For a man whose profession relies on detailed and precise planning, architect George Clarke stumbled into a job as a presenter almost by accident.
The Restoration Man and cheerleader for making Amazing Spaces habitable was certainly not looking to be television’s new face of building design and renovation back in the mid-noughties.
He was already busy running his own practice and lecturing with plans to write a book on the subject.
“I had to get an agent. I didn’t realise she was a casting agent as well as a literary agent.
“I signed on the dotted line to develop a book together. Three days later she said ‘I’ve just come off the phone from one of the channels and they’ve been casting for architects for quite a while and’ – these were her words not mine – ‘they are all as dull as dishwater and really boring on camera, would you be interested in going for a screen test?’ “I genuinely wasn’t that bothered and she talked me round. I went in for a screen test, slightly embarrassed.”
The programme makers clearly decided he was more of a dish than water and offered him the job.
“Then I went home thinking ‘do I really want it or not?’,” he recalls.
He accepted because it allowed him to share his enthusiasm for architecture and design – something that builder’s grandson George had ambitions to do since the aged of 12 – with a broader audience.
“I’m in the building game. That is what I love and what I will do until the day I drop. It took me a while to think maybe life is a series of different career stages, different opportunities that come along and as long as it is still related to what I am passionate about...”
This weekend George, 39, will be one of the headline draws at Birmingham NEC’s Grand Designs Live, the spin-off from fellow presenter and building enthusiast Kevin McCloud’s long-running TV show.
Both of them will be speaking in the Grand Theatre and also doing some design consultations. Rather than people being intimidated by famous faces, he finds they are generally greeted as friends.
“They think they know us already. Rather than sitting across from an architect who is a complete stranger to them, with me and Kevin you kind of know what you are going to get. They think ‘well I have seen what this guy does’ so there is a level of trust.”
Though George has admitted to being a fan of Birmingham, he has yet to warm to its latest and most talked about piece of architecture – the new library.
“I am not sure about it. It is great that it has been built and it is a real headline grabber. I haven’t seen it in the flesh, maybe I should pop in when I come by.
“Internally it looks great but the outside... I am not convinced. It has got a bit of everything. It has been in the architectural mixer. Throw a few things in there, press a button and see what comes out.
“I hate to say this but I don’t think it is a building that is going to age very well.”
The diversity of the projects George has been witness to means when it comes to business, he is ready for the wildest of suggestions on scales great and small.
“The range is mind-boggling. I had one couple who were obviously worth a few bob and had a house that was 10 to 12,000sq ft asking me to plan the interior spaces for them, and one guy who came along who said ‘I have bought a railway carriage and want to turn it into a house, can you help me out?’.”
If his programmes have taught him anything it has been that even the most unlikely structures – like a dark, damp, underground ice house by a loch in Scotland – can be made into a home and that a life can be crammed into the smallest of areas with enough inventive use of space and storage.
The latter is something he believes that housing developers today would do well to pay attention to.
“You can make any space work as long as you have really invested the time in design.
“I think that is where a lot of time things fall down in the general housing market. Houses are smaller than they used to be. Personally I don’t have a problem with that. I have a problem with them being badly designed and inefficiently planned. I think the smallest place can be quite inspirational.”
Thanks to his high TV profile, coupled with his piercing blue eyes and that Sunderland accent, the happily married father of three has become something of a heartthrob, particularly amongst the yummy mummy set. Although he is almost blushing at the notion of being a housewives’ crush.
“I wouldn’t even know how to answer that,” he laughs.
“Some of that stick is part of the baggage. I will let other people form their own opinions.
“I am not bothered about being a presenter for being a presenting’s sake. I really couldn’t give a toss about being a celebrity, it makes me cringe when I hear the word.
“I really love buildings and I do genuinely like helping people bringing them back to life. If people enjoy my programmes I don’t care why they watch them.”
* Grand Designs Live is at the NEC from October 4-6. For more details contact 0844 854 1348 or look up www.granddesignslive.com