Treasure Houses of Britain
Style. Elegance. Beauty. These qualities can be found in both the presenter and the subject matter of Treasure Houses of Britain.
In this dazzling new series that begins soon on History and History HD, Selina Scott glides around some of our finest stately homes. Accompanied by their owners, she takes us on a marvellous guided tour of Chatsworth House, Blenheim Palace, Burghley House, Holkham Hall and Boughton House.
Along the way, the wonderfully magnetic presenter points out the grandeur of their opulent rooms, decorative halls, sweeping grounds and astonishing art and antiques collections. “Breathtaking” is an overused word in television, but it really does apply to Treasure Houses of Britain.
It could also be readily used to describe Selina. Sitting before me in tailored grey trousers teamed with a cream shirt and a black jacket accessorised with a bee-shaped brooch composed of diamond and sapphire, she is a picture of sartorial elegance.
She can be summed up by all those adjectives beginning with C: charismatic, charming, compelling. As we take tea in the refined drawing room of a central London hotel, an hour in her company simply flies by.
Selina, who could pass for a decade younger than her 60 years, begins by underlining the joys of soaking up Treasure Houses of Britain.
“For once, we are offering people luxurious, lovely TV. As you sit down in front of it, you can’t fail to be absorbed by the history, colour, richness and people of this series. It’s completely involving.”
She is the perfect choice to front Treasure Houses of Britain. Selina, who has presented the news for the BBC, ITN and Sky, explains why. “I’ve always loved history. I’m the kind of girl who is forever immersed in history. This programme is a gift for me.
“So when the producer rang to ask if I wanted to present Treasure Houses of Britain, it didn’t take me long to say, ‘Yes!’ In fact, I had not a moment’s hesitation. I didn’t even ask, ‘How much?’ I just immediately said, ‘Yes!’”
The series will chime with viewers because it leads them round these splendid houses. “It’s great that Treasure Houses of Britain unearths all these fantastic stories,” says Selina, who in the 1990s hosted her own chat show on NBC in the US.
“But what makes it even more special is the fact that we’re shown round by the owners. That makes everything so much more vivid and vibrant. As the owners walk around and explain every little detail about their homes, it really brings them to life.”
The owners’ knowledge and enthusiasm certainly enhances the five-part series, which has already been screened to great acclaim on Sky 3D. Selina, who has also fronted The Clothes Show, Animal Rescue, A Prince Among Islands and Wogan, goes on to provide an example of the owners’ pride in their houses.
“Orlando Rock, whose wife Miranda is descended from the First Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I's Treasurer, discussed an Italian pietra dura cabinet which the Medicis gave his wife's ancestors. He talked about it for four full minutes without a stammer or an ‘er’. That was really impressive. How old is he? He’s my age – just a baby!”
The viewers will have a similar experience to visitors who spot the owners at their stately homes. Selina recalls that, “When the Duke of Marlborough was walking around Blenheim Palace with me, a few visitors were still there, and you could sense they felt it was a special moment.
“Here was the Duke of Marlborough, and there were all his relatives looking down at him from the walls. We all know how enticing it is to trace your ancestors – well, he can trace them back all the way!”
Having said that, we should not imagine it is easy to maintain the Treasure Houses of Britain. Running these great ancestral seats is an enormous burden for the owners. “All these houses have played a vital part in our history,” reflects Selina, who was launch presenter on BBC1’s Breakfast Time in 1983.
“But the owners have to look after and mend them – and that takes a lot of money. You have to raise a lot to keep them going. It’s a real headache. It’s your chance to maintain the ancestral home – and all your ancestors are looking down on you. If you blow it, you’re in deep trouble. If one small thing goes wrong, it can be immensely expensive. The owners have huge pressure on their shoulders.”
Selina brings a myriad of brilliant qualities to the job of presenting Treasure Houses of Britain, but perhaps her principal asset is her infectious passion for her topic.
“The passion is very much still there,” the presenter affirms. “That’s the kind of person I am. It’s a cliché, but as you get older, you don’t care so much about what other people think. You can bring up what you want. If it’s something that touches me, I’m passionate about it!”
Over the years, Selina has earned the right to be on our screens. She has a natural talent that does not depend on her visage or her age. “I never give a thought to the question, ‘Should I have a facelift?’” she smiles.
Because of Selina’s riveting screen presence and tremendous professionalism, viewers will always be eager to tune in and see what she is doing next. “You will have been following the ageism campaign and the fact that women over fifty are pretty much verboten on TV,” she says, wryly.
“That’s why it’s so nice to do something like Treasure Houses of Britain which draws on something other than your looks and your birth certificate. I did not have to show my birth certificate as I walked through the doors of those stately homes!”
Selina has clearly had a ball making Treasure Houses of Britain. If it were commissioned, she would be very much be up for presenting a second series.
“The producer has discussed making some more. I’ve had the most fabulous time, and I’d love to do another series. You can tell by my enthusiasm walking around these stately homes, I’d pay to do it!”