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Nov 2016
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THE TIMES – When Gabriella Wilde and her husband first contemplated a move to the country, the actress and former model was hesitant. Now, standing in the revamped kitchen of her Somerset home, blonde ponytail swishing as she makes herbal tea, she couldn’t be more content.

If it wasn’t for the relocation, she might never have bagged a role as the coquettish Caroline Penvenen in Poldark – her minxy antics have been thrilling the 5m-plus viewers of the drama’s second series. Nor would she have given birth to her second son in the master bedroom suite (“The builders had to put up scaffolding to hold up the birth pool. They obviously thought I was completely mad”), or have an immaculate designer farmhouse.

Hillhouse, her rambling home, is set in glorious countryside just outside Bruton. A turning takes you onto a gravelled drive where you are greeted with spectacular autumnal views; you can just about make out King Alfred’s Tower amid the fields and trees. Through a nondescript arch, you enter a wild, overgrown garden set within a courtyard, then a grey door leads you into the quirky property that Wilde, 27, shares with her musician husband, Alan Pownall, and their sons, Sasha, 2, and Shiloh, five months.

Formerly three cottages, now conjoined, the property was on the market for œ1.3m in 2015, but with the help of a local property finder, the couple bought it for a little more than œ1m. “This was the first one we both felt was right,” Wilde recalls. “The view was incredible – I came in and was shocked by it. You can see for miles. It’s really a special spot and it has a calm energy.”

The peace and quiet was soon disrupted by an extensive year-long refurbishment, under the guidance of the interior designer Sophie Ashby. The layout was reconfigured and the downstairs living area, which has an Aga, a woodburner, a fireplace and radiators, is now free-flowing yet cosy. “I’m someone who hates being cold,” says Wilde, who is dressed in a black poloneck jumper, spray-on grey jeans and chunky black boots.

Three sets of french doors lead to the terrace orangery, which has a fig tree and a grapevine slinking up the sides. Also on this level are a nursery for the children, complete with a fairy-light-strewn tepee, and the studio where Pownall, the lead singer in the electro band Pale, writes music.

Upstairs, there are four bedrooms. “It is lovely to think Shiloh was born in that room,” Wilde says wistfully, motioning her head upwards to the master bedroom, which has a walk-in wardrobe, an ensuite bathroom and a 9ft bed with a snooker-table base. “If you’re going to make roots in the home, having your children in it is quite a special thing.”

It’s certainly one way to settle in to a new house, but the couple’s decision to sell a flat in buzzy Ladbroke Grove and relocate to deepest Somerset seems just as unconventional, given that most ambitious actresses are hotfooting it to London or LA.

Many of her friends think she’s “insane” to have left the capital. “When they ask what I do all day, I say, ‘I have two young children and a job. I’m not just sitting in a field.'”

While her parents like the idea of their grandchildren being brought up in the countryside, some of her siblings also think she’s mad. There’s quite an array of them, including her half-sisters Isabella, who is married to Richard Branson’s son, Sam, and Olivia, who teaches acting and helps her to prepare for auditions; and her “unofficial” stepsister Cressida Bonas, Prince Harry’s former flame.

When she describes her childhood and how she is now living life “a little bit in fast-forward… the first of my friends to have children”, it begins to makes sense. Wilde enjoyed a rather privileged upbringing in Hampshire with her father, the businessman John Austen Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe, and mother, Vanessa, a former model. Christened Gabriella Zanna Vanessa Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe, she was spotted as a teenager by the late, great stylist Isabella Blow.

An introduction from Naomi Campbell led the modelling agency Premier to sign up the girl with the English-rose looks, but at 18, she abandoned modelling to study fine art. When she decided to give acting a whirl, she ditched her triple-barrelled surname, opting instead for Wilde, after Oscar.

In 2009, she made her debut in St Trinian’s 2, followed by her first big film role in 2011, in The Three Musketeers. The part in Poldark came her way in the summer of 2015, a few days after she discovered that she was pregnant with her second child.

“I have in a way self-sabotaged by refusing to go to LA and then leaving London, which is not what many would recommend, but it’s serendipitous, because I moved here and Poldark came up. If I hadn’t come here, maybe I wouldn’t have gone for it.”

Wilde is currently filming series three, and her commute to the studio in Bristol takes 45 minutes. When she’s not there or filming outdoor scenes in Cornwall, she’s working with the cast and crew at one of the nearby National Trust houses in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

The birth of Sasha sparked her desire for country living. She wanted to give him a similar outdoorsy, free-range childhood to her own. “We started looking at places around London, and we picked Somerset out of a hat,” she says. “I wanted to have that privacy, to feel like I was in the countryside, but I wanted to be near a village.”

In terms of style, Wilde and Pownall gravitate towards minimalism. Though she didn’t want “a typical country house”, cosiness and practicality were key. “I grew up in a house where there’s not an inch of wall space or a surface without 100 photo frames on,” she says. “It’s not really what we were after. It’s hard to keep it minimal with kids, but slowly we’re starting to fill it with things we genuinely love.”

During the refurbishment, there were a few surprises. “When we took up the wood floor, we discovered it was floorboards, then a foot of nothing, then dirt and mud. I think there was a dead rat in there. There was no insulation.”

Her next role? Tackling the surrounding five acres. “I’ve been talking for a year now about taking a course in gardening, and I’m desperate to do one.” Perhaps she’ll even wield a scythe.

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