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Grand Designs host Kevin McCloud: What matters is living life, not just planning it

As Grand Designs returns, Kevin McCloud talks to Georgia Humphreys about how 2020 made us think differently about home


Pictured: Kevin McCloud in SW London

Pictured: Kevin McCloud in SW London

Press Association Images

Pictured: Kevin McCloud in SW London

Kevin McCloud has, by his own admission, got quite good at being rude during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Bedfordshire-born presenter and designer (61) says he is in a vulnerable group and so is "very, very wary about spending time with other people". In fact, if somebody gets too near him in public, he will happily say to them: "Excuse me, what do you think you're doing? Be Covid-compliant."

"I'm quite bad walking down the street now. I tell people off. I can be completely anonymous in a hat and a mask," he says.

McCloud began filming the latest series of the Bafta-winning Grand Designs, which he has presented since it first aired in 1999, back in June. They've got "massive Covid compliance" on set "and that's partly driven by me", he says.

"We've developed a protocol for all the various places, whether we're filming in a building or outside, quite diligently

"We have Covid compliance officers with us at all times, making sure that we are all being good."

Grand Designs follows ambitious people across the UK who have set out to pursue their vision of a dream house by building it themselves. The projects are usually incredibly impressive feats of architecture, focusing on modern design, energy efficiency, maximising space and views.

The challenge with filming the show in Covid times is that everything they do for "involves human beings", McCloud reflects.

Interviews with contributors that he normally conducts at a three-feet distance are now being done three metres apart, every move in front of the camera is thought about and "within all that, you've still got to find the spontaneity of the conversation and the fun".

Asked about the highlights of the new episodes, the father-of-four teases there is a clash of opinions - "not exactly fisticuffs moments" - with a couple who are converting an ancient biscuit mill into a house.

"They kind of go to it with a bit too much brio. My view is, a historic building's character is basically made up of thousands and thousands of details of what it is, and if you start rooting out a little bit, before you know it, weirdly you've ripped out everything and you've lost the character," he says.

"And then you start to try and put it back in and it suddenly looks like a Disney version of what it was.

"I had my misgivings about what they were going to do right from the very beginning, so I just said to my producer, 'Look, I'll just say what I think'.

"He said. 'Great, do that'. I enjoy being let off the leash sometimes."

The new series also features an "incredibly moving story of youth and illness... and the enormous kind of life-affirming dedication and commitment that people put into projects when they are suffering, or have suffered from, illness."

He's talking about a young couple who met because they both had brain tumours in their teens and who are now married and "hugely in love".

"Basically, the entire film is a poem. It's a love song between them about what they want and making something for themselves to share knowing that time is incredibly precious," he says.

"I get emotional just thinking about it because they were a lesson to so many people who fret about the colour of their kitchen cabinets, or get obsessed about having that particular brand of bifold doors or whatever.

"Actually, when you look at it over time and with a long view, you think, 'What a completely ridiculous waste of energy.'"

Stories of people like that, young people, perhaps seem even more poignant now because we've all had time in 2020 to re-evaluate what's important in life, I suggest.

"And so many of us have lost loved ones, or have worried about losing loved ones and, just as we all need a film, a binge-watch, a soap opera, something to take us away from the day-to-day, all of us also realise that we shouldn't get too obsessed about things that don't matter - the superficial," says McCloud.

"We've all come to realise how important loved ones are and time spent with them... and how, actually, what matters is living life, not just planning it and not just dreaming about it, but getting on with and living it."

When we chat it's not long after the November lockdown has ended, and he muses the pandemic has also made us think more about design. "Ordinarily, our houses don't get stressed, but in lockdown, suddenly they have," he says. "Suddenly, we feel imprisoned, suddenly we need somewhere where we can find privacy with our own thoughts, just an hour to ourselves.

"We need spaces to work, we need spaces to de-pressurise, to relax. Kids need places to do their homework, to do home study.

"So, houses have started to really work hard and we've all had to compromise one way or another. But it means that anybody building that house, or thinking about an extension, or maybe even just buying one of those garden rooms, thinks about them not just for indulgent purposes but actually for some really functional roles."

McCloud readily admits he's "slightly addicted" to his work and so has relished being able to get back to it this year.

But when it comes to his personal life, he has been unable to see friends though because he been rigorously self-isolating since March.

"I have this filming protocol which protects me and I do all my filming out of a campervan now, which I drive everywhere, so I'm completely self-contained and at a distance from everybody," he says,

"But they're not conditions in which you could happily meet friends. Do you know what I mean? Wearing 11 layers of clothing in the rain, standing in a field. So, I do miss that enormously. And I'm looking forward to seeing loved ones, as and when we can all get vaccinated.

"I mean, that's going to be an extraordinary time, isn't it? It's going to be a great flowering of love."

Grand Designs, Channel 4, Wednesday, 9pm

Belfast Telegraph