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 been very busy hosting a range of property programmes, including the very popular Escape to the Country and I Escaped to the Country for BBC1. She also presented the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May and is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 2. Nicki is currently in Australia filming a brand new series of Wanted Down Under. Lynda Clark caught up with her before she jetted off down under and found out about her fascinating career
Nicki went to school in Canterbury, Kent and left with only three ‘O’levels, which, as she says, “is not a great start in life! I always got A for effort but C for achievement.” Little did she know then how successful her career was going to become. She adds, “I worked hard at school but I wasn’t academic at all, so I decided to do a business course at college. I thought it would give me good grounding in the work place. After studying for three years, I decided to travel to Australia for eight months on my own. I loved the lifestyle there and decided to emigrate. Whilst waiting for my visa to be processed I applied for three jobs in the music industry back in London and believe it or not, I was offered all three! Suffice to say, the lure of the music world stopped me from moving down under! I decided to accept the job that sounded best suited for me and basically worked my way up through the music industry. My first job was as a promotions assistant at MCA records, moving to RCA records as head of TV promotions. In 1995 I became a joint partner in the Brilliant! PR Company and 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 who represented 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. In fact, Pop Idol was the top rated TV show in the UK in both 2001 and 2003. It was the most amazing experience and something I will never forget. It really did change my life…”
Nicki has always been passionate about property and has fronted plenty of different programmes, but is best known for the very popular series Escape to the Country, the new series of which is currently on air on BBC1. It is also being aired in Europe, New Zealand, Australia and has just premiered on Netflix in America to huge appeal. She is also filming a new series of Wanted down Under: “It’s not about going on holiday but finding the ideal home in a new country on the other side of the world. Obviously it means a complete change of lifestyle and we aim to show the prospective buyers what life could be like for them. We look at the work situation, the culture and heritage, the food, and the legal implications as well. It means they will be facing a huge change, so we road test it with them to find out if moving to Australia or New Zealand is really for them.” Nicki has been very busy during 2017; another new show which she is presenting is aptly named ‘I Escaped to the Country’, and revisits the people who bought and moved into one the properties the original show found for them. “It’s proving hugely popular with fans of the show, as everyone wants to know how they are getting on and what has happened since they bravely took the plunge and moved to the countryside.”
Nicki has also made two documentaries. Britain’s Home Truths, which she filmed for BBC1, exploring the people and planners developing new towns and garden cities. The concept of a garden city was originally designed by Ebenezer Howard in the late 19th century. His vision was to improve the living and working conditions of the population, allowing communities to live harmoniously with nature. “The first new town was Letchworth and I also visited Herne Bay, my home town, which surprisingly was one of the first Victorian new towns to be designed, which I never knew! We also filmed in Milton Keynes (an incredible town which has now bedded-in, so to speak), plus Welwyn Garden City, Ebbsfleet and Poundbury, an experimental new town on the outskirts of Dorchester, which was the vision of HRH Prince Charles. I also filmed another documentary called Operation People Power for BBC1 with Dave Myers, who is one half of the Hairy Bikers. It looked at volunteering and the difference a community working together can make. Not only was it an incredible experience to film and see these major changes happening before our eyes, it also galvanised me into working as a volunteer when I returned back home. I’ve been involved in charity work over the years, but had never actually volunteered on a one-to-one level. Being part of this incredible series made me realise we all have something unique to offer, be it an hour a week or a day a month. I now volunteer in a Mary Portas Living and Giving Charity Shop.”
With her love of property, Nicki first bought a one bedroom apartment in Putney for £69,000 in her early 20s. She said, “It has been my biggest regret that I sold it, as now I’m sure it would be worth a small fortune. At the time I had just started in the music business and lived in really cheap digs with seven other people. I had a very small room but I managed to save up for a deposit and decided to get a repayment mortgage. Every time I had some spare cash, I’d try and pay off a little of the mortgage, chipping away at what I owed. The apartment was a brand new conversion and I bought it during a real dip in the property market. I loved the fact that everything was brand new and I was starting out with a blank canvas. There was no building work to be done and so no financial outlay, which suited me and my budget very well. I would buy a new build again if I was starting out, as if you have no experience in DIY, or like most first time buyers, are on a limited budget with little experience, it removes the stress and won’t end up costing a fortune. I sold it a couple of years later for £79,000 so I think I did quite well. I decided to sell it in order to get enough for a deposit on a four bedroom house in west London, which I was buying with my husband-to-be. At that time, prices in London were booming. The surveyor we used 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 wonderful gay couple who, I have to say, had the most divine taste – the house was immaculate. When they moved out it was in perfect decorative order, they had even taken pictures off the walls and had filled in the holes and repainted them! We spent about £12,000 doing things like painting the outside and re-landscaping the garden. After a few years, we decided to move. Even though we are still very near to central London, the area we’re in now is like living in a village, with plenty of restaurants and independent shops. We found our current property through a high-end developer who had just bought it. The property was divided into two flats and was basically a ruin. He had planned to do it up and then sell it six months down the line, but we fell in love with it even though it was a wreck. We decided to buy it there and then, and asked him to continue with the renovation. We had a vision for how it would look and working together with the developer, the project was a real labour of love. We literally pulled it apart, making adjustments along the way. Although the outside is Edwardian, it is very contemporary inside and is now a single, large, five bedroom house. We knocked out the wall at the back of the property, extending the downstairs into the garden area, making the kitchen/living room a huge open plan space. To finish the look, we replaced the wall with huge bi-folding glass doors letting in plenty of natural light and making it feel like you’re already in the garden. As I present the RHS Chelsea Flower show for the BBC, I’ve become fascinated by 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 which is pretty low maintenance but very hardy and looks stunning.”
Nicki is a great supporter of first time buyers and has been working closely with the magazine helping to get more people on the ladder. We were delighted that she hosted our First Time Buyer Readers’ Awards this year. She said, “It is a very exciting time for first time buyers as there are more opportunities now than there have been in the past few years. Not everyone can afford to buy, but once you do there is a great sense of worth and stability. I also think that buying through shared ownership is a very good option, especially as you only need a 5% deposit. Two of my family members have bought through shared ownership and it has made a massive difference to them. One bought in Kent and the other in Yorkshire. If the days of owning 100% of a home are gone, then it’s better to have a slice of the property than none at all. Owning your own home gives you stability and peace of mind for the future. It’s important to put down roots in the community as well. It is so sad that often people are paying more in rent than they would pay for a mortgage. If you haven’t been able to save in the past then you might struggle to save or pay the bills if you do buy. I don’t want to pour cold water on what is going to be the most important purchase of your life, but there is nothing worse than having to give the keys back to a much loved home if you can’t afford to live there. People are paying an astounding amount in rent and not just in London but all over the UK. Paying rent can often be seen as dead money. By learning to save and by being disciplined, getting together even a small deposit can make a huge difference to someone’s life.
“If you are looking to buy, make a checklist and follow it. Educate yourself on what is available and do plenty of research before you start. It really is a question of doing your homework, so don’t think you can’t do something until you have researched and looked it up properly! So many people make decisions based on no factual evidence at all! It’s a good idea to go to property shows to find out what your options are in your area. Buying all, or part of a property is a massive decision, so it’s well worth investing the time to look around and find out what is available in different areas and what you can realistically afford. It is important to work out your finances, too. When saving, you may have to curtail certain or all holidays for the time being, and perhaps postpone going to festivals, or maybe even buying a car. You have to be truthful with yourself and save what you can afford, as it will be well worth the sacrifice in the long run. If things get really tight then think about renting out a spare room. There are some excellent agencies online that help to find people who only need to rent Monday to Friday, which means that you get your privacy at weekend, so it can work out very well. If you can’t afford to buy on your own then consider buying with a trusted friend or family member. However, if you decide to do this then make sure you draw up all the proper legal documents before you enter into the partnership.
“Homes reflect your personality and owning your own space is a wonderful feeling. I love helping people decide where they want to live on the programmes I present, as anything to do with property really gives me a buzz. Recently we had a wonderful couple with a young family who were looking to make the move into buying their own home. They were realistic about their budget, what they needed from the move and what the ultimate goal was with this relocation – for them, it was more time together as a family and less of a commute to work. We found them a beautiful home practically next door to a divine local village primary school. Although this property wouldn’t be their ‘forever’ home, they were thinking practically and stated it would work for the next five years or so. With head and heart working in tandem, they put an offer in on it straight away.
“Everyone has a preference when it comes to the look and style of their property. When looking at a first purchase, I am a great fan of new build properties because, although the rooms might be smaller and the ceilings lower, you will have less maintenance costs, and as a first time buyer, every penny counts. Older properties are full of character and charm, but if you look at the pros and cons when money is restricted, most people have very little time to do renovations or serious DIY. With a new build property you can just move in.”
Escape to the Country, BBC1
I Escaped to the Country, BBC1
Wanted Down Under, BBC1
RHS Chelsea Flower Show BBC1
BBC Radio 2