Television explorer Ben Fogle and his childbirth-expert wife Marina’s Victorian terrace house in North Kensington is extraordinary — a riot of bright colours and exotic prints, decorated everywhere with knick-knacks that Ben has carried back from foreign trips.
It is the house of a Victorian adventurer. Old oil lanterns and water carriers on leather straps hang in a corner of his office; a giant British ensign droops between the banisters, and, framed just outside the kitchen, is a small gold packet of something called shark repellent: “Tear open foil bag, tie inner bag to person, squeeze in water to produce dense black cloud, remain in centre of cloud.”
“I did 40 countries last year,” says Ben, 42, the wholesome, labrador-loving chap who became famous on the BBC’s Castaway show in 2000.
See inside: the secrets of Ben's hut
See inside: the secrets of Ben's hut
1/5 Family times
The couple bought their five-storey house in W10 four years ago, having moved with their growing family from just around the corner. Ben inherited his eye for decorating from his mother, Julia Foster, the actress who made her name in the Sixties in films such as Alfie and Half a Sixpence and who now runs an antiques shop in Kensington Church Street, W8. From left: Ludo, Ben, Iona and Marina with Storm on the sofa.
2/5 Man Cave
Ben with his labrador Storm outside his shed, where he retreats it write. It was built by a company called Shackadelic and comes complete with a wood stove, a leather armchair and even has a playhouse on top of it.
The interior of this Victorian terrace house in North Kensington is extraordinary — a riot of bright colours and exotic prints, decorated everywhere with knick-knacks that Ben has carried back from foreign trips.
4/5 House beautiful
As well as an adventurer Ben considers himself to be a “frustrated” interior designer and is constantly tinkering with the house. “When I’m in a yurt in Mongolia, I think about what I could do at home,” he says.
5/5 Exotic colours
Asian umbrella's hang from the kitchen's glass roof. The kitchen is big enough to seat a dozen friends and family for weekend lunches while the children shriek outside on the AstroTurf lawn.
In another life he was the picture editor at Tatler. But he reinvented himself as an explorer/adventurer and has made dozens of TV programmes about countries such as Botswana and Papua New Guinea. He’s rowed the Atlantic, suffered frostbite on his nose while trekking to the North Pole and walked across the Omani desert. He’s published six books and serves on the board of various countryside and animal charities. He is even patron of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.
“But when I’m in a yurt in Mongolia, I think about what I could do at home,” he says, adding that he also considers himself a “frustrated” interior designer, and is constantly tinkering with the house.
FAME’S IN THE FAMILY
He inherited his eye for decorating from his mother, Julia Foster, the actress who made her name in the Sixties in films such as Alfie and Half a Sixpence and who now runs an antiques shop in Kensington Church Street, W8.
Marina and Ben met in 2004 while walking their respective labradors (his was black and called Inca; hers was chocolate and called Maggi) in Hyde Park and married two years later. Ben bravely suggested going to the Falklands for their honeymoon, then he proposed the Arctic and they finally settled on Taransay, a windy island in the Outer Hebrides.
The couple bought their five-storey house in W10 four years ago, having moved with their growing family from just around the corner. Their two blond children — Ludo, seven, and Iona, five — sleep in bunk beds at the top of the house. A sign on the door says: “Ludo and Iona’s room. Do not ent!”
“Ludo got a labelling machine for Christmas, so he’s gone round putting labels on everything,” says Marina, 37, who stays at home while Ben travels, running a business she founded three years ago with her sister, the GP Dr Chiara Hunt. Called the Bump Class, it’s London’s smartest antenatal class and was launched, Marina says, “because Chiara was seeing a lot of women who were underprepared”.
In the old days, posh girls used to see Betty Parsons, an antenatal expert who advised the Queen and Diana, Princess of Wales, and used to instruct her clients to pack slices of lemon in their overnight bags “for their husband’s gin and tonic”. Betty also advised them to take writing paper into hospital so they could send their thank you letters from bed.
SMART HOME THAT WORKS
Then came Christine Hill, who held classes for mothers-to-be — including the Duchess of Cambridge — at her house in Chiswick. Now Christine has retired and everyone goes to Chiara and Marina’s classes in South Kensington or Parsons Green. Half a dozen packets of chocolate Hobnobs and crates of small water bottles sit by the island in Marina’s kitchen, ready to be taken to the next class.
Marina, now a parenting guru, has talked and written very openly about losing a son at 33 weeks in 2014 after the placenta detached from her womb. “From the start, I needed to talk about it,” she says. “And I don’t go on and on about it in the classes, but if I talk about Ludo and Iona, I talk about Willem, too.”
With Chiara, Marina wrote The Bump Class, a new book that doesn’t preach or insist there’s only one way to approach childbirth, but is full of helpful advice. Marina says birth is the easy part — becoming a parent is harder, which is why the pair are already in talks about writing a book on toddlers. So, all in all, the Fogle household is a busy one.
It is a very beautiful house, with colour-co-ordinated bookshelves and Asian umbrellas hanging from the kitchen’s glass roof. It is also a fully functional one. The kitchen is big enough to seat a dozen friends and family for weekend lunches while the children shriek outside on the AstroTurf lawn, which is handy, as Marina’s two sisters live nearby.
“Every time Chiara comes over, she says something’s changed in this house, and there are holes in all the walls where Ben’s put something up and then moved it,” says Marina.
The basement is a triumph of London space-saving ingenuity, combining the children’s playroom with a cinema and a bar — an actual bar — next to a vast green velvet sofa for watching films.
The kitchen has a sort of Soho House vibe: burnished copper table, cupboard doors made from reclaimed floorboards. And four of those nifty American pull-out dishwashers. Four! These days you must have at least one dishwasher per family member.
The four bedrooms are vibrant with floral wallpapers by the Austrian-born Swedish designer Josef Frank, and in Ben and Marina’s room two bookshelves are lined with psychedelic-coloured copies of New Naturalists, the old natural history series, with titles like British Tits and The World of the Honeybee.
At the end of the garden is Ben’s man cave — a shed made by a company called Shackadelic — complete with a wood stove, a leather armchair and a playhouse built on top of it, with a ladder for the children to climb up. Ben retreats there to write while Marina works in the office, where an entire wall is covered with his travel kit: dusty hats, camouflage coats, sturdy boots and the sort of billowing Puffa jacket you would wear in the Arctic. Of course.
- Marina’s book, The Bump Class: An Expert Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, is available now. Visit thebumpclass.com for more information about the antenatal classes.