In an exclusive interview and photoshoot with HELLO! magazine at her New Forest home, Dame Esther Rantzen has spoken of her new life in the countryside.
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The broadcaster and children’s campaigner tells HELLO! how she swapped London for her holiday home of 35 years during lockdown last year – and she couldn’t be happier about it.
"Having been a Londoner all my life I thought I was addicted to the buzz, the theatres and the restaurants but the town mouse has turned into a country mouse," she says, adding that her five grandchildren - Benjamin, eight, Alexander and Teddy, both six, and three-year-old twins Florence and Romilly - also adore the six-bedroom farmhouse.
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"The New Forest was my magic place when I was a child and the grandchildren find it as magical as I did," says 80-year-old Esther.
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"It’s an extraordinary forest, where the ponies, pigs, cows and sheep roam free. The garden gives us infinite possibilities of hide and seek, planting sunflowers or finding a bird’s egg that’s fallen out of a nest.
"There’s a hill the children love rolling down and recently I rolled down it myself – which made me dizzy. They also got me on the trampoline."
Dame Esther Rantzen at her New Forest home with her grandchildren
Esther also tells HELLO! how spending time with her grandchildren gives her great happiness.
"They say you love your children but you’re in love with your grandchildren and it is a bit like that – they fill my heart up," she says.
But the one thing missing from the happy family scene is Esther’s husband, acclaimed documentary maker Desmond Wilcox, who died almost 21 years ago. His ashes are scattered in the garden he created, and Esther is sorry he hasn’t shared her grandparenting journey.
"It really is sad," she says. "Teddy said to me: ‘Grandpa Desmond never saw me.’
Esther moved to the New Forest in lockdown and has never been happier
And I said: ‘I know but you are incredibly like him.’ He is very much alive in their minds and the greatest treat the little girls can demand at bedtime is: ‘Tell me a Grandpa Desmond story!’
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"So I tell them a story about how he ran away to sea, or how a naughty squirrel ran up his coat sleeve.
"Fortunately, he had many adventures so there’s an almost infinite number of Grandpa Desmond stories I can share."
The NSPCC is calling on people everywhere to play their part in giving children a great summer and brighter future by supporting Childhood Day on the 11th June. To sign up and get your free fundraising pack with lots of play ideas visit: nspcc.org.uk/childhood-day.
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