Christmas shopping with Nick Knowles

PUBLISHED: 11:04 20 December 2013 | UPDATED: 11:04 20 December 2013

Nick and Jessica

Nick and Jessica

MAUREEN MCLEAN

The TV star and his wife Jessica find themselves with a most unusual personal shopper – our editor Jan Raycroft - as they hunt down treasures for their new home and the antiques shop they have just opened in Eton

Normally it’s a good rule of thumb not to intervene between husband and wife when it comes to shopping choices, especially when the subject under discussion is home décor, and the delicate matter of soft furnishings in particular.

But in some circumstances you feel obliged to help move things along. In this case it is the sight of TV star Nick Knowles looking lost and doleful. We are in Dorney Court Kitchen Garden Centre and he is clutching a draught excluder in the shape of a row of ducks that he wants to buy.

Just seconds before he’d been waving his magnificent find in the direction of his wife, Jessica. But she appears more interested in cooing with photographer Maureen McLean over some intricate little Christmas decorations by Gisela Graham.

Jessica has said ‘No’ to the draught excluder. He’s edged a bit nearer and tried again: “But look at it!” Nick’s face has gone from that of a big smiley Labrador to one saying ‘sent to the doghouse’. It’s a moment all husbands will know (and wives will recognise). He’s found treasure but apparently his joy is not shared.

“It’s the last thing our home needs,” says Jessica. She’s putting on a look of horror at the mere sight of the ducky thing, but there’s also a smile playing on her face that suggests we might have room for manoeuvre here. Nick confides to me: “Well that’s it, I’ve been told…” but he still has a protective grip on that draught excluder. What’s more, he now has me agreeing with him that it is a very nice find indeed.

So I joke to Jessica that instead of portraying her as the warm and chirpy woman she undoubtedly is, I could tell readers that she is mercilessly cruel to ‘TV treasure’ Nick Knowles. The price for publishing the truth is that he is allowed to keep the dreaded row of ducks. A laughing Jessica agrees the alternative would not look good at all, and so it is that we eventually leave Dorney Court with me lugging along the draught excluder until it is safely in the boot of Nick’s car, alongside a collection of Christmas baubles, stylish crackers and lemon drizzle cake they’ve picked out on the shopping expedition.

It’s going to find a place after all in the home they moved to near Eton this summer. Earlier, over a delicious light lunch in the nearby Palmer Arms, the couple had revealed how they came to live here and open their first shop in Eton High Street.

Nick was already familiar with Eton. Many of the sharp suits you will see him wearing on TV come from Tom Brown in the High Street. Jessica’s first visit to the town with him earlier this year was to result in them swiftly moving from their West London base.

Nick reveals: “She just said ‘We need to live here’. We were peering in the window of Warren Property Matters and Phil Warren came out to say hello.

“We shook hands and Phil said ‘I’ve got the keys of the one you’re looking at’ and asked if we’d like to see the house. We did, and within one hour of arriving both of us knew we had found our home.”

Until then they’d been planning to move to Malmesbury or Tetbury in the Cotswolds (Jessica is originally from Cirencester). Jessica’s instant decision on Eton surprised Nick as she is usually the more reserved half of the couple.

But the Eton area won both their hearts, and it is a home, not just a base for Nick to return to between TV assignments. They’ve immersed themselves in local life. Jessica has got to know people up and down Eton High Street and beyond since they decided to fulfil one of Nick’s long held dreams of having his own shop there – Knowles Antiques & Home Design Consultancy – which she now runs.

They’ve made a host of new friends and love to shop locally. The warmth of their welcome in Eton has delighted Nick as he sees it as a ‘support system’ for Jessica when he is away filming. Favourite spots include Chrys and Hanna Fisher’s Palmer Arms in Dorney, Zero3 Café, Lily Chic Interiors, Côte and Gilbey’s. Nick and his brother John both play guitar and have found themselves doing two ‘off the cuff” live gigs in the Henry VI pub.

“We are very lucky – we have quite an idyllic lifestyle,” admits Jessica.

Nick sees Eton as “a hidden gem” and is impressed by the way the little town has flourished as it fights back from the recession. He’d like to see more antiques shops open there so that it becomes a destination for both those seeking to furnish their homes and collectors.

Then there is their love of Wags Pet Boutique just along the High Street – another enterprise of Hanna Fisher, with Emily Steward. The couple’s fascination with this shop has grown since the arrival of Galliano, their Russian Blue kitten.

Nick says: “I know my place in the pecking order, and it’s definitely behind the cat.” Nor does he shy away from talking about the obvious age difference between the couple. At 25 Jessica may have a wise head on young shoulders, but the fact remains that she is half his age.

These numbers do not tell the whole story, though. The couple dated from 2009, both cautious until committed, eventually marrying in Rome last year.

They became engaged at the Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa while Nick was filming for the Born Free Foundation. Nick admits he was unsure that Jessica would accept his proposal, and was then bemused when she burst into tears and cried solidly for two minutes. But he did have a trick up his sleeve, or at least in the engagement ring box.

A year previously the couple had been in Bath, enjoying a shared love of antiques. Jessica decided it might be time to move things in the right direction: “We were outside this lovely little jewellers and I saw the diamond ring of my dreams. So I dared to say ‘If ever you did think of proposing to me, that’s the kind of ring I would like’. So Nick suggested we go in and find out how much it was.”

Nick takes up the story: “I did a terrible thing, looking back. I pretended to be totally disgusted in the shop and told Jessica that it was ridiculous money for that sort of ring, and insisted we leave.”

Back at the hotel he sneakily made urgent phone calls to buy the ring and have it altered to fit Jessica. Before leaving Bath they passed the jewellers again. It was gone from the window so Jessica accepted that another girl was destined to have it on her finger. What had caused her sobs during Nick’s eventual proposal was not simply that he wanted to marry her but that she instantly recognised the ring from Bath.

Nick had asked his PA to look after the secretly-bought ring until the moment was right to propose and claims the exasperated PA had rightly told him to ‘get on with it’ after a year of caring for the treasure.

He is undoubtedly a joker, but of the best sort because most are at his own expense, particularly when it comes to the age gap between them: “We do have a lot in common and it’s a good thing she loves antiques because she’s married one.”

They admit to both being ‘big kids’ about Christmas – hence our shopping expedition – and Nick says that last year he got an urgent call from Jessica asking him to buy more Christmas lights for their tree on his way home as apparently the 800 they already had were not enough.

This year will be busy because they want to spend time on the new shop and join in local festivities before welcoming family.

Both have big families and Jessica gets on excellently with his three teenage children from a previous marriage. “His sons think he’s the coolest Dad in the world, but I think it’s actually the boys who are very cool,” she says.

Their tastes in interior design and furnishing do differ at times – Nick loves the Georgian look and therefore finds much to admire in the Eton architecture, whereas Jessica’s eye tends to be drawn to ornate rococo styles.

So how do they make this work in their home? In taking on Nick, Jessica knew that his collecting habit came with him. There’s a collection of top hats and a vast array of fossils he’s gathered over the years.

Nick says: “She’s been very crafty because the fossils have somehow migrated, room by room until they reached a box in the garage. I’ve got a lovely skull of a sabre tooth tiger that I wanted on display in the bedroom but that’s not happening.” He turns to Jessica and laughs: “Ah, you see you moved that lot, but you still ended up with a fossil husband.”

In other areas of home life they’ve found the perfect match. Their courtyard-style garden is truly beautiful, one of those areas where indoors has crept outside. Jessica wanted to add pretty mirrors and lights to the garden and it was Nick with his building skills who made it all work.

At the moment much of their time is taken up with Knowles Antiques & Home Design Consultancy, which opened in the High Street on 11 November.

They’ve been sourcing beautiful pieces of furniture, including items that simply needed a bit of expert care to show them at their best:

“When it comes to antiques we both love renovated pieces that now have a modern twist,” says Jessica. The aim is to offer exquisitely crafted antique pieces as well as unique items designed by the couple.

And their business has something that very few, if any, will be able to match – access to design legends like Nina Campbell, Henley-based Julia Kendell and fellow DIY SOS star Gabrielle Blackman, as well as landscape genius Chris Beardshaw through the consultancy side.

“We are both ‘yes people’ and if a client is seeking a particular look, we will make it happen,” says Jessica.

She’s looking forward to more of our readers popping in to browse and chat.

And we’re sure she won’t mind if you ask whether Nick has his duckies draught excluder on display, or whether it’s now warming that box of fossils in the garage.

Nick & Jessica

London-born Nick grew up in Suffolk and Kent. He has spent the last 14 years honing his knowledge of design and home development through DIY SOS. Working on the hugely successful series Original Features allowed him to develop his passion for antique furniture. He’s a familiar face on the BBC National Lottery shows Secret Fortune and Who Dares Wins, and game shows such as Perfection, as well as taking part in projects for Children in Need and supporting charities such as Act Against Bullying.

Jessica has run her own media consultancy business and is the daughter of family friends of Nick.

Before her wedding she told our sister magazine, Cotswold Life: “At 25 I am marrying Nick, a man who already has three children and a media career.

“I thought any acknowledgement of being nervous meant that perhaps some part of me didn’t want to marry him, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I absolutely want to marry him.

“This is forever and I’m taking on his life and all that goes with it.”

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