A grand staircase sweeps down from the first floor, into a large, light reception hallway, illuminated by an oculus – a large glass box on the roof -and dressed with antique occasional tables, ceramic chinoiserie lampstands topped with pagoda lampshades, an aged Persian rug and a large, glass fronted bookcase. This is a statement entrance, designed to impress all those who enter with its stately sense of calm and subtle authority. Yet look closer and you’ll spot something incongruous.

Among the ornate, gilt-framed paintings of European seascapes and stately-home portraits, hangs a large black and white photo of a man in sheer stockings and suspenders and leather jacket holding a mic, arm thrust jubilantly-high in the air. And along from that is a further sizeable black and white photo, with another man wearing stockings and a fedora, kicking one leg forward in defiance and sitting in a wheelchair.

The hallway at 14 Chamberlain Street, Wells – complete with photos from the original Rocky Horror Show – which the owner starred in.

“The legs are great, aren’t they?” laughs Paddy O’Hagan, who, along with his wife Judith, owns the six bedroomed house in central Wells that this hall belongs to. “If you could buy them, you would.” He has a wry sense of humour, slightly off-beat, which is no surprise when you discover the reason for the pull-up pictures is that he’s in one of them. They were both taken on the stage of the original Rocky Horror Show musical. A humorous tribute to sci-fi and B-movies, it premiered upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre in London, 1973. Paddy played the dual role of Eddie and Dr Everett Scott, the wheelchair-bound scientist (parts later played in the film of the show by rock singer Meatloaf). The other photo is that of Tim Curry, who played Dr Frank-N-Furter.

“I started acting after college,” explains Paddy over the phone in Wells, Somerset, as Coronavirus prevents a face-to-face meeting. After growing up in a schoolhouse in Suffolk in the late 1940s (his father became a headmaster after the war and they lived on school grounds), Paddy joined an experimental theatre company called Pip Simmons which led him to both a performance with the black political group, the Black Panthers and later, an audition with actor, writer and musician Richard O’Brien, who wrote Rocky Horror. “He sat down at the piano,” he remembers, I got my saxophone out and the whole place was playing rockabilly. Then we chatted about B movies and discovered we had a shared interest in ‘Creature Features’ – It Came from Planet X, films like that. At the end I got up and said “Well, good luck with it” and [Richard] said, “Cheers. Oh yeah, by the way, do you want a part?”

Paddy O’Hagan, current owner of 14 Chamberlain Street, Wells, who, as well as being a former actor, is also an energetic member of the community, having founded Wells Food Festival and who is now the chair of Wells Art Contemporary

Rocky Horror was such a cult hit (and still is – it’s said that it’s always playing somewhere in the world even today) that the cast were treated to celebrity status – although Paddy explains that world was very different from what it is today. “We’d get free drinks at restaurants and that sort of stuff. Don’t forget it was very small then. You could go out to supper at The Casserole that was down the King’s Road at World’s End and famous rock stars just walked in, like Jagger and Bowie. It wasn’t a huge industry like it is now.”

After about four years,  Paddy moved on to other acting jobs, partly because he didn’t follow the show to New York (where it initially bombed). By the time O’Brien was about to make the movie, Paddy was working elsewhere – and Meatloaf ended up playing his part in a now iconic performance. “He was much better than me, I have to say. “ remembers Paddy graciously. “He’s got a great rock and roll voice.” Eventually he and Judith (who have now been together for 50 years) decided they wanted kids (they went on to have two sons) and somewhere to live, so he retrained as a design and technology teacher. With typical self-deprecation he adds: “ You can [bring up a family] as an actor, but you need to be quite good at it. I am good at performing, which is not the same.”

Paddy O’Hagan (right, seated) with Tim Curry in the original Rocky Horror Show 1973

Whatever the truth of his talents, he’s certainly had an illustrious and successful involvement in communication, teaching and the arts ever since. Following his teacher-training, he taught in schools in and around London before meeting an influential member of the Department of Education. This led to Paddy running the department’s arts qualifications accreditation process after the introduction of the National Curriculum. Of course, his contribution still had to be extraordinary, revealing that he wrote the mechanism that allows school league tables to be drawn up.

After retiring at 60, Paddy took on consultancy work that resulted in a contract in Azerbaijan – and a very serious stroke. Ten years ago, a search for a more nourishing way of life led him to Wells, where family were – and 14 Chamberlain Street.

The Georgian facade of 14 Chamberlain Street, Wells, belies the size of the property behind

Paddy and Judith knew it was right for them as soon as they walked in, because of the huge high ceilings and the sense of history. Although it has a Georgian south-facing façade, it began as agricultural housing and in the 15th and 16th centuries was given to the precentor to make income by renting it to people. Paddy and Judith’s first floor bedroom is the former drawing room and has a twelve-foot high ceiling and impressive cornicing. They’ve dressed the whole house with family heirloom-hand-me-downs, like hand-embroidered chair cushions, giving it a warmth that a property of this size wouldn’t usually have.

The master bedroom at 14 Chamberlain Street has 12 foot high ceilings and is the former drawing room

Chamberlain Street has room for all the family’s needs – for Judith’s consulting rooms (she’s a respected psychotherapist), for visits from the grandchildren, for parking and for entertaining. They’ve extended it at the back, creating a convivial kitchen and a dining room (“we can seat 12 comfortably”) that has doors opening onto the garden – an outdoor space brilliantly redesigned by Judith and designer Helen Johnson with perennials and grasses, based on a circular pattern. Paddy built a Hansel and Gretel potting shed out there, and over the years they’ve unearthed discoveries like soot, meaning that a blacksmith probably lived there at some stage.

Judith O’Hagan created the grass garden at Chamberlain Street with designer Helen Johnson

With such a large home and interesting owners, it’s no surprise then that it’s seen some lively parties in the last decade, especially when you learn how much Paddy is embedded into the community. He not only co-founded the very successful Wells Food Festival in 2012 which now has up to 10,000 annual visitors, but he was part of the campaign to see Wells become City of Culture 2021 (an accolade which has subsequently been awarded to Coventry). He is also the Chair of Wells Art Contemporary, an international art show which this year had 3800 entries from 50 countries (see it online at the moment) – he has had a lifelong passion for contemporary art, a result in part, of watching his teacher-father paint after hours and during the holidays in the art room at the school where he taught. The open-hearted O’Hagans love to host, opening their home up for a Carnival party (the parade passes by their door) at which they’ve hosted over 150 people inside and out.

Paddy O’Hagan was one of the founders of Wells Food Festival

But this revelry has a more significant reason than just to make merry. “My simple thing is that if you don’t work at community, it doesn’t happen” insists Paddy. “You should try and get as many people as possible talking to each other and then you sustain the economy. If we’re not all talking to each other, how the hell are we going to pull things round?” His devotion to the city is obvious too. “Wells is a great community.” He says. “You can’t do things like we’ve done unless everybody is interested in doing it. We have carnival, the May Fair, several festivals, we have all sorts of stuff going on. And it’s tiny, about 12,000 residents. The music is amazing, kids do loads of stuff, you can join in as much or as little as you like. I’m now selling because we’re older and don’t need so much room, but I’m keen that the next owner understands that it’s been a space that celebrates people.” Just as Paddy has done his whole life, by entertaining, enthralling and helping us all, both on and off stage.

 

14 Chamberlain Street is on the market with Lodestone Property (Nov 2020) 

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