TV presenter Sarah Beeny on memories of Berkshire and celebrating 10 years of her dating website
PUBLISHED: 10:58 26 January 2015 | UPDATED: 10:58 26 January 2015
The TV presenter and property development guru shares her memories of the countryside and celebrates 10 years of My Single Friend
For Sarah Beeny, star of Channel 4’s Property Ladder, the concept of ‘home’ has always been about more than just bricks and mortar. She’s one of the most recognisable faces of the UK property market, having educated the nation about the risky business and delicate art of developing via her TV shows, and also flexed her entrepreneurial skills with two online ventures – one of which, Mysinglefriend.com, is celebrating its 10 year anniversary – but Beeny’s achievements have been the result of her setting her own path in life. She developed that independent spirit during her most formative years, growing up in a rural corner of Berkshire.
By her own admission, Beeny’s parents had some ‘hippie’ ideals, which meant that as a young child, she was raised with her older brother Diccon in a plot on the outskirts of the Stratfield Saye estate in the Reading countryside. The siblings were rarely indoors, preferring to explore their own beautiful area of pastoral England.
“I was very lucky to have the childhood that I did,” Beeny recalls. “I was always out playing in the fields, climbing trees with my brother - it was really quite idyllic. After all, we had nine acres to roam about in; I hate that it’s much harder for kids to do that these days.” Although she has an enduring love for that outdoorsy lifestyle, Beeny reveals that she “wouldn’t buy property in Berkshire again, not because it isn’t beautiful, but just because I love living in London too much now, and we are settled here. If I could buy a holiday home anywhere in the world, it would probably be the South of France because we love spending time down there.”
Now an accomplished TV presenter, property development expert and entrepreneur, Beeny preferred her outdoor explorations at home to spending time at school. “I don’t have great memories of my schooldays,” she explains, “because I didn’t have the best time at school.” She moved between several schools in the area, eventually settling at the private Luckley-Oakfield, just outside Wokingham. She began weekly-boarding there, after her mother died of breast cancer aged just 39, when Beeny was only 10-years-old. “In lessons, I couldn’t concentrate on the things we were being taught, because I could never understand the point of them. I couldn’t see why I needed to know these things, and I hated being told that I just needed to know them,” says Beeny.
Subjects like Physics, for example: “I could never see the point of that, but now as an adult I understand the practical applications of something like circuits, for instance.” Nowadays, Beeny is a big advocate of learning-by-experience. “I don’t think that children should be learning from a white page on a textbook, they should be doing it in a more practical way. I always try to give my children (she has four: Laurie, Billy, Charlie and Rafferty) some context for what they are learning about and tell them why it is useful.”
Beeny’s father Richard was an architect for Bovis Homes; one of the largest home-building companies in the UK during the 1970s, which meant that floor plans and foundations were part of her life from a very early age. “My father’s work probably did pique my interest in property, at least on a subconscious level,” she explains. After school, instead of following her college friends to university, Beeny went travelling before trying out various forms of employment, none of which she felt particularly enthusiastic about (making sandwiches and selling vacuum cleaners didn’t inspire her, funnily enough). Property development was something that came much more naturally to Beeny; she set up her first property company with her brother and her husband, Graham Swift, whom she met when she was 18 years old, when Diccon was dating Graham’s sister – a couple who are also now married! “It was all weirdly convenient,” she smiles.
Although she doesn’t personally have much dating experience, due to settling down at a relatively young age, Beeny has always loved matchmaking, and is very interested in the challenges facing single people looking for love. “I met Graham in the pub, but nowadays, due to everyone working such long hours, people don’t go and hang out in the pub and have conversations as much,” she says. “We are missing out on that exposure to new people. That’s why I started mysinglefriend.com; back in 2004 online dating was, and still can be, a very lonely and weird place. But our site is for people who do have friends, and a social life, but are perhaps missing the time to expand on that.”
Over the years, Beeny and her husband have embarked on many property projects together; most famously Rise Hall in Yorkshire; the crumbling mansion they have restored and transformed into a wedding venue. “I can’t even begin to remember what profit I made on my first development, because it was such a long time ago now! That would involve unearthing some very dusty files,” she laughs. “All I do know is that it was successful enough to inspire me to keep doing it.”
Property has become Beeny’s niche, but despite her expertise in technical specs, surveys and shaping up a house to sell for a profit, she believes there is one simple thing that everyone can do to improve their living experience, as well as potentially increasing the value of their property. “Home is much more about the people in it, than the walls around it,” she says. “If you have enough space, try to make sure that different areas in your house are designated for different activities. If you work from home, keep that work separate from your living area, and make sure you have a place where the family sit down to eat. It’s so important for quality of life, and that separation will make you feel like you have even more space.”
mysinglefriend.com celebrates its 10 year anniversary this year
• Berkshire’s most romantic venues for Valentine’s Day - Local author Rosie Blake has found enough ‘hot spots’ for her debut novel, now she’s hunting down delights a little closer to home for you, dear reader.
• Great British Bake Off feature interview - Martha Collison and Mary Berry - Could you withstand the scrutiny of Mary Berry? At just 17 Martha Collison took on this formidable challenge, becoming a star of the Great British Bake Off.
• Jamie and Lucy Snowden on life in Berkshire, their respective careers and their lucky break - Jamie and Lucy Snowden love life at their Lambourn Yard, but fate played a big part in bringing them to West Berkshire, Jan Raycroft discovers.