Ann makes everything rosy in the home

ANN MAURICE is the sort of woman most people would dread coming to their home.

As presenter of House Doctor on Five, the feisty American has denounced British homes as smelly, dirty and cluttered. Ruthlessly efficient, she has transformed unsaleable properties into goldmines with her decor skills and made herself a household name.

It might be thought, therefore, that privately the presenter is a harsh, driven, career woman, whose own life has always been orderly, controlled and trouble-free.

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In fact, the reverse is true. Maurice, who is back on screen in House Doctor: Inside And Out, reveals her personal life has been a traumatic "roller coaster".

Sitting in a London hotel, she is immaculately dressed, but is warm, witty and a world away from her brisk TV image.

"I certainly haven't always been like I look today. I come over as bossy and controlling, but nothing could be further from the truth. For many years, I've lived by the seat of my pants.

"The viewers only see one side of me, but in real life I would never walk into someone's house and go: 'Hi, my name's Ann and your house smells of dogs!' That would be unkind and just stupid because nothing is more personal to someone than where they live - it's the closest thing to your soul."

Ann is well aware of this because, while property has brought her fame, it has often been her only security in difficult times.

Her life began conventionally. A cherished only child, she grew up in a "very conservative, very religious but happy home" in Detroit, Michigan.

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But in her teens she rebelled. "I did whatever I could to break free from my background and I think I was slightly uncontrollable in my youth. Let's say, I had lots of experiences."

She jokes: "I really was a hippy when I was young, with no ambition, who didn't particularly like the idea of working. As it turned out, life certainly had other ideas."

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After graduating from university, Ann married and moved to San Francisco, but split up from her husband after three years.

At 24, she was left with two young daughters, Melanie, aged one, and three-year-old Lauryn, and no financial support.

"My husband vanished, to all intents and purposes. I never really heard from him again, and the children never heard from him either, so it was all quite traumatic. In the end, I decided it was one of those things that was not meant to be. But it was hard financially and emotionally to maintain everything and take care of the children's needs on my own."

This trauma forced her into a career in property. She had to earn money so she and her children could survive.

"Selling houses for an estate agency only required a short training course and the flexible hours meant I could look after the children. I used to work late into the night when the girls were in bed, and then wake up in the early hours to get more work done. It was controlled chaos at times, juggling everything.

"It gave me just enough money so we could stay in our home. I was always determined that we would not lose that. I was a bit like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind - I knew it was important to keep us secure and in the house."

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A psychic advisor forecast her move into "home staging" - doing up houses for sale - which led to her TV career. Her daughters had grown up and Maurice wanted to know if changing estate agency offices where she worked would be a good idea.

"She (my advisor) told me: 'You have only been an estate agent so you could feed your children, but you've finished with that now. You will work with colour and travel the world being creative' ."

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Maurice says: "Frankly, I thought: 'Another $100 wasted, that woman is talking nonsense'. But two months later an opportunity came up to study interior design and start a whole new career in doing up properties so they sold quickly and easily.

"It just took off because I had so many good contacts in the estate agency world and I was inundated with work," she says.

She believes her scouring of charity shops and car boot sales for her own home during her cash-strapped years was great training.

"I'm not extravagant and I've always loved taking old things and reworking them, and making something look lovely on a small budget. I always managed to make our home look stylish and cosy," she says.

Another interior design course in Europe prompted a meeting with television producers in the UK. They recognised her talent and House Doctor - a huge ratings success, which ran for six series - was born.

"I was terrified when the show first started, but I'm a bit of an adrenaline freak and that was all that kept me going. I was amazed that it took off in the way it did.

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"People reveal so much about themselves when they are going to sell their homes and change their lives in some way, which makes interesting viewing," she says. Maurice admits she was initially "shocked" by British homes.

SHE adds: "I'd always assumed, like most Americans, that everybody in Britain lives in a stately home, a country cottage or a well-appointed town house.

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"God! All that clutter. In America, we are a much more disposable society and throw things away. Also, of course, we tend to have larger homes and move house more often."

On her own home front, the House Doctor has finally got the prescription right. She has a partner Timothy, a retired dentist who she met 18 years ago when her daughters were teenagers, and the couple have two homes, a 30s townhouse in San Francisco and a holiday home in Mexico. Maurice remains close to her daughters and now has three grandchildren.

She splits her time between the UK and America, and relishes the new challenge of House Doctor: Inside And Out, where she helps people improve homes they will stay in rather than sell, and resolves family conflicts over style.

"There are so many programmes like House Doctor now - although mine was the original - so I've been pushing to do something new for three years. I love change and new things, but I'm not ambitious - just curious and experimental."

A new Apprentice-style TV series is also under discussion, where trainee house doctors will compete for up to 20,000 to start their own business.

House Doctor: Inside And Out, Five, Tuesday, 8pm

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