It’s Personal

First there was friendship….

Gai & Neil in Umbria

Neil:  We’ve been friends since 1982 when we both worked in regional TV in New South Wales. I worked in news and production…Gai in graphics.  She was newly married. Years later we met up in Brisbane. By then I was married with a young family. Gai was divorced and had taken a new direction, working in production.  We crossed paths every few years at TV stations or on Outside Broadcasts.

…. then fate intervened!

on board the Warrior at Portsmouth UK

Gai: In 2013 after 18 years as a network producer, I returned to my home town in NSW, in search of a new sense of belonging. In the same year, Neil had been lured back to regional news in NSW.  Fate intervened and we were re-acquainted!  This time we were both free to pursue more than a friendship!  We ended up on the Gold Coast in search of a new project, and the next chapter of our life. Together!

Guess where!

Our love of animals

Chooks are fascinating to watch!

Neil:  Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved animals.  From my first dogs, a gorgeous golden retriever and a black and white border collie, through to the delightful German Shepherd cross who was with me all through my teens and my best friend.  Swimming with dolphins was a life highlight.

snoozing with Ruby

Later there were two moodles who I loved so much it hurt!  Raised from tiny puppies, this pair of fluffy balls of energy were constant companions.

Neil and Millie
Over the last five years, there have been many dogs, cats, birds, chickens, rabbits, horses and various other four-legged friends. The year long pet and house sitting  adventure, Village to Villa saw a swag of new friends appear.
In Cannes with Charlie
Why am I so drawn to animals?  Animals are totally honest.
Animals love unconditionally.  Pets bring so much joy.
Alfie & Rosie, France
Neil & Lexie

From guinea pigs to orphaned lambs.

 Gai:  When I was growing up in a small country down, we had a string of pets from cats, dogs and guinea pigs – to lambs, calves, chickens, ducks and bossy geese on my grandmother’s farm.

Lexie, Gai & Monty, Italy

When I finished college I got my very own dog. Basil was a sweet Australian Terrier. He’s been gone for many years now but he’s still “my dog”.

my dog Basil

My love of animals went hand in hand with my job.  For 18 years I worked as a writer and producer on long running TV program “Totally Wild”.  The focus was on all creatures great and small.  I experienced many privileges and joyful animal encounters.

On a stretch of the Queensland coastline, I watched as hatchling sea turtles emerged from their nest on the beach and ran for their lives into the surf.

At “Dreamworld” I walked with a majestic white Bengal Tiger, then bottle fed a tiger cub.

Mohan, Dreamworld










Dreamworld tiger cub

My sister and I strolled with fully-grown cougar and Andy, her handler.

Dreamworld Cougar, handler Andy

I met Steve Irwin and with my 2, now grown up nieces, sat on the grass at “Australia Zoo” with Harriet, his 170 year old Galapagos Tortoise.

Harriet, Australia Zoo

Possibly the most joyous moment was sitting in the Meerkat enclosure at “Werribee Zoo”, as the inquisitive young ones climbed all over me!

Meerkats at Werribee Zoo

These are the highlights that sustained my yearning for another pet. When Neil and I came together, that longing began to grow again, in both of us. And it was a big part of our decision to travel by via house and pet sitting.

What could be more soothing after a day of sightseeing – than smooching with an affectionate dog or cat.

We all speak the same language.

Livvy, Umbria

And THAT is why we love pet and house sitting.

VIDEO: Want to live in a French Chateau?

How about spending an entire month during the springtime, living in a French Chateau at no cost to you?

Profusion of purple at the chateau
We were lucky enough to do exactly that during our year of house sitting.  We lived in a French Chateau in South West France.
This is a video about Chateau du Mauran in the south west of France.

The garden was at its best when we stayed at this stunning French Chateau.

From early to late May we watched as nature did her most amazing work.  The roses were resplendent but the real stars were the Wisteria and the “Van Gogh” Irises.  Perfection together.
Roses are red…


The kitchen fireplace was rescued from a Paris hotel demolition


The chandelier is from Venice
Staying in this amazing house for a month, gave us many stories for our TV series “Village to Villa”  We lived like locals and enjoyed authentic travel experiences with neighbours, friends of the house owners and people we met along the way.  We will share them all here on this blog.  If you’d like to follow our incredible year long journey, please leave us your details in SUBSCRIPTIONS – and we’ll send you a note when we post another story.  Thank you.

Shoot a TV series without a crew!

Can 2 producers really shoot video for a 13 part TV series without a crew?

Neil McLean and Gai Reid are the only members of the camera crew for their 13 episode TV series “Village to Villa”. We developed our “TV production in a back pack” so we could travel for one year and shoot a TV series without a camera crew!

Having covered 4 countries – living like locals – we have now begun the huge editing phase.  Luckily we have 2 awesome editors.  Meet our crew.

First edit session

Gai & Neil have worked in television production for most of our working lives. That’s a scary number of years!

Gai experienced a little bit of everything during her time spent working in regional television in NSW and Tasmania. Mostly she has worked in Brisbane networks as a writer and producer in factual programming.

Harriet, Australia Zoo


Dreamworld tiger cubs

Neil has worked mostly in news in regional  and the networks of NSW and Victoria– as a reporter, reader and news director.  We both know what it’s like to spend a week or longer on the road.

Neil in his TV news reporting days

click here to meet THE CREW 

What is a TV Production in a Back Pack?

Normally when a TV crew travels to shoot a program – 4 people would check in 12 to 18 pieces of luggage, including cameras, tripod, lights, sound gear as well as crew suitcases.  NOT for TV Production in a back pack.

Because of the nature of our project – we couldn’t take a traditional camera crew.  So WE became the crew!

That meant we had to figure out another way to bring you what we knew would be engaging and inspirational stories.

Maggie the Umbrian truffle hunter!


Donkey cuddles for Gai


We streamlined down to the absolute minimum gear – we had to carry it where ever we went. It really was a production in a backpack.  AND it enabled us to shoot a TV series without a crew.

Most importantly – we wanted to record authentic  travel experiences that filled us with joy!

We wanted to be able to talk to strangers without intimidating them with a large camera on a tripod.  They needed to feel comfortable in order to open up and tell us their stories.  We wanted to make story gathering a pleasurable experience for everyone involved.

German bunker at Fort du Cap Levi, Normandy

So when we set out on one of our many trips –  we had a suit case each and ONE backpack of camera gear!

"Production in a Backpack"

We used a Nikon digital SLR with external Rode mic; a Samsung Galaxy-K phone with external Rodes mic; occasionally a basic Samsung phone; a Sony Action Can and a seriess of mounts.  Sometime we shot an interview with 2 different angles. We found a fantastic tripod that folds down to about the size of 2 fold up umbrellas.  THAT’S IT!  This is how we were able to shoot a TV series without a crew.


interviewing Ann Jeanne, “A Friend in Paris”


The Seine River, Paris

We wanted to be one of the early adopters of using a mobile phone camera to shoot a series – to show that it COULD be done.

on Mt Mutali with Florentine – our Italian guide

“Village to Villa” is now well and truly in edit!

There are 13 episodes of 22 minutes duration.

Here’s a preview   


recording voice overs with Ruby

 We have an abundance of extra stories and video clips to share with YOU over the coming months.

…but before you go, we are grateful for your support and in return – we’d like to keep you in the loop so you don’t miss a thing.

THANK YOU FOR SUBSCRIBING – it’s at the bottom of this page.


House sitting in 4 countries

What’s it really like to live like locals – in another country?

To find out, we took on HOUSE SITTING and PET SITTING in 4 countries.
Neil’s first day in Paris!


Pont Vecchio, Florence
One of the best ways to embed yourself into a community…  is to live in someone else’s house.  We discovered an ideal way to do that.

House sitting and pet sitting!

walking the dogs at Chateau Chaufaille
House Sitting is sweeping the world as a unique and convenient way to travel for long periods of time, rent free!

The possibilities are enormous!

Our Scottish Villa
La Fontanella at dusk

For one year – we visited a smorgasbord of locations in 4 countries

– beginning in our own back yard, Australia…then moving on to France…The United Kingdom …and to Italy.
During our year-long “Village to Villa” journey, we savoured …going coastal …going country….going quirky!

To kick off the tour, we show you Australia’s Gold Coast –  where WE live!

The Gold Coast canals
After spending serious time in the wine growing areas of South Australia, we were ready to take on France!

We spent a few days sampling the delights of Paris

Metro stop Paris
–  then we settled into rural life in south west France – to live like locals.
Connecting with neighbours gave us a real sense of the French village lifestyle.

Springtime in France
This 200 year old classic Chateau deep in the south of France –  was our home for one glorious month during spring time.

We gained a real perspective on the luxury of villa living.

Monsieur Gaston
After driving the length of France – we settled into our stylish farm house in Normandy.
From here we explored the famous WW2 landing beaches and historic coastal towns.
We also witnessed the birth of a lamb – which was awesome!
The Girls of Normandy
Hampshire in England – showed us how to achieve the perfect balance of city and country living. New friends introduced us to the joys of English pub culture.

For two weeks, we were the Laird and Lairdy of a modern castle!

Craufurdland Castle, Kilmarnock
We immersed ourselves in the rich and often quirky history and traditions of Scotland.
I hear the bagpipes calling!  Ian Smith, Balatar Bagpipes


Neil in a skirt…..kilt by Gordon Nicolson in Edinburgh
There are few places in the world as pretty as the Cotswolds – a cluster of quintessentially English villages straddling 5 counties.

Our Minchinhampton base put us close to these iconic villages.

Neil at the Secret Cottage, in The Cottwolds, UK
Ottery St Mary delivered the peace and tranquility of the East Devon countryside.

The large stately home came with an intriguing combination of pets.

Our love of animals lead us to a Sanctuary of very friendly donkeys…..and an American bald eagle called Baldrick!
Baldrick the Bald Eagle at Hawkridge Birds of Prey, Exmouth UK
We finished our year in a magnificent home high in the mountains of Umbria in central Italy.
La Fontainella in the mist
Being invited into the homes and lives of our warm and generous new friends and neighbours – was a highlight of our year of house sitting – and living like locals.
Italian Mummas in the kitchen

Village to Villa is based in reality – not everything goes to plan!  The animals have their own idea about the rules!

Bekky thinking about dinner

But they will always reward you with a special thank you for being there.

Living like locals in 4 very different countries – has given us an exceptional insight into other ways of life.
Harvesting the last of the olives


Maggie the truffle queen!

It’s shown us how to find the SPECIAL in the everyday.

Bellac France, in autumn


Chateau du Mauran irises
Village to Villa is a new way to experience travel and lifestyle from a fresh and personal perspective.


Village to Villa – living like locals through house sitting and pet sitting. Series 1 – 13 episodes are now in edit.

walking in Hampshire UK
Fortress St Giuliana, Umbria

Meet the crew.