Grand Designs may be a hit around the globe - but Kevin McCloud isn't content with just helming one of the biggest shows on TV. The businessman and property godfather tells Gemma Dunn why, nearly 20 years later, there's still plenty to achieve

Kevin McCloud may have fronted Grand Designs for the best part of two decades, but he doesn't do favourites - or at least not one.

"It's like asking, 'Which is your favourite child?'," cries the property guru. "It's a horrible thing to say!

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"I have lots of favourite projects, and some of them are my favourite because they're people who I have kept in touch with and some of them are my favourite because I adore the building or the place, or simply because we've had a fantastic time there.

"Often it's because there's a really good pub within walking distance which we go to lunch for!" he reveals, chuckling.

But McCloud, 58, is certainly in good stead to judge, having covered some of Britain's most ambitious self-building projects since the Channel 4 flagship show's debut in 1999.

Though with its 18th series waiting in the wings, how do the presenter and co ensure the Bafta-winning hit remains fresh and exciting?

"We employ directors and we chew them up then we spit them out..." begins the Bedfordshire-born star. "They'll never work again, so we suck the great life force out of them!

"(But) we do it in a very old fashioned way - first of all we turn up with very little in the way of scripts and we film what we see using the energy of the day," McCloud continues. "It doesn't happen very much in TV these days, and our stories are made in the edit because we don't know, three years down the line, how it's going to end.

"The other thing we do is we choose projects we think we're going to love, because there's nothing worse than turning up to something that you don't like," he reasons. "You want to be able to get excited about the projects, excited about the ideas.

"Mercifully the world is full of people building houses, putting their souls and passions into them, which we thoroughly respect, and we want to capture that. So it's not hard actually to find the juice."

Also key to its longevity, McCloud insists, are the people.

"Watching one concrete block put on top of another is not interesting," he maintains. "I'm a building nerd but I wouldn't ever want to put any of that on camera. It's the people's stories which make it.

"The design process is a human process," he elaborates. "If there are no people on the planet, there's no architecture, there's no consciousness, there's no anything, and so everything is perceived through our consciousness, including the programme."

With that in mind, the next eight episodes promise to be as entertaining as ever, with viewers able to follow everything from an ambitious, upside-down, New Zealand-inspired hill house in the Malverns to an innovative Tardis-like space-saving home squeezed into a tiny corner of east London, and a reconstructed old lodge melded to a giant black cube of a house in Haringey, north London.

But while the trials and tribulations - physical, financial and emotional - are a given, the home-builders' ideas are constantly evolving.

"Lots of things have changed," says McCloud, who also hosted Channel 4's Escape To The Wild. "We've seen underfloor heating, self-cleaning paint and micro-thin double-glazing.

"Lots of tech has come and gone (too)," he adds. "Whereas at one point people were building massive media rooms in order to drive their electric lighting system or their electrically heated gates, now it's all done from your iPhone, which I like. And that room has now become a sort of meditation room.

"Thank God we've passed through that period of bling, where I would walk into every finished house and it'd be full of chrome!"

Today there's a lot more to be worried about. For one, the national housing crisis in the UK.

"It's really tough, and it's not sustainable," McCloud remarks. "It's partly driven, of course, by the fact that we are all susceptible to the idea that if we put money into property it will grow faster than the retail price index, and it's a form of investment.

"I've never used the P-word. I don't like the idea of property, precisely for that reason," he confesses. "What we film is architecture and design homes, (and) the idea of the home is this place that's a rock in our lives that we all want to enjoy. It shouldn't be a volatile thing, it should be a highly secure thing."

To address such issues, McCloud set up HAB - Happiness Architectural Beauty - in 2007 to challenge the way "identikit volume housing was built in the UK".

But he acknowledges that flitting between that and his TV career requires a lot of labour.

"I'd like to clone myself, if possible," he muses. "Grand Designs is half of my working life and the other half is the business - and I admit to being something of a workaholic. (But) I've just had a medical and it all seems to be working. Everything is in the right place and everything is the right size, so that's all good for the moment."

However the father of four, who has two daughters and two sons with wife Suzanna, admits he enjoys a quieter life these days.

"I really like being in one place. It sounds so dull in this age of 'I've got my bucket list', but I haven't got a bucket.," he confides of his preference not to travel for work. "If I have got a bucket it's a rusty one and it hasn't got a bottom in it.

"I like looking at the ground, I like being in one place and I like the idea of rooting."

Will his kids follow in his footsteps?

"Well, they're all off doing their own thing," replies McCloud, who lives in Somerset. "And all you can ever hope for your kids is that they are happy and that they are fulfilled and they can rise to all the challenges that life brings them.

"I'm getting to the point in life where I'm approaching 60 and that question about future career, 'What's the next big thing?', I realise now that I've got to come to terms, not with where I'm going, but with where I've been.

"I've got to admit that Grand Designs has been the most amazing ride," he says with pride. "It's gone around the world to 145 separate countries. It's a tiny thing I've done, but for me it's been enormous, and so rather than what's next - I don't ask myself that question - I just think to myself more of the same, do more, keep going, keep buggering on.

"We're nowhere near where we should be in terms of meeting our environmental objectives in terms of sustainability and affordability in the market," he argues. "(There's) loads more still to do, so I've just got to keep banging that drum and luckily the work itself is so inspiring that it provides all the energy you could possibly hope for."

  • Grand Designs is back on Channel 4 on Wednesday September 6