Kirstie Allsopp Interview
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This October, Queen of the Homemade Home and all things crafty, Kirstie Allsopp, returns with a brand new series that will really test her mettle as a craftswoman. She'll be setting out to discover if she can really cut it in the artisan world as she travels the UK visiting some of the finest County Fairs, and submitting entries to some of the toughest craft competitions around.
From baking killer cakes and cushion making, to paper crafting and vintage dress making, and even a scarecrow competition, Kirstie attempts to hone her skills in various disciplines to see if she can compete alongside some of the most dedicated, passionate crafts people in the country.
Here, she talks about why this is her most personal project to date, and how craft-making has made her believe she's superwoman.
What's the principle of Kirstie's Handmade Britain?
In Kirstie's Homemade Home series one and two, we did crafting first of all for my house, then for other people's houses, and it could've been all the magic of telly. I think this takes it into a very public arena, away from the magic of telly. In this series, I can't do nothing to influence the results - it's not giving someone a vase and them saying "Oh thanks, that's really nice," it's a whole load of people who don't know who I am, because all of the competitions are anonymous, saying "Actually, I don't like that. I don't think it's very good." It's a much more critical audience. And the show is basically saying that I believe passionately that anyone can do these things - there are classes all around the country, and if you want to learn something then just do it. Because if I can, then anyone can, because I genuinely don't think I have any special talent.
What you certainly do have is the passion. Have you always enjoyed craft-making?
I think it's always interested me, but I never thought I was capable of it. So I would buy it. I'd see something that was made with love and care, and I would purchase it. I never really thought I was capable of that.
So you weren't a teenager who was sitting at home making napkin rings while all your friends were going out and getting drunk?
No, but I was at home fiddling around with my house. I bought my first flat when I was 21, and from a very early age I was the one at home fussing about. But not actually doing it myself. I was a very early advocate of the immaculate Christmas, making a big effort with that kind of stuff. But it was a surprising discovery for me that I was capable of making things myself.
How seriously did you take the competitive element of the series, entering your wares into all sorts of shows and contests?
Very seriously. I was in it to win it. There's no point in lying, making that show was, at times, absolute hell. It's been a very hard run, I'm exhausted. I don't put that much energy into something, and I don't take that much time away from my kids, to not prove something to myself. If that makes sense - I think that's double-negatives galore!
How seriously do your fellow competitors take them? Where do you rank on the scale?
Low, frankly. Low. That was one of the things that was absolutely extraordinary - how seriously a lot of people were taking this.
What are the specific areas of crafts that you most enjoy?
Anything with a sewing machine I really like. Anything where you have to count and concentrate, like knitting, is another matter. I really admire people who do that, I really struggle with them.
Did you have previous experience in any of the craft fields?
Not before the first series of Homemade Home. This is now the third craft show I've done, so some of them are returning friends. Something like freestyle machine embroidery I'd done before, and I was really happy to come back to it. Hot water pastry, or hand-raising a pie I'd never done before. A lot of things were totally new to me.
Have there been any crafts that have utterly defeated you?
Yes. The ones that I can't get good at involve knitting, crocheting, cross-stitching - I just can't feel my way towards them. A lot of the crafts are made much, much more difficult by the time aspect, and by having the cameras there. There are times in the show when you see me throwing a wobbly, but the truth is, I'm throwing a wobbly at the process of being filmed while under this kind of pressure. That is what gets to you - because you are doing this flower arrangement, for example, and someone will say "Kirstie, can you talk about what you're feeling now?"
Did you fall out with any of the crew during filming?
No, but I think I may have used some rude words on a couple of my directors.
You mention taking time away from your family. Do they mind playing second fiddle to all of this?
I think it's been very tough. After the last 18 months, I've come to a time now where I'm reviewing the amount of time I spend away. For example, when I did the Great Yorkshire Show, I missed my son's sports day. It was raining on the day he was supposed to have his sports day, and they postponed it to another day. And you can't move the Great Yorkshire Show. I really enjoyed going around the country to all the shows, but if I was to do another series of this, I would want to be learning the crafts themselves in London before going off to the shows.
You've filmed at home in London and in Devon.
Yes, it's an intensely personal show. It's probably the most personal thing that I've ever done.
Filming in your home can't be easy, in some respects. Do you feel vulnerable?
I'm very specific about it. If it upsets the children or their daily routine, I won't do it. So I did it on certain days - everyone goes off to school, and then maybe they'll have a play date, and all the stuff is cleared away by the time the children come back. There's a whole life that happens here, and filming at home too much interferes with it. In one of the shows, my son helped me with making something, and we didn't film that. I just mentioned that he helped me. Because that's not what I do. It's about me and what I do. And of course the fact that I'm a mother impacts my work in all sorts of ways, both positive and negative, and can't change that. But I certainly would never expose the kids to the cameras for more than a second - there might be a fleeting shot of a passing head, but nothing more. But some of it absolutely has to be filmed at home. At one point I was icing a cake at one in the morning. Where am I going to find a kitchen at that time if not at home?
Your house always looks immaculate. Is it generally like that, or do you often have dirty washing up in the sink, and shoes and toys lying all over the floor?
I'm generally quite on top of it. We recently moved our kitchen in Devon, and when I was talking to my stepson about the kitchen move the other day, I said to him that we were going to but a big sofa in the playroom with lots of cushions on it, and he could lie and read and do whatever he wanted there. And he said "Will we really be allowed to sit on it?" And I got really upset, and thought "Is that really what I'm like?" I do sometimes kick them off the sofas in the drawing room. I think I probably am quite tidy, I do tend to tidy up after the children, but I have a lot of help, that's something I'm always very open about. If I can't keep things at a certain level of tidiness, I go slightly doolally. I'd love to lie and say we just tidy up for the cameras, and it's normally this cool, muddy environment, but that would be a whopping lie. I had a very messy friend to stay at the weekend, and by the time they left, I was almost hysterical.
Did you enjoy making this series, or has it all been a bit too much?
It's been very, very hard. I'm really, really proud of the product. But I'm already getting so nervous about it, because it's so personal. Also my great fear is that people will think we faked bits of it, or that I won things through the magic of television. That's a proper paranoia. The successes and failures only work if you believe in both.
In the programme, you show moments of real stress and absolute elation. Were you surprised how emotional it all got?
I didn't go to university, didn't do well at school, I didn't have an easy 20s, I never perceived myself - and certainly no-one else has - as cool. So when you discover that you have talent that you didn't know you had, it's really exciting. So winning something, or doing well in a competition, really means a lot.
So you're now in possession of a host of new skills. Will you use them in everyday life?
We had some people to stay recently, and one of their children had some homework, to make a rosette. And I suddenly realised that I knew what to do, so we did it. It came to me, Blue Peter-style, ands that had never happened before. I'd just started to think in a more craft-oriented manner. I now think I can make things.
So the series has actually changed the way you think?
Certainly the two series of Kirstie's Homemade Home and now Kirstie's Handmade Britain have made me think in a different way. I'm much more convinced of my capabilities. I've got to the point now where I think I can do anything. I keep on seeing the trails for that show 71 Degrees North now and thinking "I could do that!" Of course I couldn't. I don't like the cold, and I wouldn't want to be away from the kids. And I don't like doing things that are stupidly dangerous. But I still have this can-do spirit now where I think I can do anything.
Kirstie's Handmade Britain is on Channel 4 on Wednesdays from 19th October at 8pm.
By Benjie Goodhart
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