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I’m a Celebrity makes a lasting star of Welsh castle

8 November 2021

Architectural historian Dr Mark Baker
Architectural historian Dr Mark Baker

North Wales castle has risen like a phoenix through decades of campaigning by Cardiff alumnus in a positive pandemic twist

Cardiff alumnus Dr Mark Baker has campaigned for the protection and restoration of the castle that captures his imagination in childhood in his native North Wales. As 2021 I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here contestants converge once more at Gwrych Castle, its future has never looked brighter.

A prism of two millennia, Gwrych Castle had its beginnings with the Romans, playing a role in the life of the nation through to the major world events of the twentieth century, as military hospital in World War One and place of refuge for Jewish children saved by Operation Kindertransport at the advent of World War Two.

Over the decades that followed the grade I listed historic house suffered a slow decline, until it was saved for the nation in 2018, thanks to the Gwrych Castle Trust raising just shy of one million in six weeks thanks to donors and National Lottery support.

As the Covid-19 pandemic had its global impact in 2020, the fortunes of the castle saw a second major upswing. With the search on for a UK location for ITV’s I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here, 70 locations were shortlisted to 30, before Gwrych won the commission.

The hit ITV show meant the plans for the betterment of the building were fast-tracked in a multi-agency approach between the Trust chaired by Dr Baker, Cadw, the local authority and Natural Resources Wales.

Architectural historian Dr Mark Baker has devoted much of his life to protecting and restoring the historic site near Abergele. His connection began in 1997 with a school summer project, quickly gathering momentum thanks to local media coverage, the attention of princes and prime ministers and the growing support of local people to save the site.

Passionate about the future of the site, Baker founded the Gwrych Castle Trust at just 11. Pursuing his interests in material culture and Welsh architecture from writing his first book at just 13, he honed his interest at university, gaining his masters and doctorate at Cardiff, with the supervision of specialists in the School of Architecture and School of History, Archaeology and Religion.

The author and lecturer is proud of what the rising phoenix has meant for his local area:
“One of our missions was to try and use as many local products and services as possible to support the local economy and to respect the Welsh language and culture. ITV has taken that on board. Our visits have jumped from about 40,000 to just over 100,000 this year. Visitors aren’t just coming to the castle and leaving, they’re having holidays in the area and going out for meals” he says.

Looking ahead following the show becoming the most watched of 2020, Mark still has ambitions fit for a castle:
“My aspirations are to protect and reassemble as much of the castle as possible: to get it all back up and running. The whole process of restoration still gives me shivers. I went into parts of the castle a couple of days ago and just seeing the work that ITV have done, how they’ve transformed another space into something wonderful, gives me butterflies. I’m looking forward to the day I can write a definitive history of the estate.”

Author of more than 20 books, architectural historian Dr Mark Baker has just overseen a behind-the-scenes guide to the making of I’m a Celebrity at the castle with profits going to the Gwrych Castle Trust.

I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here is back for 2021 from Sunday 21 November.

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