Kevin’s Grandest Design: Don’t mention the iffy foundations

Review: A nostalgia trip with Kevin McCloud avoids mention of his business collapse

Kevin McCloud: Begins most episodes as a frowning sceptic but ends them as a beaming convert

Kevin McCloud: Begins most episodes as a frowning sceptic but ends them as a beaming convert

 

At least someone looks happy to see Kevin McCloud. Revisiting a handful of the designer’s favourite projects – those innovative constructions and staggering refurbishments which have been the stock in trade of Grand Designs for 20 years now – Kevin’s Grandest Designs (Channel 4, Wednesday, 9pm) sees the host warmly greeted by those who best embody the promise of his show: that if you dream big enough, endure every stress, set back and budget overrun, you will eventually find yourself living in paradise.

Compare that to the small investors behind his Happiness Architecture Beauty (HAB) business, attracted by the promise of generous returns for eco-conscious developments by his familiar face and screen-given authority, who were advised last week that they stood to lose almost everything with the company’s collapse.

Beset with project delays, “systemic faults” and mounting debts, how did HAB fall prey to the same perils that Kevin McCloud seems so alert to, beginning most episodes of Grand Design as a frowning sceptic but ending them, with a big reveal, as a beaming convert?

“Be calm, calm,” we see McCloud tell a harried, emotional man as his ambitious project turns sour. “Easy for you to say,” the guy replies. Not anymore.

In this review of 20 years of the programme, McCloud presents himself as a model of tough love, who has exposed and emphasised the “trauma” of self-building.

“I make no apology for that,” he says. “Without effort there can be no reward, without pain, no gain, without sacrifice, no great triumph.”

Without guarantee, no return on investment.

That should secure the place of Grand Design as a fantasy show rather than an instruction manual. The “Fairy House” or “Tiggy Winkle’s Mansion” to which McCloud returns (and has been returning to since 2007)– a wood-carved, sprawling marvel atop a hill – is a delightful Swiss Family Robinson eccentricity that will deliberately never be finished.

“It’s a way of life,” says its sculptor and inventor Ed.

The show can be coy about how costly such a way of life is, estimating “millions” behind the conversion of a Victorian water tower in Kennington into a multi-storey mansion teeming with showers (“I’ve never said how much it cost,” says its owner, defensively).

But McCloud demurs over whether such undertakings are “the preserve of the moneyed middle classes”, the way, say, investment bonds are.

Eccentricity (“which, for 20 years, it has been my pleasure to mine”), really is the preserve of the moneyed middle-class, though.

It provides the sturdy foundation beneath an Essex barn, lavishly refurbished to accommodate a pair of London artists and their glass-case collections of creepy dolls. It even guides Patrick Bradley’s award-winning project in Derry (McCloud’s favourite), which artfully transformed a pair of shipping containers into a riverside home on his family’s farm.

“Into the fairy kingdom has landed, quite magically, something from Battlestar Galactica,” McCloud rhapsodises.

That he should reach for two fictions to find the appropriate form of praise, might be telling, because these dreams are hard to emulate.

Will the hard reality of McCloud’s business’s collapse temper the escapist pleasures of the show? “It would be weird if you agreed with all of my choices,” he concludes. You don’t have to remind his investors.

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