Alex Casey learns some home truths from the indomitable Grand Designs host.
Here’s something I never could have predicted in the Grand Design of my own life: today I woke up with a Kevin McCloud-induced hangover. Last night the Grand Designs host stormed the Town Hall in Ōtautahi as part of his Home Truths tour and delivered a frenetic and far-reaching three hours of clips, costumes, quizzes, lectures, bejeweled safety vests, gags, questions, answers and, for some reason, a demonstration of how to tie a bowtie in under 60 seconds.
After 25 years fronting the beloved series, one which follows ambitious Brits as they build everything from amphibious houses to marriage-destroying lighthouses, McCloud told the crowd that he’s always seen his job as providing “a form of therapy”. He’s used to soothing frazzled folks, especially those who go over budget and schedule and end up wrangling a newborn in a caravan, “but at the end of the day there’s no-one to help me – that’s why I go on tour.”
I’ve never seen therapy, or anything for that matter, quite like it. McCloud has more energy than a self-heating house in Buckinghamshire, bounding back and forth, waving his arms around and cracking endless jokes. Striding out to a jazzed-up version of the Grand Designs theme tune, he launched into a series of stand-up style observations about everyday life (missing Tupperware lids, cat door convenience, finding a park), before showing some supercuts from the show.
The crowd roared with laughter during a montage of the more eccentric characters that have appeared on the show over the past quarter century, and it was a nice reminder of how joyous it is to watch something we normally consume on our own as a collective. Much like the Love Island viewing parties, it would be great to see more reality television talent hit the road – imagine Jeff Probst’s Survivor Tour! The Casketeers LIVE! The Traitors: The Musical!
McCloud delved into the history of the show, including how it miraculously got commissioned despite there being no format, no voiceover, and “not the right presenter” back in 1999. He revealed how grading can transform drab British weather, the secrets to capturing the beauty of every house (“notice the contours but never notice the camera moving” says cameraman Gary) and how many pairs of merino long johns he wears on a shoot (sometimes three).
But the show was also about so much more than Grand Designs. McCloud clearly has a passion for eco-friendly and social housing, and shared examples from throughout history of builds that have harnessed energy from the environment. He frequently returned to our role in the climate crisis, even issuing a heartfelt apology on behalf of his generation to a room of people that, perhaps due to almost entirely being of his generation, remained largely unstirred.
Where the audience became the most animated – aside from the loud cheer for his NZ-made merino undergarments – was during the interactive app-based polls and questions dotted through the show. Scanning a QR code on entry, we were invited to vote on design trends, answer quiz questions and even reveal how many of us would ever self-build (I struggled to answer many in time because the app operated at as manic of a pace as McCloud himself).
As someone precisely half the age of McCloud, I’ll admit I was both exhausted and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of ideas, facts and jellybeans(?) being hurtled at us from the stage. At three hours long including an interval – longer than the Phantom of the Opera – you certainly can’t complain about not getting your money’s worth, and thankfully one person asked the question we’d all been wondering as the clock crawled towards 10.30pm on a Wednesday.
“How have you kept that youthful enthusiasm all these years?” they asked.
“Medication,” said McCloud.
Today, as I still try to shake off my Home Truths hangover, I’ll have what he’s having.