Just when life seemed its darkest, Samantha found happiness—Pascal, and his 10-year-old son, and the rigors of country life—in an unexpected trip to France
When Samantha Brick’s life started to unravel—her company in liquidation, homeless, penniless, and friendless, and on max-strength anti-depressants—it seemed that everything was going wrong. But a chance week away in France led to the most unexpected of all turn-arounds: a whirlwind romance with gun-toting, stubborn, and ever-so-macho Pascal. It wasn’t until she moved in to his cottage in the beautiful Lot region in southwest France that she realized how shamefully ill-equipped she was for the country life. Like Cinderella in reverse, Samantha had to learn to cook, clean, chop wood, and keep house, as well as discovering how to be a stepmother to Pascal’s know-it-all 10-year-old son, and finding love and happiness along the way.
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Head Over Heels in France
Falling in Love in the Lot
By Samantha Brick
Summersdale Publishers LtdCopyright © 2013 Samantha Brick
All rights reserved.
TV Executive, Interrupted
'Daisy, I'm so sorry darling.' There is a pause and a sob.
'I'm sorry for taking heroin ... for ruining your childhood.'
My bottom is perched on the edge of my chair in the TV studio gallery. I gulp from the sugar-free Red Bull next to me. I am scrutinising every shot on the twelve screens in front of me. 'Take the lights down!' I whisper into my mouthpiece.
Pearl Lowe, friend of Kate Moss, member of the infamous Primrose Hill set, reaches across to her daughter, Daisy Lowe. 'Give me close-ups of each of them!' I continue.
My eyes roam the studio set, captured from every angle on the monitors in front of me. What else, what else?
'The hands, the hands, I need the hands too!' I shout, watching a tissue being ripped into shreds between Daisy's fingers, as one of the cameras zooms in to find the close-up shot. A hush descends across Pearl, Daisy and the presenter. I know it is The Moment.
Their hands find each other across the intimately lit studio set. Emotion crackles on every monitor in the studio gallery.
Daisy Lowe, daughter of Gavin Rossdale and Pearl Lowe, is facing up to the reality that her mum was addicted to heroin throughout her childhood. She's hearing it on my show.
It's a pilot for an ITV talk show. I pitched it as Oprah meets Jeremy Kyle, hosted by a presenter who exudes wisdom and empathy.
'Ask Daisy,' I whisper into the microphone in front of me, 'what she wants to say to her mum.' The presenter, on hearing my words, repeats them. At the same time I am frantically motioning the director sitting next to me to instruct his cameras to move in for a two-shot close-up.
'Mum,' Daisy replies, breaking the spell over the studio, 'I know you love me, it's OK, I forgive you.' As they hug, the audience breaks into spontaneous applause. Everyone claps in the gallery; the show is over.
I jump to my feet, having had no sleep for the last thirty-six hours. I'm giddy with excitement and exhaustion because it's my moment too. My dream come true — my TV company's first show.
My all-female team has decamped to TV studios in Kent. I even have an ITV film crew following me: apparently I'm a perfect example of how to launch a TV company. Eek! I have been gliding around since 7 a.m., resplendent in grey skinny jeans, Joseph black top and a Marc Jacobs jacket; giving off the aura of being in control — to my team and the cameras. I'm living the dream. My dream!
For the last sixteen years I have worked my ass off to fashion a career in television. In 2005 I put my money where my mouth is, remortgaging my home to release over £100,000. I launched a TV company where women would be treated like the supremely intelligent beings they are: 'powerful programming made by passionate people' was my company's mantra. I had the connections, I had the talent; I put everything on the line to make my dreams happen. And now, in the spring of 2006, with two shows in the US and a series in the UK, along with the ITV pilot — it looks like dreams really do come true.
Two hours after the pilot has wrapped (after I've promised to have lunch with Pearl) my Mercedes convertible purrs to a halt and I'm parked up outside my house. I still pinch myself — I live in Richmond, one of London's poshest suburbs. I know how lucky I am. I grab my Chloé handbag, open my black wrought-iron gate and click-clack up the path. I can already see my significant others through the window. They're just back from their own day care too. I open my front door and gently close it, walking into the cream haven that is home. Hues of butter, vanilla, biscuit and caramel tastefully dominate the walls, the fabric on the sofas, the stone masonry of the fireplace and the distressed wood of the bookcases (my books are all arranged by theme — mind, body and spirit by the fireplace, relationship books opposite the telephone seat, chick lit next to the sofa). With the flick of a switch, the lamps carefully positioned throughout the living room light the space just so. I never fail to appreciate this place: my sanctuary.
As I open the kitchen door, the two men in my life are stretching in the downward dog pose. Their tailless (nothing to do with me, honest) bottoms swoosh and oscillate wildly.
Barney and Ambrose.
The two hairy loves of my life.
'C'mon now, outside and make pee-pee for Mummy!' I sing-song in a high- pitched voice.
I teeter across the kitchen (we're still having problems with the occasional 'puddle') and let the dogs out into the back garden. I flick a switch, illuminating my recent garden furniture purchases from a local French antique shop (although judging by their prices, it would've been cheaper to go to France and fly each item back myself).
In bloom, my professionally maintained garden is white — jasmine lazily climbing the fence, bushes of white roses in the border beds fighting for space with other white flowers I couldn't tell you the name of. I smile to myself as I watch the dogs potter together; paws padding, nails tapping over the recently paved garden. But they didn't make me smile at first — oh no. There was a lawn before, but when the puppies arrived, the place turned into a complete mud bath. Nightmare! Mud all over the kitchen stone flagging, the sofas in the kitchen, the pristine paintwork. In the end it was simple; I had the garden entirely redesigned to accommodate the doggies.
As they continue to potter in the garden, I ease out the cork, my shoulders relaxing at the sound of the reassuring pop, pouring myself a well-deserved glass of Veuve Clicquot. It gives me an opportunity to reflect; I have everything I want.
But then, of course, things start to go wrong; very wrong.
* * *
As spring gives way to summer in 2006, the first crack occurs when there is a change of management at ITV. This is par for the course in television, but it means that my talk show pilot is blown out of the water in one sentence: 'I've got enough overweight blonde presenters on my hands right now, I don't need another one.' Harsh? That's TV for you.
I'm not too worried; I've got another series in place with a major satellite channel. But there have been three different bosses since it was first green lit, and with every new creative voice comes another change in how we should make it — without an additional penny thrown in our direction. As my profits are used to shore up the series, terse calls from the bank increase. To say my cash flow is stretched is putting it mildly.
I also have two shows in the US about to start. A cause for celebration? Not a bit of it; a clash of egos between two trusted staff members in my UK office delays the delivery of our budget to the American network, which in turn holds up our first payment. I have no choice but to inject precious UK cash reserves into the US as start-up costs. While I tear my hair out worrying about finding more money, contract negotiations and, without wanting to sound too American, 'winning new business', other things start to go wrong. My dream of a female team working harmoniously alongside each other? It is disintegrating before my eyes.
My open-plan office makes the The Devil Wears Prada set-up seem like a much friendlier option. It is turning into a hormonally charged snake pit. How did that happen? Whatever they can argue about, they do — laptops, handbags, even fertility treatment. I am powerless to stop it; all of my energies are focussed on keeping my businesses afloat. I leave the staff problems to my right-hand woman, Jane.
Jane and I have been friends for ten years. Jane is adorable. She is faithful, immediately likeable, quietly meticulous. Unfortunately, while I thought I'd hired myself a Rottweiler-esque Sharon Osbourne, instead I find myself having to take up the slack of a Bambi-eyed Kim Kardashian.
At the end of my working day in the UK, LA starts. I have great hopes for the US business, having already hired yet another trusted friend, Heather, as my right-hand woman there. Heather and I have always been there for each other; I'd trust her with my life. Ballsy, gift of the gab, gorgeous bod (alas, this is mandatory in LA). Yet conversations are on my radar that should not be.
'Sam,' my voicemail blares out at me, 'you're gonna have to sort this out. It's urgent!' There's a dramatic pause. I unintentionally roll my eyes, waiting to discover what it is this time. 'She's threatening to walk.'
Knowing how difficult it is to keep good staff in LA (everyone has their eye on the next big gig), I treat this seriously and immediately talk to Jane, whose job it is to deal with personnel issues on both sides of the Atlantic. I'm painfully aware we are both regularly working late into the night to support our LA office.
'What's going on?' I ask.
'She wants the convertible,' is the nervous reply.
'What?' This is about a car? No one drives a convertible in LA! 'We don't have that kind of allowance in the budget. You know that,' I reply. Jane and I look at each other. Those watery eyes! My instinct is to put my arms around her and give her a hug; I know she doesn't want to play bad cop. I also have a sinking feeling our friendship is in a terminal decline.
'You have to tell her the rate you approve,' I say gently. 'Anything over, she must pay herself.'
One phone call later, Jane is predictably in tears. The hardened New York native refuses to back down over the hire car, slamming the phone down on Jane — no doubt she is playing to an audience in the LA office. The friend in me desperately wants to console Jane, but the boss in me worries about what's going on in LA. I put down the contract I need to discuss with our US lawyer and pick up the phone to Heather in LA.
'She really wants the car, babes,' she breezes.
'But how are we going to pay for it?' I, too, hate this part of my job. 'Can't we find it?' she asks innocently.
'No! You know we can't!' She knows every dollar that's not approved in the budget is a dollar I personally have to find. Our TV series in the UK is now so far over its budget that I have no choice but to look at what I can personally sell to pay our bills. No one else knows this but Jane and Heather. While I pay them the going rate, I pay myself nothing. I shouldn't have to tell them how important it is to keep our programme budgets on track.
It's lucky I'm an optimist; the satellite series is already on air, and there is talk of series two. In fact, I've already been given the unofficial news. It's gonna happen. We just need to get over this sticky phase, tighten our belts. Like most things in TV, it will be fine. I tell myself this constantly during those nights when, unable to sleep, I spend hour after hour staring into the darkness.
TV is an expensive game. My company's outgoings are twenty grand a month and I know I'm taking a risk investing everything I can get my hands on. I sell my two Mercedes, much of my beloved designer wardrobe, bespoke pieces of jewellery, even my eye-wateringly expensive handbags while I wait for the contract for the half-a-million-pound series that has already been verbally promised to me. All the noises I'm hearing from the executives at the channel are good. Of course the deal will be signed.
I spend the summer and autumn of 2006 jetting back and forth between London and LA, crisis-managing from one continent to the next. I live on painkillers to combat the excruciatingly painful sinus problems from all the flying. While I might be putting on a brave front, my body isn't. One of the few times I allow myself to cry is when I see masses and masses of my blonde hair swirl in the bathtub. My body, it would seem, is protesting; deploring the stress I'm placing it under.
* * *
It is December 2006 when I receive the call.
My mobile rings. No number; must be someone important, I think. In an open-plan office with several members of staff milling around me I get up and walk to the fortunately empty reception area. Is this the day when they finally confirm the series, when I finally get a decent night's sleep?
'Hi, Sam! How are you? It's Catherine!'
'I'm good!' Thinking, get on with it.
The silence that follows speaks volumes.
'Listen, I'll be brief — we've decided not to go ahead with the series.'
'Right!' I breeze. 'Fine! OK! That's fine, no problem!'
Inane pleasantries are exchanged between us. I finally end the call, the urge to vomit overwhelming me.
I calmly walk to the loos, waving away the runner who wants a signature for something. I close the door behind me and throw up.
It's over, it's all over.
With creditors antsy for cash, and frankly baying for my blood, my company is hurtling towards bankruptcy. I can no longer afford the rent on the office, let alone the mortgage on my house. I have no choice but to get out of London.
Skeleton staff are let go; telling my loyal colleagues that the company is folding is one of the most difficult conversations I've ever had to have. At the same time I tackle the hideous process of winding down the business. I'm gobsmacked when my inner circle of friends flee. Jane hits me with an industrial tribunal court summons and Heather sends increasingly abusive messages about unpaid expenses. I understand that they need to look after their own interests, but their immediate volte-face hurts more than anything else. To the media world, I attempt to tell some white lies to save face, explaining I'm moving home to be with my family through an illness. I needn't have bothered, though — the grapevine in TV does a far better job than any advert on prime time.
Christmas sees just me and my dad eyeing each other over boxes. Me — trying not to cry. Dad — resisting the urge to say, 'I feckin' told yee so.' Just eighteen years earlier he'd reluctantly moved me to London, to the tiny room in university halls of residence. I was full of hope for the glittering TV career. Even then he was the voice of doom about 'London people'. And now; I'm defeated, he's been proved correct — we're moving me back to the Midlands.
Mother is a friend, mentor and all-round interferer (she'd take that as a compliment), and I've spoken with her daily since my business started to wobble. She's so worried (I now know) that she wants to get me back home. Under her wing. Taking a mortgage holiday has bought me time. Time to find moneyed tenants for my beloved home in London and rent somewhere cheap in Birmingham.
Mother has already hustled my retired stepdad into locating a house. Ten minutes' drive from both my parents' homes. It is shabby on the outside and even worse on the inside; think stained and smelly carpets, yellowing, once-white walls. Student accommodation at its worst. But I can live there with my dogs and so I move in during January 2007.
Time alone is time to reflect. I have lost everything. That'll be my home, my business, even most of my friends. Oh, and I owe, deep breath, over £100,000 in tax repayments, on credit cards, bank guarantees and personal loans.
It is March when my company is officially put into liquidation.
In my eyes I am something I never thought I would be.
* * *
It is an unforgiving, bitterly cold evening when I'm crammed in a too-small tepid bath, listening to the drip, drip, drip of the faulty tap. A bath used to be my sanctuary! My fall from grace has even affected how I pamper myself. Shame doesn't even begin to describe it.
Before, a Jo Malone scented bath, Aveda candle flickering, glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne and a glossy magazine would have been my treat.
I've just pulled a Bic razor across my leg. (Me, who swore by waxes!) As the blood trickles into the water I think ... deep breath ... I think ... here goes ... about a deliberate pull to an artery and what it would do. Oh God. I can't believe I'm even thinking like this ...
I wonder how long would it take?
To slip into unconsciousness and leave this world?
I'm shaking; part in desperate anguish, part utterly ashamed of myself and part in sheer disbelief that I can even entertain such thoughts.
I couldn't, though. Could I? Could I ...
Just then the bathroom door crashes open.
It's Ambrose. Uninvited, he trots in, thinking he's all that, one of my Agent Provocateur bras inexplicably dangling from his mouth. I know the deal: I'm getting 'the look' because I'm late for walkies. He drops the bra into the bath and then begins lapping at the foamy bath water. The prospect of one ruined bra and him vomiting in approximately thirty seconds' time snaps me out of my morbid thoughts. As I pull his nose out, we stare at each other; he cocks his head to one side and starts licking at the tears running down my cheek.CHAPTER 2
An Invitation to France
'I should have bloody known!' my mother berates herself.
'What?' I nervously ask.
'You're depressed!' she tells me, eyeing the dressing gown I have worn for the last few days, the bags under my eyes and my unkempt hair. She pulls out her mobile telephone at the same time. Depressed? Me?
Within minutes Mother has terrorised the local medical centre receptionist into freeing up an appointment with the family GP. I am frog-marched in front of my doctor, with whom I complete an 'at-risk' checklist (without Mother in the room). I leave with sage advice about TV types, another appointment and a prescription for sleeping tablets and antidepressants.
After that I know my parents are on suicide watch. Calls come through from them several times a day.
'Are you feeling better yet?' Dad shouts down the phone in full-on Irish twang (think Father Ted — he also looks like a rotund version of him).
'No ... The same ...'
'Sam!' Dad roars. 'You're not going to do anything feckin' stupid, are you?'
'Those feckin' bastards, if I could get my hands on them ...'
'Dad! It's not their fault!' It's all my bloody fault ...
'Anyway so, will I bring you round a sandwich at lunchtime?'
Dad arrives with a meal big enough to make Nigella Lawson think twice about tackling it. For this is how my dad has always expressed his love — through obscene amounts of food.
Excerpted from Head Over Heels in France by Samantha Brick. Copyright © 2013 Samantha Brick. Excerpted by permission of Summersdale Publishers Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: TV Executive, Interrupted ...,
Chapter Two: An Invitation to France,
Chapter Three: The Way of the Hot-blooded Frenchman,
Chapter Four: Reality Bites,
Chapter Five: Un Retour en France,
Chapter Six: Falling in Love,
Chapter Seven: The Rehearsal,
Chapter Eight: The Opposition,
Chapter Nine: Meeting the Rubinats,
Chapter Ten: Meeting My Family,
Chapter Eleven: The Move,
Chapter Thirteen: Nasty Surprises,
Chapter Fourteen: Christmas,
Chapter Fifteen: Los Angeles, and Closing the Door on My Old Life,
Chapter Sixteen: Wedding Preparations and Marriage Hiccups,
Chapter Seventeen: Our House: DIY SOS,
Chapter Eighteen: The Wedding,
About the Author,