How Gwrych Castle became an accidental star after years of disrepair following I'm a Celebrity relocation

Gwrych Castle was built in the early 1800s but in recent years, stood mostly in a state of disrepair. Credit: I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here on ITV

Gwrych Castle achieved recent national notoriety after it was announced that the new series of I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! would be filmed in the north Wales location.

But the story of the castle did not start there.

It has links to royalty, played an important role in WWII and even appeared on the big screen before it became host to a group of celebrities.

The Grade I-listed building was chosen as the new home of ITV's hit series after the pandemic forced producers to rethink the Australian location. Before the move, the castle in Conwy had been standing in its impressive but ruined state for around 30 years.

Gwrych Castle was suddenly shot to fame but its incredibly story had already begun, hundreds of years earlier.

It was officially announced in August that the castle would host this year's season of I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!

Built by Lloyd H. Bamford-Hesketh, the High Sheriff of Denbighshire, between 1812 and 1822, the enormous castle was the largest newly built structure of the 19th century.

It was built as a memorial to Bamford-Hesketh's mother's ancestors, the Lloyds of Gwrych.

Designed by several prominent Gothic architects, Gwrych's frontage stretched for more than 1,500 feet and contained 18 battlement towers - which looked out towards the Irish Sea.

The castle is set in 250 acres of park and woodland and the main house is believed to have had 120 rooms.

The spectacular building was passed on to Bamford-Hesketh's granddaughter in 1894 but when she died 30 years later, the castle was left in her will to King George V and the then Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VIII).

However the castle never fulfilled its royal potential. The gift was refused due to the economic downturn of the 1920s.

After briefly falling into the hands of the Church in Wales, it was then bought in 1928 by the 12th Earl of Dundonald.

The campfire and iconic red phone box remain a familiar I'm a Celeb feature at the new castle location. Credit: I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here on ITV

In WWII, the castle took on a new role and housed 200 Jewish refugee children as part of Operation Kindertransport - an organised rescue mission to extract Jewish children from Nazi-occupied territory.

After the war, it became one of the first country houses in Britain to open to the public

Unusually, the castle in Abergele then became a training venue for the English World Middleweight boxing champion Randolph Turpin in the early 1950s.

Throughout the 1970s the castle was used as a medieval themed attraction - the first of its kind in the UK - but in 1985, the castle closed its doors to the public.

The building declined and plans for its new owner, an American businessman, to renovate the place into a hotel, never materialised.

The castle was vandalised and continued to deteriorate. So much so, that its derelict state attracted film location scouts as it became the backdrop for the 1997 film 'Prince Valiant', starring Edward Fox, Joanna Lumley and Katherine Heigl.

The castle began to be regenerated only a few years ago.

Two years ago, financial help came in the form of the UK Government-funded National Heritage Memorial fund. It was bought be a preservation trust, headed up by historian Dr Mark Baker.

Dr Baker said he first fell in love with the building when he was a child but was shocked at the state of disrepair the castle had entered years later.

"It was like a nuclear fallout," he said.

"There was used needles, abandoned vehicles and fire damage. It was an apocalyptic scene. I just thought that someone has got to do something here."

So at age 14, he did. He wrote a book about the history of Gwrych Castle and started the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust to help save it.

Dr Mark Baker first set about to save the castle at the age of just 14.

Thanks to the restoration drive, the castle began to welcome back life. Members of the public could tour the historic site, the gardens were included in the Gardens North Wales Festival and one of the rooms was even being used for a writing group before the pandemic.

Despite the regeneration, parts of the building remained in a derelict state and closed to the public. However, the money plugged into the site by ITV while filming has helped revive some of those areas.

And it is not just the castle that has seen benefits.

Many living in the surrounding areas have embraced the new found fame of their local castle, saying the show has "put Abergele on the map, it's great for north Wales, it's great for tourism".

Local businesses have put up I'm a Celeb themed decor with one pub even creating their very own Bushtucker trials.

There are also hopes that after a difficult year, I'm a Celebrity will give a much needed boost for the north Wales tourism industry when coronavirus travel restrictions and advice is loosened.

Businesses in nearby Abergele have put up themed decorations. Credit: PA Images