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Dame Esther Rantzen on moving to the New Forest and loneliness

SITTING in Dame Esther Rantzen’s idyllic New Forest cottage garden, it is easy to see why she has turned her back on London to live here permanently.

What is more difficult to understand is why it took her so long. “I know!” she bursts out laughing. “Look at it all, it’s so glorious.”

For 35 years Dame Esther has spent most of her time in London busy working, only visiting her six-bedroom cottage when she could.

Dame Esther Rantzen in her New Forest garden (50792451)
Dame Esther Rantzen in her New Forest garden (50792451)

She has been a famous face on TV for years, with her career including That’s Life, journalism and charity work including launching Childline.

But when the pandemic hit, she decamped to the Forest in March last year and found, after months and months here, that London no longer had the pull it once had.

Waving her hands at the stunning Forest views, she reveals: “This is where I am happy and feel safe.”

So happy, in fact, that she has sold her London home and only intends to pop back to the capital for work commitments and to visit friends.

Her links with the Forest actually go back over 70 years, she says: “A cousin of mine lived here and we would come down for holidays. I always found it such a magical place, especially as a London child.

“The greenness of it all. I have never taken it for granted.

“I feel so very lucky to have this space. I have never regretted the move for a moment.”

But having created Silverline – a helpline for older people – she knows that not everyone would find such a move easy.

Dame Esther has been outspoken on the subject of loneliness for many years. “It still has such a stigma,” she says. “Someone once told me it’s like being the restaurant that no one wants to eat at. But loneliness can strike anyone, at any time.

“I was even told by a member of the royal family that they get lonely.”

She knows from calls to Silverline that Covid-19 restrictions have made a lot of people feel isolated. But for others that horrid feeling of being all alone is something they have put up with for years.

Dame Esther says: “Loneliness can be a strange thing. You can be surrounded by plenty of people but have nobody to do anything with.

“There is no one solution to it. Volunteering is always a good way of finding companionship. Seeking out groups you might be interested in, like book clubs, theatre and arts groups is another good way.

“During Covid a lot of amazing community groups sprang up helping isolated people do their shopping and other tasks. A lot of them are still going and they are another way of meeting people.”

Dame Esther suggests one way to meet others is at a special event at Furzey Gardens on 12th September to celebrate her delayed 80th birthday – Covid vetoed celebrations last year and meant another held earlier this summer was a small affair.

It will involve “good music”, “great company” and “the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted, even better than one I had at Buckingham Palace”, she says.

Furzey Gardens, which is run by the Minstead Trust, helps support and provide work experience for young people with learning disabilities.

Esther thinks it is a “magical place”, saying: “The work they do there is incredible. People don’t realise but there is a lot of hate crime towards people with learning disabilities.

“They can be treated really badly, called awful names and shouted abuse at.

“At Furzey they are treated with respect, the way they should be. They are taught skills and given opportunities that they might never have had otherwise.”

Tickets for the event can be bought by visiting furzeygardens.ticketsolve.com/shows/1173611738

Adults are £25. A family of five is £74 and under-fives are free.

The Silverline helpline number is 0800 4 70 80 90. It is open 24 hours.

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