Lisa Maxwell’s life in the Cotswolds

PUBLISHED: 13:00 23 June 2015 | UPDATED: 12:30 24 June 2015

Lisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell

Martin Phelps

Actress and television presenter Lisa Maxwell loves her home near Edge and is working to provide equally secure accommodation for abandoned cats and dogs. She tells Katie Jarvis about her Cotswold life

Lisa MaxwellLisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell loves her three dogs – Pepper, a 12-year-old Miniature Schnauzer (AKA Steve McQueen or The Great Escape: “The garden is really secure – we don’t know how she does it!”); and Elvis and Priscilla Pugs-ley. The dogs, she says, have never had it so good: “We had Pepper when we lived in London, in a terraced house with a 70-ft garden. But here in the Cotswolds, she’s suddenly a fully-fledged dog, able to do all the doggy things she’s always wanted to do.”

Despite living in a pets’ paradise, Lisa has been amazed to find animal cruelty as rife in the Cotswolds as anywhere else in the country. That’s why she’s vice-patron of the Cotswolds Dogs and Cats Home, an exemplar rescue centre under construction at Beechmeadow Farm near Cam, Dursley. When finished next year, it will house around 100 animals, including 36 cats and 27 dogs.

Lisa is married to Paul Jessup, who owns the Great British Teddy Bear Company and Big Red Bus English, offering language tuition to children in China. They have a 15-year-old daughter, Beau.

Q: Where do you live and why?

I live in Edge because it’s beautiful. It’s not the ‘trendy’ part of the Cotswolds – but I didn’t move out of London to live somewhere trendy. When you do what I do for a living, you’re very aware of make-up and hair; I didn’t want to live somewhere where that mattered. Paul and I fell in love with our house the first time we saw it, even though most of the rooms were full of newspapers piled high against the walls; all the fireplaces were boarded up; and there were plants growing out of the hallway. But, even in its worst state, it felt kind and un-scary. It was built by a wool merchant – the oldest part is 17th century.

Lisa MaxwellLisa Maxwell

Q: How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?

Five years, nearly, but every day I still learn something new about the area.

Q: What’s your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?

Beau goes to school on a Saturday, so we don’t normally get a lie-in – but she’s just started boarding, which means Paul and I have some time on our own. We fancied a little trip out the other day and went over to Burford Garden Centre, like Darby and Joan! I miss Beau terribly when she’s away but it was lovely not to have to rush back to do the school pick-up. On our perfect weekend, we’d drive over to the butcher’s in Tivoli – I love the guys there; best meat in the Cotswolds. In the afternoon, we’d watch Beau playing lacrosse at school; in the evening, Paul would cook a nice boeuf bourguignon and we’d have some mates over.

Q: If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?

I wouldn’t move but I’d give the Cotswolds Dogs and Cats Home the final £800,000 they need to complete this wonderful facility. We’ve raised £3.25 million so far; we did the ‘breaking ground’ day recently and it should all be finished by this time next year. The architects - Mitchell Taylor Workshop in Bath – have done a brilliant job in designing a sustainable, easy-to-maintain building, which will be a happy space for the staff as well as a 100-or-so animals. Getting good staff is the crux of creating a really functional, successful rescue home.

Q: Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?

Probably Burford, even though it’s often the first port of call when you come out of London. I remember discovering this [Stroud] part of the Cotswolds and thinking – this is what it is; this is what it’s about. It’s not chocolate-box, creamy stone and beautifully manicured gardens; it’s dramatic, rolling, organic landscape. I lived in a valley in California for three years, where I had to drive over a canyon every day. Yet I have those same sorts of views here and they’re part of my everyday life: I find that incredibly moving. Besides which, hills are good for the bottom - I’ve noticed my buttocks have become much firmer since I’ve lived in Edge!

Q: Where’s the best pub in the area?

The Butchers Arms in Sheepscombe, run by Mark and Sharon, is my favourite pub ever – not just in the Cotswolds. You know you’ve been accepted as a local when Mark lets you order fishcakes, even when they’re not on the menu.

Q: And the best place to eat?

Daylesford: I’m not picky but I don’t have a very good tolerance of sugar or yeast, so I watch what I eat quite carefully. At Daylesford, it’s easy to do that. I also love buying produce from Whole Foods in Cheltenham, even though you need a mortgage for a pot of edamame. And then there are the local farms, such as Sheepscombe Meat. That’s the great thing – you’ve got all this natural, organic, down-to-earth, leveling life - but you can still get a decent cup of coffee.

Q: What would you do for a special occasion?

Paul and I got married here in the garden last July. We’d been together 18 years, but I don’t like to rush into things! We had a very private church service – just four of us – on the Thursday. Then we got the Revered Andrew from Upper Edge Church to recreate the whole wedding in the top garden, in front of friends from all over the world. Matthew from Wesley House [in Winchcombe] organized everything. We had afternoon tea on the lawn, with lace tablecloths and vintage china. Then the food just kept on coming – I come from a long line of drinkers, so I had to make sure there was plenty to soak it all up! In the evening, there was a marquee in our field, decked out with oxblood leather chesterfields like a 1940s’ gentlemen’s club; then a Kabuki cloth dropped away to reveal an orchestra with musicians from The Voice and Strictly. When I look at my garden now, I have visions of friends and family enjoying themselves and kids running barefoot.

Q: What’s the best thing about the Cotswolds?

I feel like I’ve found this secret place to live. I know it isn’t secret – friends from London are forever coming to stay for the weekend and then we just can’t get rid of them! I’m like Meg Mortimer from Crossroads, washing sheets every Monday. But we were right to make the move when we did.

Q: ... and the worst?

People say that it’s the Valley of Lost Ambition round here – and it is! All I want to do is potter about the garden. I left Loose Women through choice: I’m an actor and that’s what I love more than anything – and I’m currently considering some exciting offers. But I’m 50-la-la, and I’ve been working as a performer since the age of 11: old habits die hard. I’m finding it hard to let that go, but the Cotswolds are helping me.

Q: Which shop could you not live without?

Cotswolds Dogs and Cats Home Charity Furniture Emporium in Tetbury is great. I also love Barnbury in Winchcombe, an interior design shop owned by the two Jonathans. They have the most amazing eye, yet it’s seriously inexpensive.

Q: What’s the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?

There were four older ladies at the Cotswolds Dogs and Cats Home groundbreaking day. When we totted up the number of years – between them - that they’d been volunteering, it came to about 200.

Q: What is a person from the Cotswolds called?

Energetic and long living. If I can look like some of the women in Edge when I’m in my 80s and 90s, then I’ll keep walking up the hills without moaning. Promise.

Q: What would be a three course Cotswold meal?

Snow crab from William’s [Fish Market and Food Hall] in Nailsworth. Local lamb from Tivoli, and local veg from Whole Foods. Then some Double Gloucester.

Q: What’s your favourite view in the Cotswolds?

My bedroom has windows right the way round – almost a 360-degree view – looking out over the Painswick Valley towards the church.

Q: What’s your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?

I do like Nailsworth; I often go to the garden centre. Tetbury is perfect. And Winchcombe has beautiful architecture and great shops. When we first moved here, we rented in the Suffolks in Cheltenham. One of my first walks was up Cleeve Hill, and I love all the villages and towns out in that direction.

Q: Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds

The stone walls;

Being outside;

Seasons: I can tell you the time of year now just from the plants in my garden; when I first moved out of London, I couldn’t name a tree.

Q: What’s your favourite Cotswolds building and why?

We commissioned a limestone, domed gazebo for the garden, which we had especially built for us by Allan Bullingham from Painswick - and Paul and I got married under it. My daughter and goddaughter both did readings; Shane Richie gave me away; Adam Garcia was Paul’s best man. Every time I see it, I think about that day.

Q: What would you never do in the Cotswolds?

I couldn’t believe it when I heard that somebody had got rid of a dog because it was moulting and didn’t match her carpets. Rescue homes have had cats brought in that were ‘miaowing too much’. People get an animal without thinking about the consequences, which is bizarre when you’re living amongst nature like this.

Q: Starter homes or executive properties?

Starter homes. I’m an ambassador for Centrepoint: one of the things I hear all the time is that there’s no affordable housing being built to replace the council flats and houses that were sold off. Ten years ago, Chris Tarrant called up and asked if Paul and I wanted to sleep out with him and Ingrid, and I thought, ‘Oh, hello! One of those parties!’ In fact, for the first time ever, everyone was sleeping out in Covent Garden to raise awareness for young, homeless people. I spent all night talking to a woman who’d slept rough from the age of 16 after being thrown out of her home. She didn’t ask me for anything; she showed Paul and me all the shelters around London. That meeting changed my life, and I’ve been working with Centrepoint ever since.

Q: What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?

I’m really bad on compass points – thank stage school for that! But my journey would start with a shampoo and blow-dry at Stuart Holmes in Cheltenham. I’d work my way over to Daylesford in Kingham; then the Butchers Arms. After which, I’d head north to the RSC – I can’t believe we’re lucky enough to have it on our doorstep.

Q: If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?

A picture of my garden.

Q: What’s the first piece of advice you’d give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?

The Cotswolds have a made-up and an au naturel face. I’d say: spend time in a real pub, talking to the people who live here.

Q: And which book should they read?

Maybe The Casual Vacancy. It was an education for me – you don’t have parish councillors in London. I always thought the Cotswolds were Vicar of Dibley and nice biscuits, but there is a dark side, which I find interesting.

Q: Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?

Up to Painswick Beacon, which we tend to do on special occasions when I’m showing off to visitors but pretending that I do it all the time.

Q: Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?

Painswick’s Art Couture, which I helped to host last year. We’re a creative family, and I love the fact that this is an avant-garde festival for all ages and all abilities – not at all snooty. It’s slightly mad – everyone making clothes out of weird things – but there’s real talent out there, and some very credible people do the judging.

Q: If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?

Social deprivation can lead to abuse of people and animals. But you can also get someone in a lovely Cotswolds house, driving an expensive car, whose dog just doesn’t happen to be convenient to them. Abuse is nearly always hidden. I’d like to be invisible when these people are taking an animal into their home, to see what really goes on.

Q: To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?

The Cotswolds Dogs and Cats Home is a living thing; but it is also a kind of memorial to all the animals that have died in appalling circumstances.

Q: With whom would you most like to have a cider?

Not ‘Rosie’ but Rose, my nan, who died aged 96 four years ago. She was a proper London nan – she used to sing in pubs – but she grew up in the countryside in Essex, and she’d have been in her element here. I’ve got a little cottage in the garden, which I want to fit out with a bar. In my mind’s eye, I can see a pub sign outside saying, ‘Rose’s’.


For more on the Cotswolds Dogs and Cats Home, including its current fundraising appeal, visit

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