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Changing Rooms and Nick Knowles’ Big House Clearout

Benjie Goodhart / 13 August 2021

Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen brings flamboyance back to our screens with the return of Changing Rooms, and Nick Knowles lends a hand to a family in need of a clearout.

Changing Rooms 1/6, Wednesday 18th August, 8pm, Channel 4

You probably remember the home makeover show Changing Rooms, a sort of hallucinogenic nightmare of MDF, ruined rooms and broken dreams (and the odd teapot) from the late 90s and early noughties. And if that sounds disparaging, it’s really not meant to. It was, in its own ridiculous way, very good fun.

Well, like a boomerang, or a particularly stubborn case of Athlete’s Foot, it’s come back again. And – provided you’re not averse to some high camp nonsense and the odd extremely eccentric touches of flamboyance – it’s still really good fun. Hurrah!

The line up is almost identical to the original version. Well, identical in the sense that it’s still got Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen in it. Everyone else is different, but as Laurence generally insisted on making the show all about him, it is, in essence, unchanged. And the great man himself is as over-the-top, bouffant and ridiculous as ever. With his long hair, leather trousers and aviator shades, he looks like a mid-life crisis made flesh. But there is something rather arch and knowing about his foppishness, and I can’t help but like him.

Joining him is presenter Anna Richardson, who normally presents a dating show where participants are in the nude, called Naked Attraction. (Don’t watch while having your tea). She is the perfect host for this – funny, bubbly and charismatic. Laurence’s fellow designers on the show are Russell and Jordan who, it’s fair to say, will give the great man a run for his money in the flamboyance stakes. Put it this way – you’re not going to see a lot of gentle magnolia or delicate grey going up on any walls in this series.

The format remains resolutely unchanged. Two neighbouring households each swap keys, and then set about redesigning one room in the others’ homes. Although they don’t really do the redesign. What tends to happen is that they give the actual designers a brief, which the designers completely ignore so that they can paint everything in vivid turquoise and fill it with scatter cushions.

This week, the households are in Swansea. Florist Claire wants to change her living room from a beige disaster into something more ostentatious. Meanwhile, postwoman Lisa wants to jazz up her bedroom with bright colours and a modern feel.

Laurence is in charge of the living room’s transformation. He has a peacock and flamingo theme, which is brave considering literally the only stipulation he’s been given is ‘no pink’. “We are travelling to the floating palace of Udaipur,” he coos. We’re not, incidentally. We’re very much staying in urban South Wales.

Meanwhile, across the street and up the stairs, Russell and Jordan are getting to work on the bedroom. Russell appears to have embraced the theme by wearing what look very much like pyjamas. They have plans for a purple-and-pink boudoir with a feature wall made of dado rails.

As the programme goes on, the ideas, and designs, get increasingly eccentric. Laurence wants to put a massive swing seat in the middle of his room, which is fine if you’re building a play park, or an adults-only dungeon, but just looks cumbersome and weird when you’re trying to watch Vera. Later, he basically hangs a colossal print of a picture he’s painted in the room. And – just to be sure we fully understand that his rampant narcissism has finally tipped him over the edge, he’s put a vast picture of himself on the door. Meanwhile, Jordan and Russell are working on making chains out of clay to dangle across the room. And that’s not even their worst idea. They do something with hair that has to be seen to be believed.

In the end, I am flabbergasted to say, I really rather like one of the rooms. Mind you, the other one would make me want to punch you if you installed it in my house. And, as ever, the big reveal at the end is all that counts.

Welcome, Changing Rooms. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but it’s good to have you back.

Join us for fascinating hour-long conversations with award-winning authors and poets. Saga customers can book their free tickets today.

Nick Knowles’ Big House Clearout 1/6, Thursday 19th August, 8pm, Channel 5

I’m not, by nature, a tidy man. As I speak, there is a pile of papers on the floor next to my desk. I have no idea what is in it. It’s bits of paper that I have considered too important to throw away, but not quite important enough for me to do anything with them. It’s basically my filing system, only there’s no system involved, and nothing gets filed.

My general slovenliness drives my wife round the twist. She is, by nature, preternaturally tidy. Most days, she shouts at me because I leave the curtains looking untidy when I open them. You’d think I’d learn, after a daily haranguing, yet it doesn’t seem to seep in. She is well entitled to despair of me.

But I have nothing on Vicky Everett.

Vicky Everett lives in Marlow, with her husband Graham, and two teenage children, James and Jess. They are a lovely family, and Vicky is clearly a fabulous woman, who contributes to her community and runs play sessions for local children. But she has an addiction that has taken over her life. No, she’s not out stalking the leafy streets of Marlow looking for crystal meth, or downing ten cans of strong lager each day. Her addiction is even more insidious… She loves crafting.

I am, of course, being facetious. But her love of crafting, and reluctance to throw anything away, has totally taken over the family home, to the despair of Graham and the kids. Thank goodness, then, for Nick Knowles and his team of trusty helpers, who are on hand to provide a much-needed intervention.

This new six-part series sees Knowles helping a different family each week. The family must agree to strip everything out of their home, and get rid of at least half of their possessions. In return, he and his team will oversee a complete redecoration of the home, to suit the family’s needs.

It’s all fairly standard stuff, sort of Changing Rooms without a long-haired, double-barrelled dandy, but with more tidying up involved. The format lives and dies by the quality of the family involved. And with the Everetts, they’ve hit paydirt. They are a lovely family but, good heavens, they’re in need of some help!

When Knowles first arrives, he is shown into the front room. I’d call it a sitting room, but there’s almost nowhere to sit. It is floor-to-ceiling craft stuff, with the occasional patio heater and gazebo poking out from the detritus. “Wow. It’s… er… busy,” says Knowles on first inspection. “It’s a ‘lived-in’ house,” says Vicky, with some understatement.

The same story is happening in the master bedroom. Poor Graham has to move stuff off the bed each night just to get in. But then we see the kitchen. Good god! It is like a scene from Dante’s Inferno, if only Dante had set it in a suburban semi in Buckinghamshire. You cannot see a work surface. It is piled – piled! – high with tins, packets, cups, jars, pots, pans, and quite possibly a small family of badgers underneath the cereal boxes.

And so the family hightails it to a hotel (I can’t imagine how much stuff Vicky packs) before the great clearout begins. The next time the family sees all their stuff, it is laid out on the floor of a 10,000 square foot warehouse. It is an astonishing sight. Amongst other things, it emerges that the family has 54 board games, 69 cuddly toys, and 33 wooden spoons.

They start to make decisions about throwing away their stuff. Vicky finds it hard. Almost 20 years ago, she had to have major surgery on a non-cancerous facial tumour, and crafting helped with her recovery. Now she is reluctant to part with her past. As observers, it is all-too-easy to forget that each item represents a memory, and Vicky has to make some emotional decisions.

What ensues is a surprisingly touching hour of telly, handled with a commendable sensitivity and lack of judgement by Knowles. And, as ever, the reveal at the end is a delight. Perhaps, if he reads this, Nick could pop down to Brighton with his team and have a crack at my pile of papers.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 14th August

Match of the Day, 10:20pm, BBC One: It’s absurd that we’ve had to go through an entire week since the end of the Olympics without any top-class sport. Fortunately, Gary Lineker is on hand tonight with the first week of fixtures in the Premier League, including Manchester United v Leeds United.

Sunday 15th August

Team GB Homecoming Concert by the National Lottery, 7:30pm, BBC One: The triumphant return of Britain’s Olympic heroes is marked by a concert from the SSE Arena at Wembley, featuring lots of artists your grandkids will have heard of.

Rich House, Poor House 1/7, 9pm, Channel 5: Return of the series which sees families of wildly differing means swap homes and lives for an ethically dubious experiment.

Monday 16th August

Children of 9/11: Our Story, 9pm, Channel 4: Feature-length documentary telling the stories of six young people who were either babies or were yet to be born when their fathers were killed in the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago.

Wednesday 18th August

Jay’s Yorkshire Workshop, 9pm, BBC Two: New series presented by The Repair Shop’s Jay Blades, in which members of the public nominate deserving local heroes from Yorkshire to receive a piece of furniture made especially for them in a Bradford workshop.

Thursday 19th August

Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, 8pm, Channel 4: The comedian returns with his show tackling consumer rights with a cheeky glint in his eye. Tonight: The war against plastic waste.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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