Susan George and Simon MacCorkindale
The acting couple shows us the dream farm that’s allowed them to put down their roots and provides a break from their hectic film careers
Susan George and Simon MacCorkindale have been cruising along the movie world’s jet-set super-highway for over 20 years. They have probably spent more time in exotic film locations than in their native Britain. Even on their wedding day they were to be found exchanging sacred vows on the paradise isle of Fiji.
But now Susan, at 44, and Simon, at 43, have finally stopped roaming – and it is largely due to the farm they have just moved to on the edge of an old-world village.
The idyllic 17th-century property with its 12 lush acres on the Oxfordshire-Northamptonshire border has given them a clearer perspective, a degree of tranquillity – and forced them to re-evaluate their lives.
“We’ve lived a crazy, globe-trotting, nomadic existence for far too long,” reflects Simon, soon to be seen in the Alistair Maclean miniseries The Way To Dusty Death. “We’d like to take root in one place long enough to be able to spend quality time with each other and take stock of what we’ve achieved.”
“I’m very proud of the sheer amount of things that I’ve done in my life,” says Susan, star of the film The House That Mary Bought, out this summer. “I still have more to accomplish, but the one thing I am sure of now is that life is more important to me than this business. My lifetime dream was always to live on a farm with my family and now it has become a reality.”
By “family” she means her 84- year-old mother Billie and her older sister Pam, both of whom live with her on the farm.
The farmstead itself, with its abundance of stables, barns, haylofts and various other outbuildings, is the culmination of years of dreaming and planning for this attractive couple. Animals, at different times in their lives, have loomed large.
“My grandfather kept all sorts of livestock including cows,” explains Simon, “and I remember happy days as a small boy collecting chickens’ eggs. I’ve always been around animals, and horses were usually nearby – I just never had any of my own until I met Susie.”
They already possess six sheep and eight lambs, along with three purebred Arab horses and six Irish setters. Numerous other animals have been earmarked for future acquisition.
Says Susan: “Animals in general and horses in particular have been the great love of my life. At one time my ultimate wish would have been to run a working farm, but it’s a very, very hard occupation and I don’t think it would be possible to be a working farmer and a working actor-producer,” – with Simon in 1987 she set up her own production company, Amy International.
The actress, still a potent part of the public psyche stemming from her powerful, sexy image in Straw Dogs and 30 other films to date, moves happily around the farmyard in her mucky wellies with all the comfortable “at one with nature” demeanour of a woman born to mending fences, mucking out and lambing – all three pursuits of which she has been doing a lot in recent weeks.
“I was probably born at the wrong time because I’m very old fashioned in my heart, in my views, in my passion for the gentler, more rustic days of a bygone age,” she says. There is a distinct ‘old- fashionedness’ about farmhouses and farm life that very much appeals to me, to us both.”
Simon nods. “What I like about living on the farm is that it provides us with two contrasting lifestyles. Susie and I are involved in a business that is constant stress of one kind or another, not least in our ‘other’ role as producers with Amy International.
“But going into a barn of an evening when there are five or six sheep lurking around, and little lambs and so forth… well, it’s very restful after a hectic day. Living in the country is definitely very good for us.”
They have never been busier, both in their own right as actors and as co- producers at Amy International, based at Shepperton Studios. Their latest film, The House That Mary Bought, co-written, co-produced and directed by Simon and starring Susan alongside Ben Cross, will be released later this year.
A film based on the scandalous story of Lord Lucan goes into production soon, while a four-hour mini- series for BSkyB called The Liaison, and starring Susan, will go before the cameras in the early part of next year.
“We haven’t stopped during the last five years – which is as long as it’s taken us to find this house,” says Susan. “In the village we’re surrounded by people who’ve been here all their lives and have only known this life, which is very special and very hard to come by. It’s the real thing, not pretentious, not a manufactured place.”
But the MacCorkindales’ quest for their particular corner of Eden has not come without a certain pain. Susan had lived in a fabulous riverside retreat in Buckinghamshire for 22 years, the last 12 of them with Simon. She says: “I was very attached to this beautiful house on the River Thames. Before moving here I’d never lived off the river in my life. My parents had a hotel on the river. Before that we had a house in Sunbury on the river.
“I’ve never known a day without the all-encompassing sight and sound of the river going by – that was very important to me. Simon and I had our motor cruiser berthed at the end of the lawn. I loved boats and river life.
“But as happy as I was there – and it was a great wrench when we left – I also knew I had to give up one for the other some day. I really believe that in life one must move on, that there’s a time for everything. The time to move here seemed right.
Simon (the Haileybury-educated son of an RAF officer) and Susan (the daughter of a saxophonist-turned-hotelier father and an ex-dancer mother) reflect on the extraordinary journey that has transformed them – two of the film world’s most glamorous actors – into tweeds-and-anorak, out-in-all-weather farmers. “Where- as I used to spend my days in Ralph Lauren in Bond Street, I now spend my days in the local farm shops,” Susan laughs.
“She bought me the ultimate farm tool the other day – a gadget for making and repairing sheep fences,” says Simon. “I’m very pleased with it, too.”
“Lately,” adds Susan, “I’ve spent a lot more time in Central Wool Growers! We’ve only been here since December and already I feel as if I’ve lived here all my life.”
They have very definite ideas about how they will change the house and what a long-term project it will be – they estimate 15 years – to get it all completed.
“We were looking for a place with huge potential that was aesthetically pretty to look at but with masses of work needing to be done to it – and that’s what this property offers, with plenty of opportunity to go to all the antique markets and find bits and pieces that work to add our identity.”
Susan lights up when she talks about her animals. “I think animals are very special people, better than a lot of the human people we have in the world, because they give so much more… it’s unconditional love. They don’t ask for anything, they just give. I am deeply concerned about the recent bad press relating to dogs. Their instinct is not mean, certainly not vicious, and if they become so, then man is behind it.”
To own a farm was an ambition which began when she was six or seven and living at her parents’ hotel in Maidenhead. “There was a farmer down the road called Mr White. I used to walk over to his farm just to watch him churning cream and making butter. He would talk to me for hours. For me, it was the most idyllic world to live in. When I’d leave him, I’d turn back and look longingly at his black and white Tudor farmhouse and think of the warmth inside.”
That evocative image never left her mind. “I started collecting animals as a child. I was always taking in waifs and strays, but I had nowhere to put them. My parents didn’t exactly relish the idea of these creatures being in the garden of our 18th-century hotel while they were serving cream teas on the lawn! At a young age I started riding horses but, again, I was never able to have one of my own.
“And then when I was 21 and living with Jack Jones, he bought me my best present ever, my first horse. She was a beautiful 7/8-part Arab mare that was trained as a film horse and could do extraordinary things, like go down on one knee with me on her back. We had the most unbelievable trust for one another. I adored her.”
Susan and Simon look out over the paddocks where their sheep – and the lambs – are safely grazing. “They’re our lawnmowers,” Simon grins. “They’re very much family pets.”
“We knew absolutely nothing about sheep when they were given to us,” adds Susan, “though we know a lot more about them now than we did then, especially about lambing. Our local sheep farmer has been a real help to me. He’s a glorious man from a lovely family who want so little in life. They’re forever smiling. I think he feels I shouldn’t give up the day job, and I’d be inclined to agree with him!”
In the stables are Susan’s purebred Arab horses, two youngsters and a brood mare. “I have a desire to compete with them in the Arab world, to show them,” she says, and most days she and her groom Nikki trot them out and school them.
And bounding around the farmyard are the Irish setters: “I’ve been showing them for five years. I’ll always be shy about it and at the moment I’m still quite a novice, but I’m enjoying it enormously because people in the dog world allow me to just be myself. Last year and this year I was proud to be exhibiting at Cruft’s. Not all dogs can enter Cruft’s. You have to qualify to get there and that alone is an achievement”
Once the MacCorkindales get established on the farm they plan to introduce rare breeds. It is an ambition Simon has had for many years.
He says: “We’d like to breed rare types of cows, pigs, hens, llamas – almost anything – for two reasons: to increase the farm’s livestock and to support the fact that certain breeds are becoming extinct.”
Susan interjects: “Simon’s expecting me to start setting up my own animal rescue centre any day – to realise in adulthood what I couldn’t quite achieve as a child… it’s not out of the question.”
She laughs. “My mother, who has never really shared my love for animals – apart from horses – knew when I was a little girl that I always wanted a farm, but now worries about the responsibility of my looking after them all. She said to me the other day, ‘I see you out at 6 o’clock in the morning and getting the rugs out and the grooming equipment ready – it’s too much for you.’
“I said, ‘Mummy, I only do this because I love it… I get a fantastic amount of enjoyment from my animals and my dog shows.’ And she said, ‘I never thought of it that way.'”
Susan says she will never be the archetypal farmer’s wife. “I’m not desperately domesticated – in fact, I think Simon showed me my first cooker! I don’t like to cook if I have to. I like to cook occasionally and for pleasure.”
Life is terrific for Susan and Simon because they are at last living the country life that has fuelled their imagination for as long as they have been together. Susan says they are aware that they must keep working so that they can financially support expensive hobbies like horses. “We’re excited,” she says, “at the prospect of our films to come, the hard work involved, the extensive travel, with the knowledge that we’ll have this beautiful place to come home to.
“Essentially, we’re an everyday story of country folk, that’s us. We could have spent forever looking for our ideal house. But right now, if you ask me if this suits my criteria, I’d say yes, it absolutely does in every way, shape or form. What the future will bring, I don’t know… but for the moment I’ll settle for this, my dream farm.”