Versatile, that’s Caroline Quentin. She is just as at home treading the boards in the theatre as she is acting and presenting on TV. Her latest project involves the latter skill. Together with award-winning architect Piers Taylor she explores a range of incredible architect-designed houses in extreme locations around the world for the new BBC2 series The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes.
Whether built into the side of a cliff, nestled in a forest, perched at the top of a mountain or under the earth, these are homes that connect to their environment in a spectacular way. There are four 60-minute episodes in the series and each is themed to the houses’ environments – Coast, Forest, Mountain and Underground – with Caroline and Piers travelling to locations ranging from North America to Australasia and Europe.
It really is a dream job. “It’s kind of embarrassingly lovely,” she laughs. ”I can’t even say, like I did with Restoration Homes, that the weather’s awful and the house isn’t even built yet! I got to travel all over the world to see the most exceptional houses that have been built in the last ten years. I even got to stay the night in some of them – that really was the icing on the cake.”
So what was her favourite home? “Hmm – I keep changing my mind about that,” she says. “There is this amazing house in Switzerland that is built into the mountain but the one I keep going back to is the place in the desert in Arizona. Spending the night in the middle of a desert in this amazing, open plan house and then waking up in the morning and seeing 40ft cacti really was amazing.”
Caroline as a young child!
Caroline feared that she might feel a tad dissatisfied with her own home in rural Devon after returning from her travels but is delighted to say the opposite is true. “If anything, it made me appreciate it more – the damp patches, door handles that constantly fall off, cracked tiling and wind whistling through the windows. I’d been in these extremely luxurious, state- of-the-art houses which cost millions and trillions but I was glad to be home and happy I live in the rather small, damp house that I do!
“I couldn’t live in a house like the ones I’d visited. There was a moment in a house in Greece – with its incredible views, massive swimming pool, terrace and barbecue – that I thought, ’Oh yes, I could live with this’. But then I realised you just wouldn’t be able to manage it unless you had staff and if you had people there all the time, you’d never really get any privacy as a family. You’d never be able to walk around naked or not worry what you looked like! You’d always have to be on show.”
And, a homebody at heart, she admits: “I did get homesick for Devon, my husband and kids while I was away, but feeling homesick isn’t necessarily about how far away from home you are. I’ve felt more homesick when I’ve been in Manchester or Leeds than I did when I was in New Zealand or Canada, for instance.”
Caroline is clearly a fan of wide-open spaces. She’s president of the Campaign for National Parks – a national charity dedicated to campaigning to protect and promote all of the National Parks of England and Wales. “It is about accessibility,” she says. “I’m a woman in my mid-50s and so I absolutely identify with the cagoule-clad, middle-class walker – I am one of those people. I love that aspect of the parks. But I want young people to realise that they are also theirs – that they are there for rock climbing and kayaking, for learning about nature by getting out among it and not treating it as if it were some sort of historic monument. I like the idea of my children, Emily (17) and William (13) feeling that the parks are there to be enjoyed in lots of different ways.”
Her passion for the great outdoors is palpable, so what was it like filming in some of the world’s wildest locations? “It was very exciting going to new places. The crew were lovely too and I really got on with my co-presenter Piers – we took the mickey out of each other quite a lot. Working with him made the job of presenting less lonely than it is when it is just you in front of the camera.” And we can’t wait to see them both in action revealing those amazing homes and places.
- Interview and words by Alison James
- The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes is on BBC2 on Fridays at 9pm. Previous episodes are available on iPlayer.
Did you know...?
- Caroline is aged 56
- She's has been married to husband Sam Farmer since 2005. The pair met on the set of Jonathan Creek. Before she was married to Paul Merton from 1990-1998.
- She may be an expert on Extraordinary Homes, but her own home is a traditional farm in Devon.
- Caroline suffers from coeliac disease and is a patron of the charity Coeliac UK
- She's best known for her roles on Men Behaving Badly, Jonathan Creek, Kiss Me Kate, Life Begins and Blue Murder.