We visit Tricia Penrose at her Cheshire home
by Karen Shaw
Life is for the taking, and that’s exactly what husband and wife team Tricia Penrose and Mark Simpkin have done. They’ve grabbed it, packed it and boarded a plane. Life doesn’t control them, it simply accompanies them on their adventures. And now this dynamic duo have created a new venture to create adventures for others too. They kindly invited me into their beautiful home in Adlington, Cheshire to find out more.
After 18 years playing cheeky barmaid Gina Ward in Heartbeat, it was almost five years ago that Tricia Penrose decided to hang up her kinky boots in order to spend precious time with her nearest and dearest.
Her entrepreneurial husband Mark Simpkin is no stranger to the screen either. Mark has a wealth of travel experience and has presented more than 100 shows on ITV’s I Want That House – a programme about buying property abroad – and was the travel reporter for BBC1’s Holiday.
This creative couple have recently changed direction and in January this year they launched Simply Travel, an agency designed to provide people with holidays that will leave them with memories that will last forever.
Since they got together more than 14 years ago, the pair have racked up over 150 holidays, so their next journey together seemed an obvious choice.
“People think if you’re a luxury travel agency, then you’re expensive,” says Mark. “We offer competitive prices in comparison to the high street agents.”
Mark and Tricia love their holidays and will endeavour to find a holiday that they can personally guarantee. Their honesty is refreshing.
“Trust is a big thing. I think it helps that people recognise me from the television industry and that I won’t rip them off,” says Tricia.
As parents they understand the ingredients that make for a happy family holiday. They disagree with places that actively try and sell holiday tat directly to the kids, and like me, are typical northerners, who still like to save a quid or two.
A recent trip to a water park offered them the opportunity to stroke a dolphin for the princely sum of £150 each. “I’d want to eat it for that price, or alternatively I’d throw an aubergine in the bath,” jokes Tricia.
“We’re different,” adds Mark. “We’ll tell clients things that perhaps weshouldn’t. It doesn’t matter how much you spend, nobody wants to be ripped off, so we’ll share our experiences and tell our
clients the times to go when it’s happy hour etc. We give our honest opinion on their place of choice and offer them the ‘heads up’.”
I’m sold, and after letting them know what kind of holiday I’m looking for, they agree to find me the perfect family holiday. I do, however, remind them that I’m a Yorkshire lass and like a good deal.
“The massive companies have big sales targets to hit, so they will sell you anything to get your money,” Mark says. “We won’t do that. We will not offer a holiday that we feel isn’t right or don’t like.
“A lot of people go online and book their flight and hotel separately but what some don’t understand is that they are not covered by ATOL, so if there’s an airstrike or ash cloud and the flight is cancelled, they are responsible and will have to payfor more nights in the hotel and the flight home.
“People want internet prices, but with the personal service and advice alongside too, and that’s what we love to do.”
Mark was the showbiz reporter for This Morning when he first met Tricia in 2001 at The National Television Awards. They fell in love, married and honeymooned in Bermuda, and haven’t looked back.
“I know this sounds really tacky, but as well as Tricia being my wife, she’s also my best friend. We don’t fall out; we work well as a team. I’ll be here working and Tricia will go out and come back with enquiries for holidays up to £22,000!”
Whoa, Mark, slow down! It’s at this point I nearly choke on my drink and begin to regret that I’ve asked them to find me a holiday. £22,000! I’d have to sell my house and throw my husband into the mix too (every little helps!) to afford to even consider a holiday on such a scale. “People who work hard like nice holidays,” says Mark.
Among their clientele are footballers and soap stars, so I subtly try to remind him that despite the fact that I work hard, I’ve never scored a goal or walked on the hallowed cobbles. It’s at this point I start thinking ‘Oh ‘eck, Karen, is this going to be way out of my budget?’ while I’m trying to look casually cool. Mark carries on talking and all the time I’m imagining myself and the family walking to Wigan with a wigwam for our holiday.
Although this pair like to holiday abroad, they also enjoy spending family time in the UK. Tricia has fond memories of childhood holidays caravanning at Pontins and then pipes up in her familiar
Liverpudlian tone: “We’re off to Abersoch, North Wales, next weekend with the kids. They love it there. We don’t always go to posh places!”
“Although we enjoy booking high-end holidays for some clients, that is just one part of our business, but we’re both council estate kids that have ‘done good’ and we love bus trips and fish and chips.”
Tricia and Mark have just returned from the shores of Dubai, and after days of eating and nights of drinking they have just two weeks to get fit before the Christie’s 10K run. When I mention that
she’s having a photoshoot at Christie’s the following Monday, she nearly chokes on her water…
“How do you know that? Has my mum been on ‘Facey’ again?”
Nearly five years ago on the first of July Tricia received heart breaking news that her beloved mum Sue had stage three lung cancer and had a matter of months to live, but after treatment at Christie’s, nearly five years on Sue is battling on and the family are looking forward to popping the Champagne in July in celebration.
“My sons Jake and Freddy are lovely with her. They’re so loving and always ready for a cuddle with grandma. My mum sees them as her ‘dose of medicine’”.
Tricia’s life is a busy one, with two kids and a business to run, so I was curious to discover if she had plans to grace our TV screens again…
“It depends what it is. If it was something local like Corrie, then yes. I recently got offered an exciting role but it was miles away and meant I would be stuck in a hotel room five nights a week.
I’d be depressed. “I love being at home. I did Heartbeat for 18 years and at that time Mark was away filming. I missed Jake’s first crawl and him getting his first tooth so my mum looked after him. With our new venture it means I get to do the school run.”
Heartbeat has a massive following in the Scandinavian countries, especially Norway so this entrepreneurial pair have come up with The Heartbeat Tour, offering fans the opportunity to experience the Heartbeat locations, and if you play your cards right Tricia will be even pull you a pint in the Aidensfield Arms. Unfortunately, though, she won’t be wearing her famous white leather boots; they were auctioned, but her sparkling wit and wicked sense of humour will ensure a weekend to remember.
As we make our way outside to photograph the pair, we wind our way through their majestic home. The kitchen is massive and would lend itself perfectly for a party, but when Tricia leads me around the corner I’m gobsmacked as she introduces me to their ‘karaoke room’.
The walls are covered in cow hide and there’s a well-stocked bar that looks like it could sink the Titanic. This room would put the Aidensfield Arms and Austin Powers to shame. I could quite happily reside here.
As she poses naturally behind the bar, Alex the photographer suggests that she move a bottle of cola off the bar. “Good idea,” says Trish, “it’s a cheapo one!”
Despite the big house they are a down to earth, lovable couple who don’t take themselves too seriously and embrace life to the full. As Mark puts it: “Fun, that’s what me and Trish are all about, we’ll tell people the best places to go skinny dipping and where to get pi**ed for under a tenner! We’re northern through and through.”
It’s evident to me that this couple know how to have a good time, and despite travelling the world, it’s plain to see that their world revolves around family.
Their eldest son Jake aged 11 is a budding young actor and has recently secured a role in Tim Burton’s latest film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children acting alongside Dame Judi Dench and Samuel L Jackson.
Many of you may remember ‘cheeky monkey Freddy’ aged six, from his recent appearance on ITV’s Big Star’s Little Star, where he confidently divulged his mum’s well-kept secrets including the time she…(well, I won’t say, don’t want to embarrass her further!)
Outside in the garden, Mark proudly introduces me to his other two loves, Sylvia and Freda. A birthday present from Tricia, two highland cows who according to Mark “love to be tickled between the legs!”
As we slowly pull off their drive way ready to drive back to reality, I leave with a holiday booked to Turkey and big smile on my face.