For more than 20 years the designer and presenter has shown viewers what it really costs to build a dream home. He talks about the frayed emotions, failure and why the UK needs radical land reform
The first couple of episodes of the current series of Grand Designs have already aired, but – as if it was itself an over-running building project – Kevin McCloud is still filming. When we speak over Zoom, from the small studio he set up “in a cupboard”, he has only just got home from filming; and as soon as we finish, he will be recording a line or two of his famously lyrical thoughts for an episode that goes out this week. It sounds stressful and I feel every bit as on edge as I do watching one of his couples race to finish a house before the weather closes in, or the woman gives birth, or the money runs out, but McCloud looks relaxed. He has, after all, been doing this for more than 20 years.
The current series of Grand Designs is the 22nd. McCloud says he is always coming up with new reasons for its popularity. “The oldest explanation is I think it’s the last great big adventure that we can all go on and, therefore, we all connect to the idea of that,” he says, of the huge task that is building a house. “Also, we connect to the idea of home, because the notion of home is not simply a concept, it’s a place of psychological dependency.” Watching someone else create a home “strikes at something very primal within us”, he reasons. The characters are fascinating, of course – how do they have so much money? Why does this man (it’s almost always a man) think it’s a good idea to turn a nuclear power station or a sewage plant into a family home? And there is something deeply satisfying in the end result – an imposition of order on a quagmire of a building site, overcoming supply issues and dwindling funds. Finally, despite McCloud’s scepticism early on in the episode and the occasional barbed comment, his climactic monologue will be celebratory. At the very least, he will find something to praise. It is not a cynical show.