Location groupies force sale of the UK's second most famous front door

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The Independent Online
IT LOOKS like an ordinary, somewhat battered blue front door but it has come to symbolise the downside of celebrity for its owner.

The door is, in fact, famous for its starring role in the most successful British film yet, Notting Hill. But the owner of the house is so sick of having to fight her way through hordes of tourists having their photograph taken in front of it that she has decided to sell - not the house, but the door.

Christie's is auctioning No 280, complete with chipped paint, letterbox and brass knocker, next month and expects it to fetch up to pounds 6,000.

Usually it is the actors who are remembered for their roles in a hit film, but such was the importance of this door that it was actually written into the script.

At the start of the film, William Thacker, played by Hugh Grant, says: "So this is where I spend my days and years, in this small village, in the middle of a city, in a house with a blue door that my wife and I bought together before she left me for a man who looked like Harrison Ford ... "

The door makes a second appearance when Anna Scott, alias Julia Roberts, loses her cool over the paparazzi and shrieks: "Really? The entire British press just woke up this morning and thought, `Hey, I know where Anna Scott is, she's in that house with the blue door in Notting Hill'."

The house, and the door, used to belong to Richard Curtis, who wrote the film, and his wife, Emma Freud. Shortly after the film came out they sold the two-bedroom former Baptist chapel for pounds 1.2m and moved to a quieter location.

It was bought by Caroline Freud, the estranged wife of Emma's brother Matthew, the PR agent, who quickly discovered that living behind such a famous door brought problems.

"I decided to sell the door because I found it increasingly difficult to get in and out of my house, as crowds of tourists were constantly having their photographs taken in front of it," Mrs Freud said yesterday.

Public attention is a natural consequence of owning a house that has featured in a film.

Tourists flocked to the wistaria-clad Peppard Cottage, near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, after it was used as the setting for the Oscar-winning film Howards End. For three years after the release of the Merchant Ivory adaptation of the E M Forster novel, visitors took photographs and admired the cottage. On one occasion an Italian film crew used the cottage as the backdrop for a magazine fashion shoot. The owners, Roger and Caroline Shapland, who stayed at home throughout the filming with Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, were unconcerned by the attention.

"It wasn't that bad," Mrs Shapland said yesterday. "People did come and look at it, but they weren't really intrusive. It didn't particularly bother us, because we were right on the common so people could walk past anyway."

Jenny Cooper, a locations adviser for the London Film Commission, said many people who allowed their homes to be used as film sets found tourists turning up on the doorstep for months afterwards.

"The family who own the house in Suffolk where Lovejoy was filmed had a fairly steady stream of people turning up but they thought it was amusing," she said.

"The series went on for seven years, so they had a lot of it during that time. People would just drive around until they found it or ask the locals.

"But some of the people who live in the Yorkshire villages where they filmed Last of the Summer Wine or All Creatures Great and Small are all rather bored with it now."

A celebrity sale does not always add to the value of a house, according to Jonathan Hewlett of FPD Savills estate agents. In fact a celebrity connection can detract from the value of a London residence.

"Take Freddie Mercury's old house in Kensington," he said. "His house is very private, but it became a Mecca to his fans. The whole of his garden wall was covered in graffiti."

The wall has been cleaned, but messages from adoring fans are still scribbled on the pavement. Unfortunately for the present owners, pavements cannot be sold.

The front door of the Apple Studios was covered in graffiti by the Beatles; when it was sold it made pounds 20,700, almost five times its estimate. And the plain white door from John Lennon's mansion, Tittenhurst Park, in Surrey, was sold by Christie's for pounds 2,300 in 1994.

Carey Wallace, of Christie's popular entertainment department, said: "There is a passionate market for film memorabilia and, when you have something that immediately brings that film to mind, then it will sell well."

The combination of fame and the property prices in Notting Hill makes pounds 6,000 for the door of No 280 a fair price, according to Keith Rigby, of Leslie Marsh, the estate agent that handled the sale of the house.

"In comparison with the price of the whole house, this is nothing for a door. An ordinary Victorian door can fetch up to pounds 1,000 in salvage, and this one is a bit larger and has a quirky story attached to it," he said.

As for the film fans, they will now have to use their detective skills to find the wooden star of the film. The famous blue door has been replaced by a plain black one with no number at all.

John Walsh,

Review, page 4