BBC4…Storyville..Hotel Folly (Folie à Deux)

12 Nov

Helen is a middle aged single mum with seven children, a successful business, a comfortable lifestyle and crucially a new relationship.

The new man in her life was John, also middle aged, and a  successful architect and property owner. In her own words they were kindred spirits, and the  meeting of these like minds was to set in motion a series of events with very significant consequences for John, Helen and their families.

It was the Summer of 2007,  the former Chancellor Gordon Brown had promised the country we apparently had seen the end of economic boom and bust, we were also made to believe that centuries of economic orthodoxy had been blown away. Jobs were aplenty and house prices were demonstrating that gravity was for wimps.

It was into this supposed era of eternal sunshine that Helen and John sold practically all they had to buy a run down 72-room historic mansion in York. The plan was to turn the mansion into a luxury hotel. It was at this point that BBC’s Storyville started a documentary detailing the couple’s plans. In the early optimistic days we see discussions with interior decor consultants, builders and project managers, where fees of £50,000 for room decorations are bandied about and borrowings of upto £2 million discussed.

Then came the Credit Crunch, the sense of eternal optimism was blown away. For John and Helen very harsh realities swept in in its place. Suddenly all bank funding dried up and they found themselves stuck with a massive carbuncle that they could not afford to  renovate, and with the housing market pretty much dead, neither could they sell it.

Added to that they also found themselves enmeshed in that most middle-England of problems, neighbourhood boundary disputes. Unfortunately for them the neighbour in this case was the very powerful and very wealthy National Trust.

The film depicted Helen’s acrimonious and often surreal battles with tenants’ of the National Trust’s building intertwined with her and John’s increasingly desperate attempts to keep their hotel project going, and left you with the feeling of crawling gradually towards a precipice.

This slowly evolving documentary was filmed over five years and it documented the travails of woman with a unstoppable will to succeed what ever the cost. We learn at the end that she managed to save the hotel and settle her dispute with the National trust, but she paid a heavy price as John passed away during the filming of the programme. In a sad twist of fate his life insurance helped secure the future of what is now the luxurious hotel Grays Court, York

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