WHEN you look at the immaculate newsreader Charlotte Hawkins it is hard to believe she spent three months living without a proper bathroom and kitchen, and that she used to wash her hair in the early hours with a jug and a bowl of water before heading off to work at Sky news studios in London.
Nor does she look like the type of person who has painted her whole house herself either.
But Charlotte is full of surprises. The daughter of a vicar, she grew up in a rambling vicarage near Chichester. She adored the huge garden and playing with her elder brothers in the great open space, with lots of trees to climb. She knew from an early age that she wanted to be a newsreader, and believes this was partly inspired by listening to her father’s church sermons as a child.
Full of dedication, charm and determination, Charlotte started out working voluntarily in hospital radio. In her 20s, after studying at Manchester University, she went on to complete a post-graduate diploma in broadcasting at London College of Printing. It was during this time that she got her first taste of a real newsroom, with work experience for BBC South West.
She then worked as a freelance reporter for ITN radio news and also at a regional radio station in Berkshire. The next step was working as trainee producer at Meridian. She worked there for seven years, becoming a reporter and presenter before getting the job at Sky. She now presents Sky Sunrise with Eamonn Holmes every morning and has her own hour-long news programme at 9am.
Her good looks seem to belie the fact that she lives on a few hours of sleep a day and doesn’t touch coffee. She sets her alarm for 3:15am. “Sometimes coping with the early starts and lack of sleep can be tricky. If we’ve an evening event to go to, sometimes I don’t get to go to bed until almost 24 hours later, which can be a challenge. I used to drink coffee, but then I became so dependent on it I had to give it up,” she says calmly.
Charlotte and her husband, Mark Herbert, first lived together in Teddington before they began searching for a house with more space, further out of London. Charlotte wanted room to roam for her beloved dog, Bailey, a terrier cross. After much searching, the couple came across their current home, a three-bedroomed 1950s house in the heart of the Surrey countryside. They were immediately smitten by its light and space. “It was close to the top end of our budget and it really required a lot of work, but we were desperate to get this house,” she says.
They bought the house two and a half years ago. During the renovation process, they spent several months “indoor camping”, as Charlotte describes it. “We had a microwave and a washing-up bowl as a sink, and we managed to live like this while we were working on the other rooms. When you move into a house, you always think you can manage to wait for things to be done, but when we moved in we just wanted everything to be completed as quickly as possible,” she explains.
Charlotte has managed to paint the whole house herself. “My husband Mark and I like to do as much of the work ourselves as we can – we get more of a sense of achievement from it. I used to come home from working at Sky and then put on my painting overalls. It was exhausting but I’m so pleased we’re nearly finished now. My husband put up the wallpaper, which takes a day to do a feature wall – he hates doing it so we might only have the two if I can’t persuade him to do any more,” she laughs.
Throughout the house Charlotte has gone for a neutral palette, painting most of the walls in Dulux Egyptian Cotton, adding dark and cowhide rugs to the natural wood flooring to create a sense of calm and tranquility.
One of her favourite pieces is a stone horse’s head she found in a salvage yard, which sits beside the fireplace. “I saw it and my husband said to me, ‘Well, I guess you’ll have to have that.’ I’ve always loved horses and he bought it for me – quite a bargain too, at £30,” she adds.
One of their luxurious additions to the house is the television room. It is sleek and elegantly decked out in monochromatic style, with a black leather sofa and an eyecatching print of a zebra that Charlotte found in a gallery in Twickenham. There are many other animal prints on the walls, taken by the couple themselves on their honeymoon safari in South Africa four years ago.
The television room was one of the first areas they finished. “We wanted to get a large 3D TV for different reasons – I wanted to watch films on it, and my husband wanted it for the sport. It’s a great talking point too – people are fascinated to try it out. All the family gathered round to watch David Attenborough’s Flying Monsters 3D on Christmas Day a couple of years ago, and it was great fun. You feel like they’re coming out of the screen at you.”
On the floor a black-and-white cowhide from South America adds to the cosy feel. A small silver stag’s head looks out from above the TV, a find from one of Charlotte’s favourite furnishing stores, Packhouse Antiques, a nearby antiques warehouse. On one wall, black damask wallpaper by Laura Ashley stands out against the rest of the cool white room.
Next to the television room is the kitchen, one of the most visually pleasing rooms of the whole house. Both Charlotte and Mark love cooking and entertaining, so this is the ideal space to develop their passion – a breakfast bar stands in the middle and a huge black range oven takes pride of place. “To be honest, my husband is the main chef in the house, but I love making desserts and cakes. I’ve great recipes for chocolate meringue brownies and lemon drizzle cake,” she smiles.
The couple went to Surrey Kitchens to design this space, which was originally two rooms. Structural work was required to knock through walls and put in a new ceiling.
Upstairs, there are three bedrooms and a bathroom, which the couple designed themselves – and despite not having any previous experience, Mark also fitted it. “I wanted a Victorian tile effect, which proved particularly tricky for him, but I love the result. I’ve then added duck-egg blue accents with the roman blind and towels, plus I keep my eyes open for interesting bottles to add to my collection,” Charlotte says.
Charlotte’s favourite room is the living-room. “I love it as there is such a fantastic view. We put in two large double patio doors so you can see the whole of the garden. It is so relaxing to sit there and look out at the view. We get lots of wildlife so there are always birds and squirrels scurrying around,” she says.
Charlotte is incredibly handy and even renovates furniture herself. “If any furniture needs updating, I paint it with Annie Sloan chalk paint, which can then be distressed. Anything in the kitchen gets painted in Neptune’s Limestone or Honed Slate to match the rest of the units.”
She also adores having fresh flowers in her home. “I like to get them from the garden when possible,” she says. “I also have lots of scented candles and diffusers – my favourite candles are Aveda Shampure and True Grace White Tea. And I love orchids – I have about 20 of them but only a few are in flower at any one time.”
Despite having to get up when some people are just going to bed, Charlotte adores her job. “Every day is different. There’s nothing like being there when breaking news happens and you get to hear it first and share it with people. I work with an amazing team, which makes getting up at 3.15am bearable.”