The Sunday Times
The fruits of 10 years with the raucous, high-decibel indie-dance band The Prodigy are, you might think, obvious: legions of adoring fans, a clutch of platinum discs, bored familiarity with the workings of the country’s main airports and slight hearing impairment.
Less predictable, perhaps, is a handy raft of hints and tips on restoring listed buildings: the best places to buy reclaimed antique fixtures and fittings, the merits of various makes of posh interiors fabrics — Timney Fowler gets the thumbs up — and how to talk nicely to the local authority’s conservation officer.
“Keith, Liam and Maxim, the other members of the band, had all bought old properties and had them refurbished,” explains Leeroy Thornhill, the dancer who joined the band in 1990. “Keith (the shock-haired singer who used to bawl about being a “twisted firestarter”) has a 15th-century house. He redid the walls properly, with horsehair plaster.”
Leeroy, 37, wanted his own version of “something old, with character” to come home to, but there was a problem. “Being 6ft 6in, trying to find an old property I could walk around in was pretty difficult,” he says. “Then in a local paper I saw the windmill.” One look round the towering, though sail-less, 18th-century mill with its 1970s two-storey extension, in the trim Essex village of Terling, was enough.
“There are three places in the whole house where I have to duck: not too bad,” he says, so he paid £307,000 for it in 1999 and began the grand restoration project on the Grade II-listed building. “The other three guys had all done listed houses in this area, so the council realised we were doing it properly.
“I thought about putting the sails back but they put a lot of stress on the building — and I don’t think I could get out of the door on a windy day!” he says. Instead, he “ripped everything out” and took a hands-on approach to remodelling more than 3,000sq ft of living space and the black timber-clad barn at the end of the garden, and building a triple garage in matching style.
Not that he lacked for company during the eight months it took to complete the £300,000-worth of work. “There were 14 blokes on site some weeks,” he recalls — among them, the crews who had worked on his band-mates’ restorations.
Like the rest of The Prodigy, Leeroy grew up in Essex, and lived in a small townhouse in Braintree before he moved to Terling. Many of the builders were old pals from way back — he used to be an electrician — though the Essex boys did have to bring in specialists from Somerset to recoat the mill’s silvered alloy cowl.
The mill’s five floors of octagonal rooms, linked by open-tread miller’s staircases, decrease in size from the spacious ground-floor sitting room to the tiny boxroom — which has the best views over the village’s neatly kept gardens on one side and open farmland on the other.
Leeroy stripped the walls — which had been filled so they were perpendicular — back to reveal their original angled slope, and cleaned up the beams, floorboards and the great wooden wheels that were part of the original workings.
The tools of the current occupant’s trade are in a soundproof recording studio on the ground floor of the annexe, which is full of mixing desks, dials, knobs and leads. “I did this in 2001,” he says, resignedly. “Now all you need is a laptop.” He is currently writing songs and providing vocals for a band called Hyper — check them out on the new Peugeot 207 television advertisement — and pursuing a hectic international schedule of DJing that has given him just two weekends off in the last year.
A generously sized utility room links the studio to the kitchen/diner on the ground floor of the L-shaped extension. Leeroy explains why he designed and fitted wooden latches on all the doors: “The sound of metal latches reminds me of the time, after my parents’ divorce, when my mum, sister and I lived in a council house that had an outside toilet with a creaky door latch.”
In the kitchen there is a gleaming black four-oven Aga. “I remember watching a programme about Aga owners: one woman treated hers like a child, and I thought ‘You’re nuts’, but I’ll have one wherever I go now,” Leeroy says. “I love cooking — and I do my ironing on it.” T-shirts folded on the hob covers are smoothed out a treat, apparently.
A butler sink and cupboards of reclaimed oak — he shows me the secret compartment he designed in one of them — create a farmhouse kitchen feel, made a bit more rock’n’ roll by black granite worktops “from a funeral director — which a lot of people don’t think about doing. It’s cheaper than kitchen places”.
Black also dominates the colour scheme of the master bathroom on the first floor, home to a fabulously unusual 1930s art deco suite — two basins, sleek extra-long bath and loo and cistern, all in deepest coal black.
“I was gonna get a roll-top,” he says, recalling his mission to the Bath reclamation yard where, instead, he ended up paying £5,500 for this divinely decadent ensemble. He has matched it with a black-tiled shower stall that is the size of the third bedroom in many a new-build hutch and authentic deco wall colours and stencils executed by “my mate Steve”.
As he is now selling the mill, Leeroy’s biggest fear is that the new owners will not appreciate the antique sanitary ware and will despatch it to the nearest skip. Other than that, he says he’s happy to let the place go, if the sale buys him the freedom to slow down on his punishing work schedule.
And he might even enjoy meeting prospective buyers. “I’ve been very private about it, but now I’d like to show it off a bit.”
Terling windmill is for sale for £950,000 with Strutt & Parker, 01245 254 608,Tags: Leeroy Thornhill