he and his partner, Modesta, are having to slum it at his country house in Staffordshire. It’s like a sort of mock-Tudor Versailles, so I’m not too worried about them spatially. Modesta, incidentally, is a glamorous 35-year-old blonde Lithuanian former Olympic cyclist. She always swore to herself that she wouldn’t go out with anyone more than ten years older than her (Caudwell is 66). She also said nobody with kids, and nobody divorced. Yet “when I met John, somehow that didn’t feel important.” Quite.

Our Coast 1/4, Friday 7th February, 8:30pm, BBC Two

This new four-part series, the voiceover tells us, will be visiting stretches of coastline in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, celebrating “something that unites us all”. A love of fatty foods? An ability to become inappropriately angry whilst driving? The inevitability of death?

Ah, no, turns out they mean that we all live quite close to a coastline. I probably should have guessed that from the title. It would be a pretty odd programme idea to make a series celebrating the inevitability of death and call it Our Coast.

Anyway, in this series, Adrian Chiles, Mehreen Baig and a team of experts will be examining various aspects of life on the coast of the Irish Sea. Tonight’s episode comes from the coast around Merseyside. Obviously it would be illegal to make a programme about any aspect of aquatic life in this part of Britain without referencing the ferry across the Mersey, so let’s play Mersey Ferry Bingo and see how long it takes to arrive.

And there it is, in the opening scene, with Chiles and Baig on board.

Next, Chiles is off to the Cunard building, before a trip around the Queen Mary 2, the world’s only ocean-crossing passenger ship. It was built in 2004, and is 345 metres long, 23 stories high, and weighs 150,000 tonnes. It houses 3000 passengers and 1300 crew, and Chiles has a very jolly time looking round and meeting the passengers and crew. This is all very well, but it feels a bit Channel 5. I half-expect Jane McDonald to appear round the next corner and break into song. Also, I’m not absolutely sure what any of this has got to do with Britain’s coast. But then again, who doesn’t like a nose around a luxury cruise ship?

It’s safe to say that Chiles has got the slightly more glamorous posting on today’s show. While he dines on lobster and champagne, Baig is off to the estuary of the River Dee to find out what happens to people who get stuck in the mud there. It happens to over 30 people every year, and countless animals (by countless, I mean I didn’t listen to hear what the actual number was). If you ever find yourself sinking into the mud in the River Dee, lie down to spread your weight, and call the emergency services. Then the lifeboat crew from Hoylake Station will come and rescue you in a mini hovercraft, using a winch and a high-pressure hose. In short, you will survive, but your dignity will remain entombed in the mud for all eternity.

Next it’s off to look for a Viking longboat in a pub patio, in the company of a historian with quite literally the biggest afro I have ever seen. I suspect the ISS has reported a large, unexplained shadow visible in the Merseyside region. Rather more elusive are the red squirrels who inhabit the woods near Sefton. We meet a PhD student who spends her time wandering around the woods with a giant TV aerial looking for them. And they say students never do anything useful!

And, in something of a theme for this week’s column, we meet a man who made a fortune from mobile phones and has a very big home near the coast. He built his £13m mansion two years ago. Pah, £13m? Chicken feed. And it’s only 23,000 sq ft. Honestly, John and Modesta have airing cupboards bigger than that. The place has 8 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms, which is a bit odd. You could have two people sleeping in every room. Have them all go to the bathroom at the same time, and still have a spare.

Finally we’re off to Birkenhead to see how a Grade II Hydraulic Tower is being refurbished, and to a restaurant boat where the staff are all ex-forces who have fallen on hard times.

The stories come thick and fast, and are varied, well-researched, and presented with no little charm and humour. Is Our Coast worth a watch? It shore is! (Sorry. I’ll get my coat.)

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 1st February

Six Nations Rugby, 1:40pm, BBC One, and 4pm, ITV: The annual tournament kicks off with Wales v Italy on the Beeb and Ireland v Scotland on ITV (England face France tomorrow). If granite-jawed titans with wonky ears knocking seven bells out of each other about is your thing, you’re in for a treat.

Sunday 2nd February

The British Academy Film Awards, 9pm, BBC One: Graham Norton hosts the annual gong-fest from the Royal Albert Hall. Expect luvvies, frocks, politics and tears. As usual.

Superbowl Live, 11:25pm, BBC One: The Kansas City Chiefs take on the 49ers. If granite-jawed titans with shoulder pads knocking seven bells out of each other about is your thing, you’re in for a treat. Put the coffee on though – these games are loooong.

Monday 3rd February

Shakespeare and Hathaway, 2:15pm, BBC One: The watchable duo of Mark Benton and Jo Joyner return as private investigators Frank and Lu, in this gently diverting and wry detective series, on every weekday for the next fortnight.

Australia on Fire: Climate Emergency, 8pm, Channel 4: An important but almost certainly deeply depressing look at the horrific wildfires that have ripped across Australia, and the role climate change has played in their savagery.

Mary Beard: Shock of the Nude 1/2, 9pm, BBC Two: The venerable Ms Beard looks at the role of the nude in Western art. On Tuesday at 8pm on BBC 4, there is an accompanying programme, Life Drawing Live, which should keep both artists and lechers happy.

Baghdad Central 1/6, 10pm, Channel 4: New drama, based on the eponymous book, about an ex-policeman in Iraq who is desperately trying to find his daughter amidst the chaos of Baghdad in 2003.

Inside No. 9, 10pm, BBC Two: Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton return for another series of their fiendishly dark anthology comedy series. Tonight’s episode stars David Morrissey as a football referee officiating his last ever match.

Tuesday 4th February

Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: A sobering look at the reality of surviving on the new welfare payment, and the people who implement and receive it.

Wednesday 5th February

Home 1/6, 10pm, Channel 4: Rufus Jones’ humane, touching and very funny sitcom returns for a welcome second series, boasting a marvellous central performance from Youssef Kerkour as an immigrant adjusting to life with a British family in the UK.

Thursday 6th February

Secrets of the Museum 1/6, 8pm, BBC Two: Going behind the scenes at the V&A, one of London’s flagship museums, with its 2 million objects. (That’s nothing, you should see my wife’s handbag collection…)

Barrymore: The Body in the Pool, 9pm, Channel 4: Stuart Lubbock’s death in 20012 in Michael Barrymore’s swimming pool has never been fully explained. This documentary attempts to ascertain what really happened on that fateful night.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.