Widow talks of life at the Hoste Arms without Paul Whittome

As Paul Whittome's widow prepares for her first Christmas without him, she says some advice from her husband has helped her carry on and make changes she knows he would be proud of.

He was the fun-loving and larger-than-life hotelier who proved just as much of a hit with celebrity visitors as his regulars.

When Paul Whittome, owner of the Hoste Arms, died this summer after a long battle with cancer, Burnham Market lost its biggest character.

But, as his widow prepares for her first Christmas without him, she says some advice from her husband has helped her carry on and make changes she knows he would be proud of.

Mr Whittome passed away in July after more than a year fighting bowel cancer.

The 55-year-old, who counted Amanda Holden, Les Dennis and Anneka Rice among his closest friends, had been the face of the Hoste Arms for more than two decades.

For 17 of those years, his South African wife Jeanne Whittome had stood beside him, working with him to create and develop his vision.

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So, following her husband's death, it seemed natural that she would dive straight back into work.

She said: 'He was the Hoste, now I've got to be the hostess. It feels strange but not uncomfortable - and that's lovely.

'He wouldn't want us not to go on. He wanted it to go on - with laughter.'

The widow found herself faced with many grieving friends and customers.

'What was most difficult was other people's loss - which was huge. Paul was a great character, huge, powerful and a big presence. That's the thing you can't get away from,' she said.

Since then the mother-of-two, who has took over as chairman while her husband was ill, has not stopped. Whether it is changing menus and introducing cocktails or putting coffee in the hotel bedrooms and organising a village-wide fashion show, Mrs Whittome has kept herself busy.

She said she was following her husband's advice.

'When he passed away, Paul said 'you have got to have a project that's important to you to get your teeth stuck into,' she said.

'He always said 'you've got to keep yourself busy'. I understand that so much more now. It's been the busiest time ever.'

The chairman's biggest distraction has been creating a new spa at the Hoste Arms which is due to open to the public next March.

Offering a range of beauty treatments, from facials to Indian head massages, it is set to create 12 new jobs and aims to appeal to the area's younger villagers and visitors.

The spa will occupy Mr Whittome's former offices and his widow said she was confident her husband would approve.

She said: 'He loved fun things. His identity will always be here. It was his vision. But we've always moved with the times. We have to evolve.'

This weekend Burnham Market put on yet another glamorous Christmas lights event, kicking off the festive season for the many hundreds of people who packed the green on Saturday.

Mrs Whittome said her husband loved to see the village join together at the events and admitted her first Christmas without him - which she will spend in South Africa with daughters Lauren and Natasha - would be difficult.

'Everything that's the first will be difficult - the first birthday, the first anniversary - but once you get through that you will be stronger,' she added.

The widow said she planned to make more time for herself next year. Before then she has a spa to open, numerous events to arrange and a memorial day, celebrating her husband's fun-filled life, planned for June 23.