With Grand Designs returning to our screens tonight, we got a chance to chat to Kevin McCloud about TV, time off, and his lack of interest in celebrity – except the Bake Off stars, of course.
Was television an important part of your childhood? Yes. My grandfather had a TV that we were allowed to watch for 15 minutes and then he’d say, “I’m going to turn it off, because it’s getting too warm.”
What programmes are you hooked on at the moment? Breaking Bad. The cinematography is magical, the narratives Shakespearean and the central performances are just gripping. I’m a big sucker for American serials. But saying that, I enjoyed The Honourable Woman.
What makes you reach for the off switch? I don’t watch talent shows. I saw a couple of minutes of one and everybody said, “I was made for this moment. I’ve dreamt of this.” Not one of them said, “I love singing.” It just reinforced my suspicion that these programmes are about celebrity and status rather than making music.
Do you watch TV with your children? [Milo, 16, and Elsie, 12. McCloud also has two older children from a previous relationship] No. Not many families do that now. I find myself watching more and more telly on my iPad mini. I like the personal experience of watching what I want with my headphones on.
So the family doesn’t all crowd around the TV to watch you presenting Grand Designs? Occasionally I’ve come home to find one of my children watching it. They prefer the edited dad, because he’s funnier and wittier. The real one is just embarrassing!
What are you looking for when people apply to be on the show? New ideas, great architecture, interesting people and stuff that we haven’t covered before. We always struggle to get good projects because we set the bar very high.
How do you spend your time off? I trained partly as a musician, so I play the bass a bit and listen to a lot of jazz and funk. I’m also big into trees. I can’t imagine not having a little patch of land with apple trees.
What are you reading at the moment? I tend to have four nonfiction books on the go at any one time. I’m enjoying Turned Out Nice Again: On Living with the Weather by Richard Mabey. It’s about the British and their relationship with the weather. A lovely subject.
Which broadcasters do you admire? Many of them are dead. AJP Taylor used to give relatively unscripted history lectures direct to camera, and I particularly liked Jacob Bronowski, who did The Ascent of Man. Of the living, I admire Michael Portillo and David Attenborough.
When were you last starstruck? You must understand that I spend most of my time in muddy fields. I’m from a remote backwater of television and the only time I meet someone famous is when I go to an event like the Baftas, so I’m starstruck by everybody. I’m still in awe of people like Mel and Sue, whom I’ve met two or three times.