Now he knows it's Christmas

Published in the Sunday Times, 02Dec2007

Band Aid co-founder Midge Ure has had his share of bitter winters and property disasters - but his Canadian log cabin is a real hit

James Trollope

As the rock star steps out of his luxury lakeside chalet, he is mobbed by screaming girls – but, rather than pestering him for autographs, they are pelting him with snowballs. After a stinging shot to the eye, Midge Ure, of Band Aid and Ultravox fame, tries to negotiate a ceasefire.

His wife, Sheridan Forbes, 41, and daughters Kitty, 13, Ruby, 10, and Flossie, 8, eventually back off, and it’s not long before the smiles return. The Ure clan seem to be enjoying their Canadian adventure.

Snow has been falling since mid-November in Fiddler Lake, a small resort an hour or so north of Montreal, in Quebec, eastern Canada, where Ure, 54, and his family are putting the finishing touches to their new home while staying at another glorified log cabin nearby. The subzero temperatures are reminiscent of the bitter Glasgow winters of the musician’s youth, when he lived in a tenement flat with no central heating and an outside lavatory. He shared a bedroom with his older brother; his parents and younger sister slept in a tiny alcove off the kitchen.

The similarities end with the weather, however. Ure’s new log home – Ponde-rosa, as he calls it, in homage to the long-running 1960s television western Bonanza – has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a sauna, a hot tub and a sophisticated heating system to complement the large open stone fire. And, as you’d expect from the man who, with Bob Geldof, composed and produced Do They Know It’s Christmas? – one of the best-selling records of all time – a recording studio is soon to be installed.

The home, and its two-acre lakeside plot, cost about £500,000. It is one of 95 wooden chalets dotted among 250 acres of pines in the gated community, which surrounds the lake that gives it its name, near the ski resort of Saint Sauveur-des-Monts in the Laurentian Mountains – “a very upmarket Brookside in the forest”, as Ure describes it.

“The developers offer a range of houses named after animals, the most expensive being a Moose,” he says. “The idea is, you pick a plot and decide where you want the house to face, which part of the lake you’d like to look at and which model you fancy. We were hacking through the woods when Sheridan looked over my shoulder and said, ‘There’s a horse over there.’

“When it turned its head, we realised it was a moose. Either the developers had wheeled it out especially, or it was complete fate.”

Although the family hasn’t moved in yet (the place is expected to be ready by Christmas), their Moose is already proving its worth: the developer, Lake Fiddler Resort, estimates that its value has risen by 15% in the year since they bought it.

It’s a welcome upturn for Ure, who is the first to confess his house-buying skills have often lacked the Midas touch. His first foreign home, on the Caribbean island of Montserrat – an indulgence at the height of his initial fame in the 1980s, as the front man of Ultravox – had to be rebuilt after an infestation of termites. No sooner was the work completed than it was blown away by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Restored for a second time, the house was destroyed in 1997 when the Soufrière Hills volcano emerged from its 400-year sleep. The resulting eruptions buried a large portion of the island under a flow of gas, ash and rock.

Money from hits such as Ultravox’s Vienna (which reached No 2 in 1981) and If I Was, a chart-topping solo record, helped buy other stylish homes, including an eight-bedroom pile on the Thames at Chiswick, in west London, which he shared with his first wife, Annabel Giles. A drawback was its proximity to three pubs – and the regular drunken renditions of Vienna through the intercom by local patrons. After the couple’s marriage ended in the late 1980s, Ure sold the house for less than £1m; it is now on the market for more than £14m. Then there was the thatched cottage in Devon he bought for his parents: it caught fire twice.

“I’ve got a dreadful track record with houses,” he admits. “But many of the other people buying at Fiddler Lake seem to be accountants or property speculators, so maybe, for once in my life, I have got it right.”

The properties have certainly sold quickly, with 87 snapped up since 2005. The developer is now building a much larger scheme, called Eagles Ridge, about 20 miles north of Fiddler Lake, near the Mont Tremblant ski resort. During the next four years, 400 homes will be built there, amid a wilderness of forests and five lakes. There will also be a hotel and a golf course.

“Canada hasn’t been hit by the problems of the US property market; in fact, there’s been excellent growth,” says Ian Howie, sales director of Eagles Ridge. “Most of our buyers are British people looking for a good investment and a four-season holiday home.”

Seasons vary greatly in this part of the world: temperatures in summer can be more than 30C, but drop to -30C in winter; in between, there are spectacularly colourful springs and autums. The Ure family will get to experience all of this, for they have rented out their large Victorian home in Box, a village near Bath, and plan to stay in Canada for a year, returning for holidays thereafter.

Forbes, who is an actress, was the driving force behind the move. She spotted an advertisement in The Sunday Times by Undiscovered International Property, the firm marketing the two resorts in the UK. “I saw it and said, ‘That’s where I want to go,’ ” she says. “I love living in the forest and being by the lake, and I think it’s great for Midge and the kids. We’re thinking of buying another one at Eagles Ridge, which is even more spectacular.”

The urge to try a different lifestyle and set out on a new family adventure came after a difficult few years. Until recently, Ure was on a downward slide because of drink.

“I think there was a genuine risk of losing my family because of my addiction,” he admits. “I haven’t touched alcohol for 27 months, but I’m still being counselled, I’m still working at it. Once you have been in that position, you are in it for the rest of your life, and you have to be very aware not to slip back.

“I call myself a working musician. There are moments when you hit the lowest of the lows and moments when you hit the highest of the highs. When you hit the highs, you are a rock star, and when you hit the lows, you are a bum.”

The fun of snowball fights aside, there have been some adjustments for the family to make in their new home. “In one sense, it’s been a rude awakening for the girls,” Ure says, “because they’ve come from this Jane Austen-esque background of beautiful schools in Bath to a state school in a working-class Canadian town called Lachute. They are beginning to see they have had an incredibly privileged life.”

That’s not the only challenge: Quebec is a French-speaking province, and that is the language the girls are being taught in. “Flossie, the youngest, absolutely loves it, and throws herself into the language,” Forbes says. “Ruby, the middle one, enjoys it too, but Kitty, the teenager, hates it. She is worried she’s getting behind in her work, which worries me as well.”

Another downside of the Canadian adventure is the amount of transatlantic commuting required by Ure to maintain his charity work and musical career: the flight between London and Montreal is six hours.

And that means a lot of flying time, as Ure is writing a new album and playing gigs throughout Europe. He is an ambassador for Save the Children and, after co-organising Live Aid and Live 8, continues to work for famine relief in Africa as a member of the Band Aid Trust. He’s also much in demand as a motivational speaker.

“If I was a foot taller and my name was Bob Geldof, I would probably make an awful lot more money from it,” he jokes, referring to his Band Aid partner, with whom, he says, he now has a “text relationship”.

“We are different people,” he says. “I’m a guy who sits in a studio hacking away, while Bob is seen as something way beyond a mere musician. But I know, in his heart of hearts, he still wants to be seen as a musician.”

The family’s decision to relocate for a year – maybe even two – follows in the long tradition of Scottish settlement in Canada. And though Molly, 20, Ure’s oldest daughter, from his first marriage, has stayed in London to pursue her own career in music, the three younger girls are keeping their parents busy.

“They seem to be able to fight about almost everything,” Ure says, “but they also, without any prompting, give you a kiss and a cuddle. So that’s great. And getting to the bathroom shouldn’t be a problem, as the new place has three.”

Right now, after a day mucking about in the snow, Ure, once a finalist on Celebrity MasterChef, is whipping up a mean-looking supper. The kids are lolling about on the sofa and Morrigan, the family dog, is hogging the fire.

“Dad,” Kitty pipes up. “I forgot to say, there’s a parents’ evening in about an hour, and you’re obligated to go.”

The man who wowed Ultravox fans with his sideburns and synthesizer almost loses his cool. It’s far too late to have told him, is the unmistakable gist of his reply – especially as the school is 12 miles away and there’s the threat of a blizzard. “You see what I have to put up with?” he says with an exasperated smile.

The old rocker hasn’t got it too bad.

Cabin fever

Prices for the Deer, the most popular design at Fiddler Lake, start at £359,000. The 2,800 sq ft lodge has four bedrooms, two reception rooms, a spa and sauna. The 250-acre resort is near Tremblant, a 45-minute drive from Montreal.
Undiscovered Properties; 0870 734 7968, www.fiddlerlakeresort.com

This three-bedroom log cabin is at Land of Paradise, on the 240-acre Rouge River Resort, in the Laurentian Mountains, a 90-minute drive from Montreal. Prices start at £146,580.
David Stanley Redfern; 0845 050 4377, www.davidstanleyredfern.com

This scheme of 100 freehold cabins is arranged around a golf and country club on a 600-acre estate in Quebec. Prices start at £295,000 for four-bedroom properties with oversize balconies and vaulted ceilings.
Vivaldi Resorts; 0844 778 0100, www.ogilvylakes.com

Choose a log home or a New England weatherboard house at Eagles Ridge, a 1,800-acre resort near a national park, with a golf course and a boat club. Prices start at £279,000.
Undiscovered Properties; 0870 734 7968, www.eaglesridgeresortcanada.com