For many people seeking to get a foot on the first rung of the property ladder, owning a castle is the ultimate fantasy. For Terry George and Michael Rothwell, the dream has come true with a big dollop of glamour – their mock 18th-century castle has been judged Britain's best home.
Carr Hall Castle is a £3.7m turreted property near Halifax that they have turned into a contemporary folly with striking soft furnishings. Last night, it won a public vote ahead of seven other houses in the final of the Five programme I Own Britain's Best Home.
More than 60 per cent of voters preferred the grade II-listed property to a white-walled Victorian house in Tooting, south-west London, and a Sussex country mansion, Hall House, which were second and third respectively.
Carr Hall Castle is set in a 10-acre deer park four minutes from the M62. A stream runs through the estate past a restored water mill. Inside, the house bears the stamp of a couple who have indulged their tastes to the maximum, with a heated pool surrounded by black and white images of topless men and a dining room table ringed by brown leather chairs. The living room has a giant television beneath a wood beamed ceiling. They share the property with dogs Roxy, Ruby and Oscar, as well as ponies and geese.
Mr George said: "It is like a dream come true because Michael and I come from very humble backgrounds. I grew up on a council estate in Leeds and Michael grew up on a council estate in Salford. We have gone from that to living in a house that's been voted Britain's best. People who drive up to it always say 'wow'."
With a business empire including gay dating websites and nightclubs, the couple have invited the public into their lives before. After 20 years together, they were the first in Britain to have a civil partnership, attended by Sir Elton John. Mr George gave away thousands of pounds when he appeared on Channel 4's The Secret Millionaire. They count Sir Ian McKellen, Dale Winton, Chris Moyles and Boy George among their celebrity friends.
Their flamboyant yet "cosy" home won through from a longlist of 300 properties and a shortlist of 24, each visited by one of the show's three presenters. "It is basically 'property porn' because you get to look at some of these houses and they are all very expensive," said a Five publicist.
The programme's presenter Melissa Porter, who stayed in the castle, said she believed it triumphed partly because of the winning personalities of its owners. "These two guys are self-made. [Terry] is a philanthropist and gives money to charity. And they absolutely love their property. It was all about a dream come true, about being able to drive up a long drive to a castle. They want people to share what they have got. They are very sociable. They have people around all the time."
In a nation where property provokes strong views, not everyone agrees the house is Britain's finest. "I think it's charming but I don't think they've done much to it," said Patrick Lynch, a London architect. "But there is enough bling and vulgarity, like the purple curtains, which are on the edge of Footballer's Wives. They have a horrible pseudo off-the-shelf kitchen."
The couple have pledged to donate their £50,000 prize to charity. "I love to get criticism," Mr George said yesterday. "We didn't design it for anybody else. We designed it for our own tastes. If people don't like it then they don't have to live with it.
"I'm sure that it won't be to everyone's tastes."
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