Nicki Chapman first hit our TV screens when she appeared as a judge on Popstars and Pop Idol back in 2001. Since then, she has hosted a variety of programmes and is currently filming the new series of hit shows Escape To The Country and Wanted Down Under for the BBC. Nicki will also be on our screens when she hosts the RHS Chelsea Flower Show on BBC1 from 25-29 May. She talks to Lynda Clark about her fascinating career and her first steps on the property ladder >>
FTB: Tell us about your first step on the property ladder.
NC: I was in my early twenties, and I bought a one bedroom flat in Putney, south-west London, for £68,000. It has been my biggest regret that I sold it, as now I’m sure it would be worth a fortune. At that time, I had just started in the music business and lived in really cheap digs with seven other people. I managed to save up for a deposit and decided to get a repayment mortgage. Everytime I had some spare cash, I ‘d try to pay off a little of the mortgage, chipping away at what I owed. The flat was a brand-new conversion, and I bought it during a real dip in the property market. It was very nice – I didn’t have to do anything much to it – and eventually I sold it a couple of years later for £79,000, so I think I did quite well.
FTB: Describe your current home.
NC: I sold my apartment to get the deposit for a four bedroom house in west London, which I was buying with my husband-to-be. At that time, prices in London were booming. Our surveyor said that as we were buying at the top of the market, the house wouldn’t be an investment. I told him we were buying a home not an investment! We bought the property from a lovely gay couple who had the most wonderful taste – the house was immaculate. When they moved out, it was in perfect decorative order – they had even taken pictures off the walls, filled in the holes and repainted them! We spent about £12,000 doing things like painting the outside and re-doing the garden. After a few years, we decided to move. Even though we are very near to central London, where we live is like living in a village, with plenty of restaurants and independent shops. We found our current home through a high-end developer who had just bought it. The property was divided into two flats and was basically a ruin. He was planning to do it up and then sell it six months later, but we fell in love with it even though it was a wreck. We bought it there and then and asked him to continue with the renovation. We had a vision of how it would look and, working together with the developer, the project was a real labour of love. We literally pulled it apart and made adjustments along the way, but we trusted him to do the work we wanted. Although the outside is Edwardian, it is very contemporary inside and is now one big five bedroom house. We knocked out the wall at the back and extended it to the boundary wall and made it into one large glass window, which looks amazing. Its very open plan and works perfectly for us. As I present the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for the BBC, I’ve become fascinated by some of the gardens there and have gained some real inspiration on what you can achieve in a very small space. We’ve created a Mediterranean garden with an olive tree and palms: it’s pretty low maintenance but very hardy and looks stunning.
FTB: What advice would you give anyone trying to get on to the property ladder?
NC: If you can’t afford to buy alone, then consider buying with a trusted friend or family member. However, make sure you draw up all the legal documents first before you enter into the partnership. If the mortgage and bills are getting too much, consider renting out a room. If you live in a major town, then there is sure to be a big student population who will need accommodation. There are also agencies that help find people who only need to rent out Monday to Friday, which means that you get your privacy at weekends, and it can work very well. But be realistic when you start home hunting. Although you may want your dream home in the area that you have set your heart on, it may not work out like that, so be prepared to compromise to suit your budget. These days you have to be prepared to make sacrifices, especially if you are saving for a deposit. You don’t have to spend a fortune furnishing a home – I have found some great bargains at car boot sales. You may have to beg or borrow from friends and family, but swallow your pride and save your ‘beans’. It’s amazing what a lick of paint and a few cushions will do. If you find a place, then negotiate hard on the fixtures and fittings, like the carpets, as it will pay off in the long run. It’s tough when you try to get on the property ladder, but renting is dead money so it’s understandable people want to own a property of their own. I remember the market crashed around my ears when I bought my first flat and my mortgage repayments shot up by £150 a month, which really affected my finances, so you have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. Finally, if things do go wrong, try to hang on to the property. If possible, rent it out and find somewhere cheap to rent yourself. It may seem hard, but if you can keep the property it really makes sense.
FTB: How did you start in TV?
NC: I went to school in Canterbury, Kent, and left with only three O levels. Although I worked hard at school, I wasn’t academic at all, so I decided to do a business course at college. I thought it would give me a good grounding for the work place. After studying for three years, I travelled to Australia for eight months, and I loved it so much I decided to emigrate. While waiting for my visa to be processed, I applied for three jobs in the music industry and I was offered all of them! Suffice it to say, the lure of the music industry stopped me moving Down Under! I accepted the job that sounded best suited to me and basically worked my way up in the industry. My first job was as a promotions assistant at MCA records, moving on to RCA records as head of promotions. In 1995 I became a joint partner in the Brilliant! PR Company, and we represented the Spice Girls, Kylie Minogue, Take That, Phil Collins, David Bowie, The Brit Awards and The Big Breakfast to name a few. In the past, I had worked with Simon Fuller for Annie Lennox and the Spice Girls and decided to join his management company, 19 Entertainment in 2001 as Creative Director. I suppose my real rise to fame was when I became a judge for the ITV series Popstars and Pop Idol. It was the most amazing experience and something I will never forget. Since then, I have fronted many different programmes including Holiday for BBC1, Castles In The Country, City Hospital and Holidays At Home. I present the BBC’s lunchtime coverage of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and I am currently filming the new series of Escape To The Country for BBC1. In June, I am off to Australia and New Zealand to film Wanted Down Under, again for BBC1, and later in the year I am hosting the Spanish Riding School of Vienna at the NIA in Birmingham. It’s on for three days, and it’s a spectacular show. Recently I have been getting up very early indeed as I have been sitting in for Vanessa Feltz on Radio 2. I will also be co-hosting the Jubilee celebrations, so it’s a very busy year… but I wouldn’t want it any other way.