A Welsh businesswoman has gone from helping in the cow shed on her family dairy farm as a child to becoming queen of her very own castle after buying a 900 year old fortified landmark she once visited on day trips and becoming a TV star.
Brought up with an extremely strong work ethic, Marian Evans, 44, remembers helping to muck out the family’s dairy herd alongside her brother and sister, as well as milking and looking after the calves, at their farm in Llangynog, Carmarthenshire.
Recalling how her father would wake up at 4.30am each morning and how holidays were non-existent due to the demands of the farm, Marian says her parents’ dedication set her an example that helped her to thrive and become Women in Business’ Inspirational Woman of the Decade in 2019.
Now the proud owner of Llansteffan Castle two miles from her childhood home and living in its 100 acre grounds with her civil engineer husband Rob Evans, 49, and their children Ffion, 13, and Catrin, 11, she said: “Growing up on a dairy farm was hard work.
“My parents were both workaholics. Me and my siblings had to muck in.
“As soon as we were old enough to reach the pedals, we’d be driving the tractors, helping out with the harvesting.”
She added: “Not at all glamorous, put it that way. Lots of fun at times but really hard work.“
With dairy cows, beef cattle and sheep to tend to on the family farm, rare days out to places like Llansteffan Castle, which overlooks the Tywi estuary, “between milking hours,“ were particularly special.
She said: “We live in an amazing area of West Wales and one of the local attractions was this glorious beach and the castle that overlooked it.
“We’d take this meandering climb up here through the woods, play hide and seek and have picnics. It was a real treat and really magical.”
Drawn to the castle again in her teens, as a place to find peace and solitude, it was also the location where her relationship with Rob, who she met as a 20-year-old student, flourished.
They “fell in love“ during long romantic summer days spent up at the ruin, which is a beloved spot for local couples and has been the site of hundreds of proposals, according to Marian, who has also turned it into a wedding venue.
But she never imagined during her courtship, or in her early days working on the farm, that she would one day own the castle herself.
Explaining her success, she said: “The lessons about working hard I learned as a kid had more of an impact on me than I realised. I’d save every penny when I was younger.
“I was always taught that you had to work hard and watch the bottom line.”
With her savings and help from her parents, Marian bought her first rental property when she was just a teenager.
She said: “Looking back now, I was quite gutsy. I was the first person in my extended family to leave Wales for university – going to University of the West of England in Bristol to study geography and environmental management. I worked full time, studied in the evenings and was desperate to progress my career.
“In a way, I wanted to escape from my upbringing. I knew I didn’t want to go in to farming.“
Instead, Marian went into financial services, where she stood out as often the youngest person and the only woman in meetings, as well as for her strong Welsh accent, which she recalls being the source of “much amusement” with some of her colleagues.
But it was Marian who had the last laugh, rising to oversee businesses worth £58m and running 16 offices of her insurance firm, as well as being named 2019 Women in Business’ Inspirational Woman of the Decade.
While she deliberately built a healthy portfolio of rental properties over the years, it was purely by chance that she learned Llansteffan Castle, some surrounding land, a farm and several buildings were up for sale in around 2018.
She said: “One of the things I have learned is that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It wasn’t officially up for sale.
“I heard about it and within 24 hours Rob and I had decided to go for it and make the purchase. We just never thought it would go through.”
When it became clear the sale would happen, Marian had one stipulation – it had to be a secret.
She explained: “I grew up with two main life lessons. You work hard and you keep your head down. Never, ever make out you’re better than anybody else.
“My parents are very private people and I guess I was embarrassed to be the kind of person who could buy a castle.
“People who do things like that tend to do it for status. That couldn’t be further from who I am. I was worried about what people would think.”
But, despite Marian writing into the sales contract that no one should know she had bought the rambling ruin and land or even that it had been sold, word soon got around the small village that local girl Marian was the new owner.
While she will not disclose what she paid for the incredible site, she acknowledges that she is “very lucky.“
And her daughters are delighted to be the owners of the castle, although she is careful to ensure they remain grounded, saying: “They know they are lucky, but we don’t live lavishly. We’re not that sort of people.
“It’s most important to me and Rob that they grow up to be good people. If you’ve got that, you’ve got real wealth. ”
But they are enjoying their 15 minutes of fame, as stars of Welsh-language channel S4C’s new show Teulu’r Castell – The Castle family – a six part series, currently three episodes in, which follows the family as they renovate the impressive building.
Now looking to spend more time in her new home, the show also follows Marian, as she turns her talents to executive coaching in the beautiful setting with her business ElevateBC.
Running coaching sessions and corporate away days from the castle grounds, she says clients relish the benefits of learning from her years of experience in a peaceful, remote setting.
The family have also held their first wedding at the castle, which they hope will become a popular venue.
And, true to her word, rather than running the on-site farm herself, Marian is renting it out to a local farmer, although the family keep chickens, rabbits and bees as pets.
Reflecting on her new life, Marian said: “In a way, I feel a long way from where I started. But I’ve also come full circle. Watching the girls playing at the castle is like going back in time.
“I still can’t believe we own it. It’s a bit crazy, isn’t it?”
If you've been watching the programme on S4C recently, saw the article in The Independent or just passing through and you are feeling inspired to engage Elevate BC in Coaching for yourself or your business contact us