Tim Chester spends an evening with the "posh couple" from Britain's latest TV craze Gogglebox.
Gogglebox shouldn’t work. The TV show about people watching TV shows sounds like the most meta, barrel-scraping idea in the history of 10 Stone Testicle ideas, but somehow it’s compulsive viewing, a window into the country’s living rooms, prejudices and teatime habits that’s pulling in three million viewers per week, a format that has since been sold to the States and numerous other countries.
If you’re one of its legion of converts, you’ve probably longed for a night on the settee with some of the protagonists, an off-camera chit chat with Sandra & Sandy or June & Leon or Christopher & Stephen. As it happens, you can do exactly that.
Steph and Dom Parker, aka “the posh couple”, run a luxury B&B in Sandwich called The Salutation, a sprawling Grade 1-listed, Edwin Lutyens-designed pile set amid gardens inspired by Gertrude Jekyll in the medieval town of Sandwich in Kent. For £99 upwards you can visit the famous property and potentially spend an evening with the pair.
Sadly we missed the £500-per-ticket orgy that was held there the following night, and didn’t catch the likes of Meryl Streep, James Corden and other celebs that have laid their hats in its numerous rooms while filming Into The Woods in recent months, but we nevertheless experienced the kind of evening you’d expect from Britain’s most gregarious hosts.
Dom set the tone as he showed us our en suite room in the Coach House (which includes its own kitchen and sitting room), pointing to complimentary decanters of whisky and sherry, for consumption if we were “getting changed”.
It quickly became clear that bridging drinks are a way of life here, and we were soon plonked on that famous sofa sharing a G&T with the genial host while Steph wandered the house singing Pharrell Williams tunes and making regular trips to the drinks cabinet.
Supper, as it often seems to be in wealthy houses, was conjured on a whim; there’s no official dining here but they can rustle up something if you’re hungry. For us this quick something was a four course blowout of pâté, fillet steak with potato dauphinoise, panna cotta, umpteen cheeses and biblical amounts of wine, and a chance to meet the other guests.
Half of the visitors were out playing golf (The Salutation is surrounded by top courses and uber rich bankers apparently jet in direct from the US to stay and play) and the remainder seemed to be fellow Gogglebox tourists. One couple were celebrating their anniversary while two other pairs were also here for a meet and greet.
It’s a bit odd, making a pilgrimage to meet reality stars, but Steph and Dom are exemplary hosts aside from their minor celebrity status. B&Bs tread a fine line between personal and overly familiar, characterful, boutique hideaways and someone’s chintzy spare room, and I’ve spent my fair share of nights whispering in bed, tip-toeing around creaky landings, and adhering to innumerable “house rules” printed in comic sans and tucked into A4 pockets.
Here there are no polite notices and howls of laughter replace the cringeworthy hushed chatter of a million dining rooms. The Salutation eschews the claustrophobia of standard B&Bs in favour of the relaxed conviviality of a best friend’s house, if that best friend lives in a £3.5 million mansion with tasseled toilet flush pulls.
The whole group stayed up into the early hours, discussing everything from Nick Clegg to Leon and June (who don’t like Steph and Dom’s swearing), the long filming shifts and sundry celebrity tittle-tattle. The golfers bowled home suitably refreshed about midnight, all bow ties and crossed eyes while host Tigger and various other staff kept the drinks flowing.
The next morning we blearily explored our rooms tucked up in the eaves, leafing through vintage Penguins before a hearty Full English in the dining room. Tripadvisor nerds would probably note the overcooked poached egg at this point, but The Salutation isn’t the kind of place you spend making critical notes alone in your room. It’s somewhere to spend a riotous night before exploring Sandwich and moving on.
A spectacularly well-preserved medieval town full of half-timbered buildings and narrow streets leading to the willow-lined River Stour (currently being flood-proofed and so covered in diggers and workmen on our visit), it’s a sleepy place that’s given birth to the sandwich and rested on its picturesque laurels since.
The Parkers are selling The Salutation so their hospitality won’t be for sale forever. For now though, and short of a night in front of the box with the Tappers, this is the most fun you can have on a Friday night.
Season four of Gogglebox is on Channel 4 on Fridays at 9pm. The Salutation has a variety of rooms available from £99 per night. Explore more of the area with the Rough Guide to Kent, Sussex and Surrey.