It was home to a noble family for centuries who would have once had a Downton Abbey-style team of servants, but today a country pile in Oxfordshire has a rather different more eccentric owner.
Aynhoe Park, near Banbury and the Cotswolds, is now owned by self-made multi-millionaire James Perkins who has decorated the large property using his eclectic taste, treating the classical-looking rooms as though they’re an avant garde art gallery.
He gave Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford a tour of the grand house for their new Channel 5 show Eamonn and Ruth: How the Other Half Lives.
The 39-room Palladian mansion, which dates back to 1615 and was rebuilt in 1707 by Thomas Archer with a 400 acre garden planned by Capability Brown, is now filled with items including a rocking horse zebra worth £26,400, a polar bear wearing flying glasses (a similar one is worth £24,000) and a priceless giant unicorn.
Disco balls hang from the ceilings while there are innovatively designed metallic chairs-come-sculptures and £3,300 ostrich feather lamps on display.
Modern mixes with the classical, as many of the originally features of the house have been retained, and the rooms are filled with traditional furniture like four poster beds and free standing bath tubs as well as contemporary-designed chairs and tables.
Forty-something James, originally from Cheltenham, is part of the new breed of stately home owners who have been able to afford to buy such opulent properties outright, rather than inherit them from a long line of ancestors.
After starting out in the dance events business, James was a millionaire by the time he was 24, founding the rave brand Fantazia and then starting a record label Fantazia Music in the Nineties.
He wisely invested in property as the rave scene declined and through investments and restorations, he was eventually able to afford his dream of buying a country pile.
As a result, James believes he is better equipped to restore it to its former glory than some who are entrusted with such a home as a birth right.
‘The problem they have is they have not willing taken it on but feel obligated to. I have chosen to take this on to live out my fantasy and live in it like people would have done in the past,’ he revealed to Eamonn and Ruth.
Speaking of his mix of bold and traditional decor, he said: ‘It might not have been what you were expecting but it dates back to 1790 and I have added my own twist on it.
‘When I first moved in there was lots of twee old ladies furniture in here, a bit second hand, and people asked me how on Earth I would fill this place.’
He has managed to fill every room with what his website describes as ‘a living museum of art and curiosities, filled with pieces both priceless and playful, all acquired by James Perkins, over the course of his travels.’
The website states of the decor: ‘A touch of wonderland pervades the other worldly interiors, which have long been well-kept secret of the sartorial set.
‘Much of the house’s character comes from its one-of-a-kind collection of art and taxidermy, inspired by a combination of appreciation for classical artwork and sculpture, a love of innovative design and a very British sort of eccentricity.’
James bought the house in 2006 and it is now thought to be worth £15 to 20 million. The home had originally been in the Cartwright Family for centuries and when they could no longer afford to maintain it, it then became a retirement home for landed gentry in the Fifties.
It was then owned by the Country Houses Association but after they were dissolved in 2004, it fell into decline so James set about restoring and renovating after he purchased it.
He now lives there with his family, but even for a multi-millionaire like himself, it costs him too much to maintain to allow it just to be their home.
‘Light bulbs can be an issue,’ he admits – the house needs 1,100 of them.
While they don’t open it to the public, they do hire it out for 60 days of the year. The entire house can be hired for a whole weekend for a wedding or private party at a cost of £20,000.
Celebrities who have tied the knot there include Take That’s Howard Donald and Mick Jagger’s daughter, Jade.
They also make money through selling works of art and innovative furniture in their collection via their website. For example, a stuffed polar bear is currently on sale for £24,000, a antique taxidermy giraffe bust is £6,800 and a plaster Aynhoe unicorn is £420.
Works of art from the James Perkins Studio on sale include bronzed elk horns and a Golden Rhino bust for £14,400 and £25,200 respectively.
Even though he made his millions running a company associated with raves in the Eighties and Nineties, he said he won’t allow such raucous parties at Aynhoe – and anyone who wants to hire it for the weekend is closely vetted.
After visiting James at his home, presenters Eamonn and Ruth then meet Jacqueline Townsend, from the agency Exclusive Household Staff, who reveals just how much it would cost to staff a house like Aynhoe today, quoting the expected annual salary of each ‘servant’.
She said: ‘You would need to spend £100,000 for a private chef and would need to house them, you’d need a head housekeeper for £60,000, a head gardener and under gardener for £50,000 altogether, and a chauffeur for between £40 to £50,000. A ladies’ maid and valet would be £40,000 each.’
Added up, she said for someone to replicate the lavish lifestyles of landed gentry in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, it would cost £900,000 per year in staff.
Jacqueline revealed that many people now in service today earn a fortune working abroad where they are hired by Russian oligarchs, oil magnates and A List celebrities.
An English butler working abroad can earn £300,000 a year, while a crew member on super yacht can earn £3,000 a week.
‘Is this the most ostentatious interior ever? Inside millionaire’s stately home filled with bizarre works of art – including a £24,000 polar bear and a £26,000 rocking zebra’
Daily Mail | November 3, 2015 | LUCY WATERLOW