Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud has watched countless burgeoning developers create ambitious properties - some successes and some major flops. But, as he tells Sarah Morgan, it’s the enthusiasm that counts
A suitable description of Kevin McCloud’s personal style would be ‘shabby chic’.
When we meet during filming for the first episode of the new Grand Designs series, he’s sporting well-worn black skinny jeans, slightly battered trainers, a striped jacket and a grey jumper with two - yes two - holes in it.
Not that the women on set seem to mind. Ever since Grand Designs first hit screens, back in 1999, McCloud’s become a bit of a heart-throb. Today he’s shooting the ‘reveal’ section of the show - the bit where he sees the fruits of the renovators’ labours - and early on, he’s approached by a nervous young woman in search of an autograph.
He duly obliges, charming the socks off her in the process; when she eventually leaves she’s practically swooning.
In fact, McCloud’s treated like a rock star by all the locals, rather than the designer, property developer and TV presenter he actually is.
He admits to feeling at home in this particular location of Thorne, South Yorkshire, possibly because his family originates from Hull. “There’s something about the sense of humour in the north; I sometimes struggle in Sussex,” says the 54-year-old father-of-four, grinning. The town’s perhaps best known for being the birthplace of soprano Lesley Garrett and toilet pioneer Thomas Crapper, but in more recent years it’s fallen on hard times due to the collapse of the local mining industry.
McCloud believes that the renovation work he’s come to see will help breathe new life into the place.
He’s been watching local couple Gwyn and Kate ap Harri turn the derelict shell of what was originally the town’s Kensington Cinema, into a home for them and their two young sons.
Gwyn runs a successful software company and could have moved anywhere, but chose to stay in Thorne because he loves the area and believes in its potential.
Their episode isn’t just about the house, but “about Thorne, the town and regeneration; the cinema and the process,” adds McCloud.
He believes wholeheartedly in how sprucing up rundown areas can re-energise places that may otherwise turn to rack and ruin.
“I’m first and foremost a conservationist. I like to keep things, so I’m always nervous about how they’ll work out. But if you build something of value, of worth, then you know it’ll be fine,” he says.
Over the years, he’s witnessed people’s dreams fall flat, and is well-known for his deadpan - downbeat even - way of delivering bad news. So is it a godsend when things turn awry, does it add a little bit of spice and drama to proceedings?
“You have projects that go wrong, and people think I like that but I don’t, because it makes an awful programme,” he says.
He insists he’s willing them to succeed: “You set sail, it’s their boat, and I travel along as an occasional passenger.”
What he doesn’t like, however, is people renovating for profit rather than pleasure, desire or need, and even has his own definition of the perfect Grand Designs participants: “They’re not professional, serial self-builders.
“Filming people who are is dull, because they have the language off pat and it ends up more like a commercial project.”
He feels that a lot of the best buildings would never be started, never mind finished, if the participants knew what they were getting into.
“It’s a kind of passionate self-belief. There’s a zeal about it that drives the project, and you need that if you’re going to complete it.”
Although he’s merely there to report on each build, McCloud’s willing to share his opinion: “I will occasionally offer advice if they’re stuck. People will ask, but they only take it if they agree with you.”
He hasn’t had to stick his oar in with Gwyn and Kate, although he does show disdain when they show him the swanky hydropool they’ve had installed in the garden. It’s a modern piece of luxury he doesn’t feel fits with the surroundings.
He’s also taken aback when they reveal they’ve got rid of the beautiful terrazzo floor from what was originally part of the cinema’s foyer.
Thankfully, they redeem themselves by having an innovative polished concrete floor instead, which McCloud approves of.
“There’s a logic to this building,” he explains. “There’s a concrete floor because there was a terrazzo floor. There are concrete walls because it’s a concrete building...
“I get tired of hearing people talking about their cinema rooms or pilates rooms, and showing off their polished-wood floors. Nobody builds a library these days. But a cinema room in this house is right - it was once a cinema, so it should have a cinema room.”
Once filming’s complete, the presenter’s off to finish another project, a four-part series entitled Kevin McCloud’s Man Made Holiday Home, due to air later in September, “a show where we take a shed and build it by the coast”, he says.